Cyber Security & Technology to help you stay safe online

Virtual Credit Cards

Yep, everything’s virtual these days… even credit cards. 🙂

Not many people realize this, but many credit cards / banks offer a one-time use, or limited use, virtual credit card number. It’s not heavily advertised, so you may have to poke around your bank’s website to see if they offer it.

It works like a regular credit card – because it is – but YOU can better control it. Here’s how it works… Say you want to purchase something online but don’t want them to have your actual credit card number. Use a virtual card!

So you set it up on your bank’s website and it generates a unique number that’s attached to your account. You only want to put $50 limit? Boom, you now have a $50 credit card. Want to assign one website one number and another website another number, without assigning a specific dollar amount to its credit limit? Sure!

What’s the benefit in this? Well, if you make a purchase on a site and decide to never use it again, you can just delete/deactivate that virtual credit card number. Done. That site can’t do anything with it, and if there’s ever a security breach, that site will have your no-longer-valid credit card information.

American Express offers a service called American Express Go. Citibank also offers it for select Citi Cards. Bank of America offers a similar service called Eno.

But, this may be a dying fad. Several other credit card companies did away with their virtual card service, including Discover Card since they now offer $0 Fraud Protection as part of their credit card service. Others simply dropped it due to lack of interest.

Are they worth it? I think that’s a matter of opinion… If you’re paranoid about a particular website, you need to ask yourself: I don’t trust them enough to give them my (real) credit card info, but why do I trust them enough to give them money. Credit card companies don’t often refund you money if you later find out that you got swindled, so be wary of these shady sites selling you things.

One major benefit from having a Virtual Credit Card, is to take back control of auto-renewing subscriptions. Some apps offer a “free trial”, but only later find out that they are near to impossible to cancel. Having an account that you can dictate the recurring amount of available credit limit, will help to better control these type of apps. Some apps won’t let you try the free trial without doing everything involved in signing up, stopping shy of executing the payment.

If your bank offers this service, why not use it? It’s a good option for a site you’ve never used before or you’re worried that they will auto-renew a service that you have no intention of auto-renewing.

But what if your bank doesn’t offer it? There are services out there, like Privacy.com, that offer you this service by allowing you to have multiple virtual credit cards. They offer free or paid tiers. [Full disclosure: There’s nothing to disclose, I’m not getting paid by them and get nothing back from them, if you subscribe. I’m only mentioning them as this is a service I’ve heard about with good reviews.]

One thing’s for sure, it definitely would have come in handy for that guy who tried desperately to cancel his AOL service and had to argue endlessly just to cancel it. Give it a listen to his call, but with caution: If you’re not frustrated now, you will have sympathy frustration (is that a thing?) afterwards. The good news is, he did cancel the service.


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