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The levels of PCI compliance

Always keep your system secure so that clients can trust you with payment card information. You’re part of the solution when you stay compliant.


In 2018, approximately 3 million fraud and identity theft reports were received. Payment cards regulations are relatively new. Most people are losing money, and you could be the next victim!

PCI standards are not recent because they originated in the 1990s. There was a need for the development of these security standards due to increased incidences of credit card fraud. Most people are wrong to think that credit card fraud only affects giant companies.

Anyone can be a victim, including startups. You need to identify measures of protecting your data to avoid losses that could cripple your business within a second. Let’s find out how PCI compliance helps.

Understand PCI

Payment Card Industry (PCI) levels are rankings of merchant transactions each year divided into four levels. PCI uses these merchant levels to assess risks and ascertain the best security measures to protect businesses against fraud.

The PCI specifies all steps that merchants who transmit prepaid, debit, or credit card information or process card payments must follow to ensure that transactions are secure. All merchants must adhere to any of the four levels of PCI compliance to ensure that all their transactions are safe. The PCI offers protection to both merchants and cardholders.

Merchants who don’t meet the minimum requirements face fines and can be restricted from processing card payments. Although the PCI sets security standards are the same, each credit card brand uses its own program for enforcement, validation levels, and compliance.

PCI Compliance Merchant Levels

The four merchant levels are:

Level 1: This is for those merchants who process more than 6 million Visa transactions annually regardless of the processing channel. All merchants determined by VISA occupy this level to minimize risks associated with the Visa system.

One of the characteristics of level 1 merchants is their high annual processing volumes. The high volume of their transactions requires them to take active security measures. Such merchants are required to complete on-site reviews. They must hire an internal auditor and pass a network scan.

Level 2: This PCI Compliance level is for merchants who process between 1 million to 6 million Visa transactions each year despite their processing channel. Validation includes a quarterly scan, SAQ, and an Attestation of a Compliance Form.

Level 3: This is for merchants processing 20,000 to 1 million Visa transactions per year. The validation requirement for these merchants is similar to level 2 merchants.

Level 4: This is for merchants who process less than 20,000 MasterCard or visa e-Commerce transactions annually. Also, for merchants processing 1 million Visa transactions annually.

How to Maintain Level 4 Classification

Any business must satisfy the following minimum requirements to be categorized under level 4 merchants.

  • Complete the set Self Assessment Questionnaire from the PCI Security Standards Council (SSC)
  • Complete and provide evidence of successfully passing the vulnerability scan
  • Complete the entire Attestation of Compliance
  • Submit the SAQ and Attestation of Compliance among other documents

Enforcing PCI Compliance

The PCI SSC is an organization of processor companies, vendors associated with payment card and credit card companies, banks, merchants, and software developers. The council is the external advisory organization.

Merchants who store, process, or transmit cardholder data must have external checks approved by reputable scanning vendors. Many private organizations provide compliance assistance annually. These organizations, especially those in the cybersecurity sector, offer consulting services, file integrity, inspections, monitoring, and configuration hardening services.

How to be PCI DSS Certified

Wondering how to become certified? You won’t get a certificate attesting to PCI DSS compliance. However, your business can stand apart as one of those committed to card security. Instead of submitting the Attestation of Compliance and SAQ to your bank, you can as well go for an on-site audit and ensure that your Internal Security Assessor or the PCI DSS Council-certified Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) files a Report on Compliance (ROC).

The ROC indicates whether your business is PCI DSS compliant or not. It’s always advisable to have everything documented because a slight mistake can lead to significant losses.

Always keep your system secure so that clients can trust you with payment card information. You’re part of the solution when you stay compliant. It’s worth noting that PCI compliance isn’t a one-time solution. Your business should continually remain engaged. Seek advice from the payments processor to know how you can meet the criteria.

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