If you ever worry about protecting your credit card information when you’re shopping online, consider using a virtual credit card.

Using a virtual credit card number adds an extra layer of security when you make purchases online. For instance, if an online company you’ve done business with has a data breach, the hackers won’t get their hands on your real credit card account number.

You still need to be vigilant and regularly check your online credit card accounts for fraud, but using a virtual credit card number can give you a bit more peace of mind. As soon as you understand how a virtual credit card works, you’ll see how easy it is to use this security tool.

What Is a Virtual Credit Card?

As the name suggests, this isn’t a physical card that you hold in your hand. A virtual credit card has a randomly generated credit card number that changes every time your real credit card account is used for a purchase.

A virtual credit card works kind of like chip credit cards. With chip credit cards, the merchant gets a single-use number, or token, which changes every time your chip card is used.

If a fraudster got the account number from a chip card and tried to clone it, it wouldn’t work because the unique code is only good for that single purchase. With virtual credit cards, temporary account numbers are used, so, similarly, hackers wouldn’t be able to use those virtual account numbers for purchases.

How Can I Get a Virtual Credit Card?

Not every credit card issuer offers virtual credit cards. But if the service is available for your credit cards, take advantage of it. An extra layer of security is always a good thing.

Capital One offers virtual credit cards via Eno, its virtual assistant. Cardholders must install the Eno browser extension. Eno will pop up when you are ready to check out on a website. You get a virtual credit card number via Eno, and the website involved never gets your actual account number. But again, it’s all connected to your real credit card account.

Citi offers virtual credit card numbers, but this option isn’t available on all Citi cards. You can sign in to your credit card account to find out if your card is included in this program.

Other Options for Protecting Your Information Online

If your credit card issuer doesn’t offer a virtual credit card option, then you can consider other security options that are available.

If you shop online using a Visa card, you might see a Visa Secure badge when you check out. Visa states there’s a background program that’s designed to check your identity. You could be asked questions to confirm your identity if anything looks amiss. You can visit your credit card issuer’s website to find out what verification options are available to you, so you can be prepared if this happens.

If you have a Mastercard, you can consider using Masterpass, which is a digital wallet service. It allows you to keep your credit and debit card information in one secure place. American Express offers Click to Pay, which uses dynamic and encrypted data to enhance security. If you’re a cardholder, you can pre-enroll via your online account or enroll at checkout.

I don’t recommend using debit cards online, but if you must, there’s another option for extra security. Privacy.com creates virtual numbers for your credit cards and for your debit card, which gives it extra protection online. The service is free, but there are upgraded versions for a fee.

Downsides of Using a Virtual Credit Card Number

Virtual credit cards are designed for card-not-present transactions, such as when you’re making purchases online. Depending on the service you use, it can be difficult to return a purchase to the vendor. Most merchants want to reimburse you via the same card number that you used for the purchase. You may end up with a store credit instead of a refund.

Another situation that can get sticky is when you use a virtual card number to hold a reservation. When you reserve a rental car, the rental company will want to match the account number you used for the reservation to the credit card you’re now using for payment. The mismatch could make it difficult to prove you’re the person who made the reservation.

Likewise, if you’re browsing online and use a virtual credit card to put an item on hold that you plan to pick up in the store, it can be challenging to verify due to the mismatched account numbers. But as long as you use a virtual credit card for card-not-present transactions, it can be effective for getting added protection online. Virtual numbers are designed to protect your financial data online and not for in-store purchases.

Is a Virtual Credit Card Different From a Digital Wallet?

Virtual credit cards and digital wallets are not the same, but they are similar. A digital wallet is an app on your mobile device that holds your credit card and debit card information securely. You can use it as a contactless payment method if the merchant has the right equipment to process it.

The security for digital wallets is also similar to the security you have with chip credit cards. When you make a purchase, it issues a one-time code or token for the transaction. In this way, a digital wallet also hides your account numbers.

But digital wallets, including Google Pay and Apple Pay, are all a little different. So make sure you understand how a digital wallet works before using it for a purchase.

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By Richard

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