The more you hear about fraud and identity theft from online purchases, the more nerve-wracking online shopping can be. Luckily, credit card companies are stepping up their game when it comes to online security. Besides fraud protection guarantees that protect you after the fact, more companies are implementing measures that make it even more difficult to steal your credit card number. One such option is a temporary, or virtual, credit card number.
What is a Virtual or Temporary Credit Card Number
These randomly-generated numbers are assigned by your credit card company. You can typically get the number through your credit card company’s website. The virtual number will look different from the one on your physical credit card, but it’s still linked to the same account.
You can use the temporary number for online shopping, and it’ll expire after a set amount of time. So even if hackers swipe this temporary credit card number while you shop online, it will likely expire before they can use it.
Credit Cards with Virtual Numbers
While not all credit card companies are currently offering virtual credit card numbers for all their credit card types, some do. Right now, Citibank offers this service to certain cardholders. I carry the Citi® Double Cash Card, and it offers virtual account numbers:
Some issuers have replaced virtual card numbers with secure digital wallets. For example, Bank of America did offer a temporary credit card number, but discontinued the service in 2019 when it concluded its other security features were able to detect fraud.
Digital wallets don’t require the transmission of a credit card number, and therefore, are more secure than using a physical card or card number. Apple Pay and Google Pay are examples of digital wallets. Some banks, such as Wells Fargo, have credit cards that can use these digital wallets, while other banks offer their own digital wallets.
Here’s a list of the major credit card issuers and whether they offer virtual credit card numbers or a digital wallet.
|Credit Card Issuer||Virtual Card Number (VCN)|
Digital Wallet (DW)
|Bank of America||DW||Details|
|Chase||VCN||via Chase Pay|
Note that issuers that offer virtual card numbers may also offer digital wallets. Digital wallets, however, have some limitations. For example, Chase Pay only works were it is accepted, and it doesn’t work with business credit cards.
How to Get a Temporary Credit Card Number
The process for generating a virtual number is simple:
- Sign on to the credit card company’s website and navigate to their virtual number feature (see links to some card issuers above);
- Enter your spending limit for the virtual number;
- If the feature is available, enter date when the number should expire; and
- The card issuer generates a virtual number and security code that you can use to shop online.
5 Things to Know About Virtual Credit Cards
While these cards can make online shopping safer, be sure you understand all their ins and outs before using them. Here’s what you need to know:
1. You may have to apply for a new number each time you shop. Different virtual credit card systems have different rules. Some expire in a very short amount of time, such as 24 hours. But they can last for up to a year. If your credit card issuer uses shorter-lasting numbers, you’ll need to apply for a new temporary number each time you shop. It’s typically a simple process, though. You’ll just have to remember to do it each time you want to shop online with a temporary credit card number.
2. They aren’t 100% fraud-proof. While virtual credit cards can protect you from some types of fraud, they’re not completely bulletproof. If a hacker uses your credit card number within the time frame that it’s still active, you’ll still have to dispute the fraudulent charges as you normally would. Luckily, the same fraud protection rules that apply for your regular credit card number also apply to your virtual number.
3. They aren’t great for booking hotels or rental cars. In any situation where you need to use your credit card online for a booking, and then present that card when you actually check in, a virtual credit card number will be a headache. Most of the time, hotels and car rental agencies expect to verify the same card in person that you used to pay online. If you use a virtual number that doesn’t match the one on your physical credit card, you might be out of luck.
4. Returns can be a pain. Most of the time when you buy online and then make a return, you’ll get money directly back to your debit account or credit card. When you use a virtual number, this can be a problem. If your temporary credit card number has expired before you make the return, you may have to accept a gift card or check instead. This can be frustrating, depending on the merchant and the reason for return.
5. There are other options available. Even though not all credit card companies offer virtual credit card numbers yet, there are other apps and tools available to do something similar. For instance, a product called Abine created disposable email addresses that can confuse spammers. Evolving services like Apply Pay also allow you to make payments without giving a merchant your actual credit card.
While virtual, or temporary, credit card numbers have their drawbacks, they can certainly serve a purpose. It’s important to think about your fraud risk, you potential for returns, and other possible issues with an online transaction. Then, you can best decide whether or not to create a virtual credit card number for your online purchase.