Nothing is more important than keeping a customer’s payment card data secure. Specific compliance requirements are determined by the size of a merchant’s business.

It is vital for the smallest Internet stores to the world’s largest corporations to be in compliance with PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) if they accept credit cards.

What does PCI compliance mean? The PCI (Payment Card Industry) Security Standards Council was formed to offer powerful and comprehensive supporting materials and support that enhance payment card data security.

PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) has developed a framework for developing a payment card security process.

This framework ensures the safe handling of cardholder information at every step by providing specifications, tools, measurements and support resources. Prevention, detection and the appropriate reaction to security breaches are in place to protect the merchant from liability.

The Council is there to help merchants through maintaining and enhancing the PCI Security Standards, providing education and training about protecting payment card data with the PCI Security Standards. They also serve as a forum for engaging with the industry on developing these standards.

Merchants are required to be compliant with the PCI Security Standard if the merchant accepts payment cards. Merchants can find out the exact compliance requirements only from their merchant services provider.

There is a requirement to register online once a year with a simple form for a $149 fee. If the merchant does not register, a monthly fee will be accessed to the merchant’s account by the card processor. (The fee that can be anywhere from $15 to $30 a month is billed at the discretion of the card processor.)

Being compliant provides the protection from security breaches that can ruin a business overnight. It is a simple process and only takes a few minutes to fill out the form on-line to become PCI compliant.

Merchants who don’t understand how to become compliant should contact their merchant service provider and ask for help with PCI compliance. Although the merchant services provider shouldn’t fill out the form for merchants, they can provide instruction on how to fill the form out.

If you are a merchant who has not become compliant, take the time to protect yourself and the cardholders who do business with you.

Michael Novitski is director of sales and marketing for Merchant Service Center of Hilton Head Island. www.mschhi.com