Think a theft-proof way to shop online or make purchases over the phone is about as likely as finding a unicorn in your backyard? Think again. Theft-proof credit cards have actually been around for a while. You could probably be using one right now if you wanted. It’s as simple as requesting a single-use credit card number.
Basically an alias for your existing credit card, these disposable or virtual credit cards allow customers to make purchases without ever revealing their actual credit card information. It’s practically a foolproof solution to credit card fraud that not many people know about.
How Temporary Credit Cards Work
Many of the big credit card issuers offer some kind of secure, temporary credit card service. Discover offers secure account numbers, CitiBank Bank calls them virtual account numbers, and Bank of America offers ShopSafe. All of them generally in the same way: you log on to your existing account and follow steps to generate a temporary account number that’s linked to your real account number. When shopping online (or on the phone, or even paying bills), you use the temporary number, which then shows up on your statement like any other transaction. It’s a simple as that.
You can generate as many single-use numbers as you want, shopping wherever you want, all while keeping your financial identity completely hidden. So if someone hacks into the site where you’ve entered your credit card information, all they leave with is your temporary “fake” credit card number that can’t be used again.
Depending on the program, your temporary number might only be good for one transaction, a few days, or a certain spending limit. Often you can choose how you want to use the number, extending the expiration or limiting it to one merchant.
The downside? Well, there really isn’t one. Sure, it takes a bit more time to generate the temporary number. And you will run into problems if you use the virtual card to purchase things that you need your actual card to redeem, like movie tickets. But other than that, these cards seem like a no-brainer.
But people still aren’t using them very often, mostly because everyone knows their credit card company won’t hold them liable for bogus purchases anyway. According to the New York Times, that’s exactly why American Express stopped offering its temporary-numbers program, saying that other safety features already offered plenty of fraud protection.