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PCI DSS Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is PCI?
A: The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of requirements designed to ensure that ALL companies that process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment. Essentially any merchant that has a Merchant ID (MID).
The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) was launched on September 7, 2006 to manage the ongoing evolution of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standards with focus on improving payment account security throughout the transaction process. The PCI DSS is
administered and managed by the PCI SSC (www.pcisecuritystandards.org), an independent body that was created by the major payment card brands (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover and JCB). It is important to note that the payment brands and acquirers are responsible for enforcing compliance, not the PCI council.


Q: To whom does PCI apply?
A: PCI applies to ALL organizations or merchants, regardless of size or number of transactions, that accepts, transmits or stores any cardholder data. Said another way, if any customer of that organization ever pays the merchant directly using a credit card or debit card, then the PCI DSS requirements apply.


Q: Where can I find the PCI Data Security Standards (PCI DSS)?
A: The Standard can be found on the PCI SSC’s Website: https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/security_standards/pci_dss.shtml


Q: What are the PCI compliance deadlines?
A: All merchant that stores, processes or transmits cardholder data must be compliant now. However, as a Level 4 merchant, you will have to refer to your merchant bank for their specific validation requirements and deadlines. All deadline enforcement will come from your merchant bank. You may also find more information on Visa’s Website: http://usa.visa.com/download/merchants/payment_application_security_mandates.pdf.


Q: What are the PCI compliance ‘levels’ and how are they determined?
A: All merchants will fall into one of the four merchant levels based on Visa transaction volume over a 12-month period. Transaction volume is based on the aggregate number of Visa transactions (inclusive of credit, debit and prepaid) from a merchant Doing Business As (‘DBA’). In cases where a merchant corporation has more than one DBA, Visa acquirers must consider the aggregate volume of transactions stored, processed or transmitted by the corporate entity to determine the validation level. If data is not aggregated, such that the corporate entity does not store, process or transmit cardholder data on behalf of multiple DBAs, acquirers will continue to consider the DBA’s individual transaction volume to determine the validation level.
 Merchant levels as defined by Visa:

Merchant Level Description 

  1. Any merchant ¯ regardless of acceptance channel ¯ processing over 6M Visa transactions per year. Any merchant that Visa, at its sole discretion, determines should meet the Level 1 merchant requirements to minimize risk to the Visa system. 
  2. Any merchant ¯ regardless of acceptance channel ¯ processing 1M to 6M Visa transactions per year. 
  3. Any merchant processing 20,000 to 1M Visa e-commerce transactions per year. 
  4. Any merchant processing fewer than 20,000 Visa e-commerce transactions per year, and all other merchants ¯ regardless of acceptance channel ¯ processing up to 1M Visa transactions per year. 

 * Any merchant that has suffered a hack that resulted in an account data compromise may be escalated to a higher validation level. Source: http://usa.visa.com/merchants/risk_management/cisp_merchants.html


Q: If I only accept credit cards over the phone, does PCI still apply to me?
A: Yes. All business that store, process or transmit payment cardholder data must be PCI Compliant.


Q: Do organizations using third-party processors have to be PCI compliant?
A: Yes. Merely using a third-party company does not exclude a company from PCI compliance. It may cut down on their risk exposure and consequently reduce the effort to validate compliance. However, it does not mean they can ignore PCI.


Q: My business has multiple locations, is each location required to validate PCI Compliance?
A: If your business locations process under the same Tax ID, then typically you are only required to validate once annually for all locations. And, submit quarterly passing network scans by an PCI SSC Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV), if applicable.


Q: Are debit card transactions in scope for PCI?
A: In-scope cards include any debit, credit, and pre-paid cards branded with one of the five card association/brand logos that participate in the PCI SSC ­ American Express, Discover, JCB, MasterCard, and Visa International.


Q: Am I PCI compliant if I have an SSL certificate?
A: No. SSL certificates do not secure a Web server from malicious attacks or intrusions. High assurance SSL certificates provide the first tier of customer security and reassurance such as the below, but there are other steps to achieve PCI Compliance. See Question “What does a small-to-medium sized business (Level 4 merchant) have to do in order to satisfy the PCI requirements?”
•A secure connection between the customer’s browser and the web server
•Validation that the Website operators are a legitimate, legally accountable organization


Q: What are the penalties for noncompliance?
A: The payment brands may, at their discretion, fine an acquiring bank $5,000 to $100,000 per month for PCI compliance violations. The banks will most likely pass this fine on downstream till it eventually hits the merchant. Furthermore, the bank will also most likely either terminate your relationship or increase transaction fees. Penalties are not openly discussed nor widely publicized, but they can be catastrophic to a small business.

It is important to be familiar with your merchant account agreement, which should outline your exposure.


Q: What is defined as ‘cardholder data’?
A: Cardholder data is any personally identifiable data associated with a cardholder. This could be an account number, expiration date, name, address, social security number, etc. All personally identifiable information associated with the cardholder that is stored, processed, or transmitted is also considered cardholder data.

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