Typing your credit card number when making an online purchase can be a nerve-wracking experience. What if a hacker is “watching” and is able to obtain your personal financial information? Luckily, a product called a “virtual credit card” has been developed to help out in these situations. Here’s how a virtual credit card can help protect your credit.
What Is a Virtual Credit Card?
A virtual credit card is generated for temporary use while making online purchases, and it enables you to do so without exposing any of your real credit card information. Virtual credit cards can be used one time only, or they can be given a set expiration date. Either way, they enable you to make purchases online without exposing your credit card number to potential hackers.
Although virtual credit cards can help prevent credit card theft on your regular credit card, there are a few downsides. One is that the temporary nature of the card can make it difficult to get a refund if you end up needing to make a return. If the merchant only puts refunds back on the original card and your virtual card number has expired, you might have to settle for a store credit.
Another downside of virtual credit cards is that you can only use them to shop online or over the phone. Virtual credit cards can also pose some difficulty if you use them to purchase subscriptions or for other recurring payments. But you can manage this if you remember to update your account with a new virtual credit card number when the current one expires.
Finally, if you’re using the card to make a purchase that would require showing a physical card later — such as when booking a hotel room — then the virtual credit card could become an issue. Anytime you need to follow up a purchase with a physical card, it might be best not to use a virtual credit card.
All that said, these cards can be helpful if you’re wary of a merchant or if you prefer to add a layer of protection to your credit as you shop online.
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Where to Get a Virtual Credit Card¹
There are currently three major credit card issuers offering virtual credit cards for individual customers. They are Bank of America, Capital One, and Citibank. Below are their virtual credit card offerings:
- Bank of America has a product called ShopSafe®. This product enables customers to generate temporary credit card numbers that are linked to their Bank of America credit cards. This is a free service for Bank of America customers and doesn’t require registration.
- Capital One has a product called Eno®. Eno® assists customers with fraud alerts, expense tracking, account monitoring, delivering account details over text message, and virtual credit card numbers. This is a free service that Capital One customers can use at their discretion.
- Certain Citi® credit cards are set up for virtual credit card numbers, a free service that customers need to enroll in to participate. Cardholders can log into their accounts to find out if this feature is available with their credit card.
If you have a smartphone, you might also be able to take advantage of a technology called “tokenization,” a process that works like a virtual account number. Apple Pay and Android Pay are two examples of this.
Staying Secure When Shopping Online
Virtual credit cards can help protect you from scammers when you shop online, but they’re not foolproof. Merchants can still take your money and never ship your product.
Therefore, it’s important to remain vigilant when you shop online. There are many small steps you can take, such as only purchasing on secure websites (those with URLs beginning with “https” and not just “http”), not making financial transactions over public WiFi networks, and even reading reviews of certain merchants and websites to see how others feel about their experiences.
Data breaches, credit card theft, and identity theft seem to be everywhere these days, but they’re often crimes of opportunity. Taking a few extra steps to ensure the safety of your transactions and your personal information can go a long way.
¹This list of cards is provided for informational purposes only. Upturn Credit does not endorse any particular card or have any relationship with the card issuers. You should review all product information carefully before applying for any card.