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Virtual Credit Card Numbers – How to Generate a One Time Use Credit Card

by Miranda Marquit

One of the biggest concerns that many shoppers have is that their credit card numbers will be stolen and used by fraudsters. When you use your credit card to buy items remotely, whether you do so online, or whether you use the telephone, there is an extra element of concern related to the possibility of having your number stolen.

If you want to reduce the chances of someone stealing your identity, it’s possible to generate a one-time credit card number that can’t be used by fraudsters — even if they get a hold of it.

What is a Virtual Credit Card Number?

virtual credit card numbers

Using a virtual credit card number can protect you

A virtual credit card number is generated by issuers and connected to your account. You enter it, just as you would any other type of credit card number, and you are able to complete the purchase. Once the number has been used once, it becomes unusable going forward; if someone else gets a hold of your one time number and tries to make a purchase, it will be denied. You make your purchase, and no one knows your true credit card account number.

There are also some variations of these virtual credit card numbers: some issuers allow you to place a spending limit or time limit on the number, or create a number for each vendor. All of these options may offer more security than using the same credit card number for all purchases.

How Do You Get a One Time Use Credit Card Number?

If you want a one time credit card number, your first step should be to check with your credit card issuer. Discover, Citi, and Bank of America all offer one time credit card numbers. Other issuers might as well. You can check on the web site for a section with the name “tools” or something similar. The menu usually includes “secure online account numbers” or a related option, including “virtual account number” or “virtual credit card.” Your issuer can help you locate this on the site if you have difficulties.

Once you have found the appropriate tool from your issuer, it’s usually fairly simple to generate your one time credit card number. Most issuers can walk you through it less than a couple of minutes. You get your number, and then you can use it to make your purchase.

Why Use a One Time Credit Card Number?

The main benefit of using a one time credit card number is the security. Your personal financial information is better protected from fraudsters. These numbers are especially appropriate for online shopping, as well as phone orders. The truth is that you never know when a database is going to be hacked. If the card number stored in that database is useless, you don’t have to worry about someone gaining access to your account later.

You Still Need to Monitor Your Statements

In most cases, you can still review past purchases made with your online account number. Since the account number is connected to your regular account, a record is made, and you can reconcile it with your own records later. That said, it’s still a good idea to monitor your statements to ensure accuracy and to verify your one-time-use number wasn’t used more than once, or that any charges weren’t made past the expiration date if you used a number with a limited lifespan. These events are unlikely to happen, but it never hurts to be on the lookout.


Published or updated June 8, 2012.
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1 Sun

They are also good for subscriptions or smarmy web sites that want to charge you for subscriptions you can’t cancel easily.

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