When you shop online, you run a risk of exposing your credit card number to hackers. Fortunately, your credit card protects you from having to pay for false charges if this happens, but it’s still a big hassle. It can take many calls and letters to your credit card issuer to sort it out.
One way to avoid the problem is to use a virtual credit card number. This is a unique number linked to your credit card account that you enter at checkout in place of your actual card number. It works only for a limited time, so a thief who gets hold of it can’t use it.
A virtual credit card number is not the same as a payment app, like Apple Pay or Google Pay. These tools allow you to make digital payments in brick-and-mortar stores and online using your real credit card number. A virtual card is for online shopping, including purchases made through a shopping app.
How to Get a Virtual Credit Card Number
The easiest way to get a virtual credit card number is through the card issuer. But if your credit card company doesn’t offer this feature, there are many third-party tools that do.
1. Your Credit Card
A few credit card issuers offer virtual account numbers for their cardholders, free of charge. It’s in their interest to do this, since protecting your card from theft also protects them. After all, they’re the ones ultimately on the hook for paying any fraudulent charges.
Card issuers that offer virtual numbers include:
- American Express. AmEx offers virtual numbers for its business cards, including Blue Business Cash and Business Platinum. The primary account holder can use American Express Go to create virtual cards for employees and set spending limits for each card.
- Capital One. Virtual account numbers are available for all Capital One credit cards. You can set one up through Eno, Capital One’s digital assistant. This feature is available only via the Eno browser extension in Chrome or Firefox, not the Eno mobile app.
- Citibank. Citibank offers virtual account numbers only for selected credit cards. With the Citi Premier and Citi Diamond Preferred cards, you can generate a virtual credit card number right from your account home page. With the Citi Double Cash card, you must start on the home page and drill down through the “Other Services” menu.
- X1. The new X1 Card offers the ability to generate an assortment of virtual credit card numbers for a single account. You can create and use many cards at once and give each card its own expiration date. This feature is handy for things like trial subscriptions, since you can set a card to expire before the free trial period ends.
2. Apple Card
The Apple Card is a credit card specially designed to work with digital payments. When you sign up, you get three separate credit card numbers:
- A number for your physical card
- A number for Apple Pay transactions made via the Apple Wallet app
- A virtual credit card number for online purchases and in-store purchases from merchants who won’t accept Apple Pay
You can find your virtual account number in the Wallet app on any Apple device. If your number is ever compromised, you can get a new one instantly. This does not interfere with the use of your Apple Wallet or your physical card.
Google users can use their Google Accounts to generate virtual credit card numbers for eligible U.S. credit and debit cards. This is not the same feature as the Google Pay app, and you do not need Google Pay to use it.
When you save an eligible credit or debit card to your Google Account, you have the option to turn on the virtual card number feature. Once you do, you will have the virtual card available as a payment option at checkout for online and in-app purchases.
You can also turn on virtual account numbers when you make a purchase on an Android device or in the Chrome web browser. This only works if you select an eligible credit or debit card as your payment method at checkout.
4. Click to Pay
Anyone with a major credit card can use a virtual credit card number through the free service Click to Pay. When you use Click to Pay, your actual card number is hidden from the merchant and from anyone snooping online.
To use Click to Pay, follow these steps:
- Log into Click to Pay through your credit card network: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover.
- Enroll your card by entering your name, email, billing address, and card details.
- When you see the Click to Pay logo on a website, click the button to receive a six-digit security code on your phone or other device.
- Enter that code on the site to access Click to Pay.
- If you have more than one card enrolled in Click to Pay, select which one you want to use.
Click to Pay is only available on certain websites. However, there are over 10,000 online retailers who use it.
Privacy is a third-party platform that lets you create a virtual account number from your browser. But there’s a twist: the number is linked to your bank account, not your credit card account. The cards are effectively virtual debit cards rather than virtual credit cards.
Privacy is available as an iOS or Android app or as a browser extension for Chrome or Firefox. The service has three pricing tiers. With the free Personal service, you can:
- Create up to 12 virtual credit cards a month.
- Organize your cards in a digital wallet and tag them for ease of sorting.
- Create and auto-fill a secure card number at checkout with one click via the browser extension.
- Set spend limits for a card transaction so that any amount over the limit is automatically declined. This feature protects you from hidden fees and double charges on recurring payments.
- Add an extra layer of protection by creating secure Privacy Cards that only work with one merchant. If that merchant’s customer records are ever exposed in a data breach, your card number won’t work anywhere else.
- Track your spending in the Account Summary dashboard.
The Pro tier, which is suitable for small businesses, costs $10 a month. It lets you create up to 36 virtual cards per month and gives you priority access to customer support. It also allows you to earn 1% cash back on up to $4,500 worth of eligible transactions each month.
The $25-per-month Teams tier is for bigger businesses. It gives you up to 60 virtual cards a month and dedicated account management.
Otto is a payment tool that helps you manage recurring monthly bills and subscriptions.You can use it to organize all your bills and subscriptions in one place and pay them automatically on a schedule that works for you.
With Otto, you can create unlimited virtual credit cards at no cost. This enables you to set a different card with a unique number for each bill you receive. If one card number is exposed, the others are safe. You can freeze or cancel any card instantly without affecting the others.
Otto’s virtual credit cards include custom monthly spending limits and custom expiration dates. This can help you with budgeting by giving you a set amount to spend in each budget category. You can also create special Free Trial Cards to take advantage of trial subscriptions without risk of being automatically billed for a renewal.
Revolut is an all-purpose app for spending, saving, and investing money. It’s a prepaid debit card, online savings account, and crypto exchange all in one. And one of its key features is virtual account numbers.
You can use a virtual Revolut card to make online or in-app purchases or to shop in a store with a mobile payment service like Apple Pay or Google Pay. Revolut offers two kinds of virtual cards:
- Reusable cards that you can store and use over and over again while keeping your real card details hidden
- Disposable virtual cards that work only once, providing an added layer of protection
However, not all Revolut users have access to this feature. Like Privacy, Revolut has several tiers of service: the free Standard Service, Premium for $9.99 a month, and Metal for $16.99 a month. Only the top two tiers offer virtual card numbers.
To create a virtual card in Revolut Premium or Metal, open the “Cards” section within the app and swipe through to “Get New Revolut Card.” Select “virtual card” and choose between Virtual (multi-use) and Disposable Virtual (single-use). Then you can use your new virtual card just like a regular credit card.
Payoneer is a platform for sending and receiving payments internationally. It’s useful for freelancers who work with clients overseas and for e-commerce vendors who sell their products in foreign countries.
One feature of Payoneer is the ability to order Payoneer Cards — physical or virtual.
These cards are linked to your Payoneer account and can make payments from it in any currency you choose. Payoneer Cards work anywhere Mastercard is accepted: at ATMs, in stores, and online.
To use Payoneer cards, you must have received at least $100 in payments to your Payoneer account in the past six months. This does not include payments made from e-wallets such as PayPal, so you can’t simply send yourself money to become eligible.
Creating a virtual card is free, but there are fees for some types of payments. You can create separate Payoneer Cards for different currencies, but you can only have one for any given currency. Once you’ve created a card, you can use the “Card top-up” feature to have any funds from your Payoneer account that are in that currency transfer to the card automatically.
To order a virtual card, sign in to your account and click through the “Banks & cards” menu to “Payoneer cards.” Click on “Order a card,” select “Virtual,” and set the currency. Finally, activate your card via the “Card Management” menu before using it.
Zeta is an online bank that caters to couples. Its core feature is a joint bank account with two linked cards, one for each partner. And, in addition to their physical card, each user automatically gets a virtual card for online use.
To use your Zeta virtual card:
- Open “Settings” in the iOS or Android Zeta app.
- Scroll down to Virtual Cards and select your card.
- Toggle the card on to use it.
- When you’re done, you can toggle the card back off to stop anyone else from using it.
If your virtual Zeta card is ever compromised, you can delete it and create a new one.
There’s no need to pay for a virtual credit card number. If your credit card issuer doesn’t provide this feature, you can easily get it with a free service like Click to Pay or Otto. It’s only worth signing up for a paid service like Privacy or Revolut if you need its other features.
Virtual credit card numbers are a useful way to protect your credit card account information when you shop online. However, they have their limitations. They can’t protect you from other forms of identity theft, such as having a thief use your Social Security number to create new accounts in your name.
So treat virtual account numbers as just one of the tools in your privacy protection toolbox. To keep yourself secure, pair them with other tools such as strong passwords, antivirus software, firewalls, and monitoring your credit report regularly for signs of fraud.