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Theft-Proof Credit Cards Exist. So Why Aren’t We Using Them?

by on June 21, 2011

Theft-Proof Credit Cards

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.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

anon June 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Here's one reason not to use these — they can leave you hanging. For example, I've been using ShopSafe for awhile now, instead of my direct credit card information. Today, I had two services I pay for monthly with a ShopSafe generated number notify me that payment had been declined. Not understanding why there would be a problem, I logged into Bank of America to check my account. There are no ShopSafe options anymore. They're gone. No option to go to the ShopSafe section. No option to view my existing ShopSafe numbers and accounts. No option to cancel them. No option to update them. No option to create new ones. Nothing. It's as if ShopSafe doesn't exist, anymore. So, existing payees can't be paid and I can't conduct any new business online, unless I want to just give up on the whole idea and start handing out my real credit card info. There's no explanation anywhere about ShopSafe, either. It's just… gone. And not processing my cards.

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gbt December 13, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Was there a reason why ShopSafe disappeared when you logged on e.g. not paying your credit card, poor credit? I went on and have been using it with no problem and see all the options you listed..

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Mark February 9, 2012 at 9:56 pm

shop safe is not really safe it allows a transaction to get through even after we set the limit for the same it will allow a expired card to get through too only consolation with the same merchant but with virtual numbers I have tested it they are safe till now I use atleast 20-25 virtual numbers every week

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Roger January 28, 2013 at 7:50 am

ShopSafe is worthless. Bank of America will allow charges in excess of the limits you set and not just minor charges. Mine was 1000% more than the limit. Bank of America's response is dispute the charge. Isn't the purpose of setting a limit for the ShopSafe card to prevent charges in excess of the amount?

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