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What Are Virtual Credit Card Numbers?

by Francine Huff

Credit card fraud has affected millions of consumers. While some scams involve people stealing credit card statements or applications out of people's mailboxes or trash, many victims have had their identity compromised because of online criminal activity. Using virtual credit card numbers could cut down the chances of being scammed.

Consumers Worry About Online Purchases

Many people are reluctant to shop online because they believe hackers could get access to their credit cards. That's not surprising given some of the security breaches that have occurred at banks and other financial firms. For instance, in August 2009, the Justice Department accused three men of stealing more than 130 million debit and credit card numbers by hacking into the systems of five companies.

But the fact is that thieves have been known to steal credit card information in person, too. Some thieves have used handheld skimmers to swipe cards and steal numbers. Others are able to jot down your number in settings where you don't see your card as it's being processed. It can occur in restaurants or other places where someone walks away with your credit card. Even the person standing behind you in line could be monitoring your credit card use to get your number.

Outsmarting Credit Card Thieves

To fight fraud, some credit card companies offer virtual numbers for online purchases. Virtual credit card numbers can only be used once and generally expire if not used by a certain date. Because each number is used only one time, thieves are wasting their time trying to make purchases with them.

Here are some things to remember about using virtual credit card numbers:

  • You can use virtual numbers for online purchases just as you would your regular credit card number. Each purchase shows up on your monthly statement.
  • Don't use virtual numbers for purchases that require credit cards as ID when attending an event or traveling. For instance, airlines require you to show a credit card when picking up plane tickets, so virtual numbers can't be used.
  • Avoid pre-ordering items with a virtual number because it may expire before the number is processed and the purchase completed.
  • Even if you use virtual numbers, take time to carefully check your monthly statements to make sure all charges are correct.

Use Caution When Shopping Online

Always make sure you are doing business with legitimate Web sites. Secure Web sites should have "https" at the beginning of their address. You should see a small padlock symbol on the page, as well.

Published 02/02/11 (Modified 11/21/13)


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