Disposable diapers, disposable cameras- and now… disposable credit card numbers? They're actually referred to within the industry as virtual credit card numbers, and are currently being offered through most major credit card issuers.
Virtual credit card numbers are single-use numbers that expire within a month or two of issue, and are used for shopping online in place of the number that's actually on your credit card. What's the point? The number is only good at the one web site where you make your purchase, and only for a limit period of time- so if hackers have obtained your credit card number during an online transaction, the next time they go to use it, it will not work.
When a customer receives their credit card statement after shopping with virtual credit card numbers, the purchases show up on the statement exactly like any other purchase. Some card issuers will provide the virtual number used to make the purchase along side the charge, for reference purposes.
Why Virtual Credit Card Numbers?
One of the main reasons why some people choose not to shop online is because of their fear of credit card theft and identity fraud. The potential for personal information to be found online is a real concern- and is proven by a survey in September 2002, where over 7 percent of online shoppers surveyed claimed to be victims of credit card fraud.
Even though almost all credit card issuers promise a zero liability policy for unauthorized charges and online purchases, consumers are still concerned because of the potential for further damage. Sometimes it is difficult to get errors removed from a credit report, for example, even after being the victim of identity theft. Using virtual credit card numbers can eliminate the potential for hackers to use the card data to make purchases and discover more information about a consumer.
Disadvantages of Virtual Credit Card Numbers
While virtual credit card numbers offer many advantages over shopping online with your regular credit card number, there are also some instances when using a virtual card number has disadvantages.
When you purchase theater tickets or airline, hotel or rental car reservations with a credit card number online, you are supposed to provide that credit card when you go to pick up your tickets or when you check into the hotel or get your rental car. If you've used a virtual number, you won't have the ability to hand the clerk the credit card with a matching card number.
Recurring expenses are also a hassle using a virtual credit card number. By the time the next purchase period comes around, your number is likely to have expired.
Take Precautions Against Identity Theft & Fraud
You can take some precautions to help minimize your potential to be a victim of online fraud due to shopping online- with or without having a virtual credit card number.
Before making a purchase, make sure the website uses a secure or encrypted site to handle the transaction of your payment information. Most sites use the SSL (secure socket layer), and is recognized easily by a url beginning with 'https' instead of 'http', and often by a little locket symbol on the screen.
Always monitor your credit card statement and make sure all transactions were authorized. If you suspect there is a problem, contact your credit card company immediately.
Use a paper shredder to destroy credit statements, pre-approved credit card others, bills and anything else containing personal information before you throw them away. While many identity thieves are high-tech and use the internet to find their victims- some still dive into dumpsters to get their information!