Stay Secure Online with Virtual Credit Card Numbers

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Blog

Aug 08, 2018 | Updated Nov 28, 2018

Virtual credit cards are digital versions of real, physical credit cards.

You can use them instead of your actual card details when shopping online or by phone, to help prevent credit card fraud and identity theft.

What is a Virtual Credit Card?

A virtual card functions like a disposable representative of your real card. If something happens to a virtual card, you can just delete it and get a new one.

The two main purposes for using virtual account numbers (VANs) are security and convenience. Instead of providing merchants with your actual credit card details, you can just give the virtual card number.

Then, if there’s any security issue with the website or company, you can simply cancel that virtual card. You don’t need to worry about thieves making all sorts of fraudulent transactions, because they would just have that one limited number. And you won’t need to report your card information as stolen and get a new card mailed.

Here’s a summary of just about everything you need to know about virtual credit cards:

  • They help protect your card information: If a hacker steals your virtual credit card it won’t compromise your actual account, improving your overall card security.
  • Only for online and phone purchases: Virtual credit cards can be used online or on the phone, but not for in-store purchases.
  • The card details are different: Your virtual card will have a different account number, security code, and expiration date.
  • The features vary: The features you get with virtual cards will depend on your card issuer.
  • Some are one-use only: A virtual number may be limited to a single transaction.
  • May be merchant-specific: A particular virtual number may be limited to transactions with a single merchant.
  • Might have spending limits: You can often set individual spending limits for each virtual card you create.
  • Purchases show up as normal: Any purchases or transactions you make will show up in your account as they normally would, although they may be tagged with the virtual number.

Virtual cards don’t come with any extra security measures compared to physical cards. They’re just an extra layer on top of the fraud protections you already have. The CARD Act limits your personal fraud liability to $50, and the major credit card issuers go even further by providing $0 liability policies.

A virtual card doesn’t give you anything more than that, but it does serve a bit like a first line of defense that you can easily replace. Thieves will get your disposable card details instead of your actual credit card details.

Using virtual card numbers could be a wise move if you’re making purchases from a website that you suspect is shady or unsecure.

Some credit card companies offer virtual credit cards, but not all. Keep reading to learn more and find out where you can get a virtual card number right now.

Are you looking for an instant card number you can use right after being approved? Jump down to read more about cards that you can use immediately.

When to Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers

How secure do you feel when shopping online? Are you willing to give your real account details to any website you might make a purchase from?

Your answers probably depend on your temperament, and where you tend to shop. If you only make purchases from big, popular merchants, you can feel safe from scams but data breaches are still a threat. When it comes to smaller companies, which might have websites that seem cheap, shady, or scammy, it’s normal to feel more skeptical about the security of your private data.

Here are some situations in which you might want to use a virtual credit card, for security or otherwise:

  • Online shopping: You may want to use disposable credit cards for all your online purchases, just to be safe or for the convenience.
  • Subscription services: Say you only want to subscribe to Netflix for six months. Pay with a virtual card that will expire by then, and Netflix won’t be able to charge you after that date.
  • Convenience: If you use virtual numbers for online subscriptions and you lose your physical card, you won’t have to reset all that payment information when you get a new physical card number.
  • Potentially risky websites: It might be easiest to only use virtual cards for websites or companies that seem shady, or with new businesses.
  • You’re worried about data breaches: Data breaches are all too common. But if hackers steal your virtual card number, you can just sigh in relief as you create a new one.
  • You’ve been a victim of identity theft or credit card fraud: If you’ve already gone through the worry and hassle of identity theft or credit card fraud, you might want to take extra steps to help prevent it from ever happening again.
  • Give your child a spending method: You can give your kids a virtual credit card with a spending limit, instead of handing over your actual card.

Virtual Card Number Pros and Cons

Should you be using virtual account numbers? There aren’t many serious downsides, except in some rare occasions.

Pros

  • Added layer of security
  • No need to get a new physical card if the data is stolen
  • Convenient payment method
  • Easy to create and manage multiple virtual numbers
  • Some virtual account numbers can be used with some digital wallets

Cons

  • Only work for online or phone transactions (known as card not present transactions)
  • No extra fraud protections beyond the regular card features
  • May have trouble with returns (although VAN providers say returns should work normally, as long as you follow store and card policies)
  • Reservations made with credit cards, like hotels and car rentals, may require you to show the card when you arrive — impossible with virtual cards

Where Can I Get a Virtual Credit Card Number?

There are currently only three credit card issuers that provide virtual account numbers. We’ll summarize them here, and then go into more detail below.

There are also several digital wallet services that can perform a very similar function for online transactions (and in-store as well). You can learn more about them below.

Virtual Account Provider Details
Bank of America ShopSafe
Capital One Eno
Citi Virtual Card Accounts
American Express has the vPayment system, which generates virtual account numbers, but this is for corporate accounts only.

Bank of America ShopSafe

Setup
  • Log in to your online account
  • Click on the “Account Activity” tab
  • Click the “Use ShopSafe” link at the bottom-right
Learn More
Details

The ShopSafe feature will let you create virtual credit cards that you can use for card not present transactions, like online or phone purchases.

This service actually looks pretty cool when you use it. It shows a digital credit card, with random numbers being generated to fill in the details.

Generating a virtual credit card with Bank of America ShopSafe.

Generating a virtual credit card with Bank of America ShopSafe.

Bank of America Credit Cards

A few of our favorite Bank of America cards are the following.

Key Terms & Features

  • 3% cash back at gas stations, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs
  • 12-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card

 

Key Terms & Features

  • 3X points per dollar at the Bank of America Travel Center, 1.5X points for every other purchase
  • 12-month 0% intro APR for purchases
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees

Read more in our Review of the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card

 

Key Terms & Features

  • 3X miles per dollar at Alaska Airlines
  • Signup offer of 30,000 bonus miles and a companion fare for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Annual companion fare
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees

 

Capital One Eno

Setup
Learn More
Details

You’ll need a Capital One card to use Eno, Capital One’s “intelligent assistant.” You’ll also need to use either the Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox web browser, so you can get the Eno extension.

The virtual card numbers you create with Eno will be merchant-specific, meaning each one can only be used with its paired merchant.

After installing the extension, the Eno assistant will pop up when you’re on a checkout page. Follow the instructions to create a virtual card number for that merchant. That number will be saved and used for future purchases from that same merchant.

Or, you can use Eno to create virtual cards before making purchases.

The Eno tool includes a unique service that allows you to get your full card information as soon as you’re approved, rather than having to wait until you get the physical card in the mail. That includes the account number, expiration date, and CVV security code. Or, if your card is lost or stolen, Eno can provide your replacement card information instantly to help you get back on track more quickly.

Capital One Credit Cards

Capital One credit cards are available for people of all credit ranges. Check out some of Capital One’s best credit cards below.

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Key Terms & Features

  • 10X miles per dollar at Hotels.com/venture, 1.25X miles for every other purchase
  • 12-month 0% intro APR for purchases (then 14.74%–24.74% Variable APR)
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees

Read more in our Review of the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card

 

Key Terms & Features

  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase
  • 15-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers (with a regular 18.74%, 23.74%, or 27.74% Variable APR after that)
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees

Read more in our Review of the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

 

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Key Terms & Features

  • 1% cash back for every purchase (1.25% cash back when you pay on time)
  • Access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees

Read more in our Review of the Capital One Journey Student Credit Card

Citi Virtual Card Accounts

Setup
Learn More
Details

Most Citi cards are eligible for virtual account numbers. The only exceptions are the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi (Review), along with the business version of that card, and the old Citi Dividend card (which is no longer open to new applications).

Each virtual card will be specific to a single merchant. You can set spending limits and expiration dates.

You can manage and use your virtual account numbers through Citi’s web service. Windows users can choose to download a program to manage virtual accounts instead.

Citi Credit Cards

Learn more about Citi credit cards, or take a look at a few of Citi’s best card offers.

Key Terms & Features

  • 2% cash back for every purchase you make
  • 18-month 0% intro APR for balance transfers
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Citi Double Cash Card

 

Key Terms & Features

  • 3X points per dollar on gas, 2X points at restaurants and on entertainment
  • 60,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
  • $95 annual fee, waived the first year

Read more in our Review of the Citi ThankYou Premier Credit Card

 

Key Terms & Features

  • 18-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Citi Simplicity Mastercard

Using Digital Wallets for Extra Card Security

Rather than giving you a virtual number to use, digital wallets store your card information in a (presumably) secure location. Then, a unique token is created whenever you make a purchase, and this is used instead of your real card information.

Digital wallets aren’t exactly virtual credit card services, but they have basically the same effect: They hide your real account details when making payments, by creating and using a one-time random number. You can only use these digital wallets with certain merchants, however.

Two networks and some credit card issuers provide digital wallets. A digital wallet may or may not also be a mobile wallet: an app you can use on your phone to make in-store purchases.

As you can see below, Mastercard Masterpass and Visa Checkout can be used with any of the major credit cards. So you can use either of these services with most credit cards. But a wallet provided by a credit card issuer can only be used with that issuer’s cards.

There are also digital wallets provided by other companies, like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay.
Digital Wallet Details
Mastercard Masterpass
  • Accepts Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover cards
Visa Checkout
  • Accepts Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover cards
Amex Express Checkout
Chase Pay

 

Mastercard Masterpass

Setup
Learn More
Details
  • Digital wallet service
  • Doesn’t provide VANs, but works in a similar way
  • Accepts Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover cards

The Masterpass digital wallet service can be used with any major credit card.

Quite a few merchants accept Masterpass, both online and in-store. Masterpass users will occasionally get special offers, like an extra $5 for loading at least $10 on your Dunkin’ Donuts DD card.

Look for the Masterpass logo to make purchases using this service, or check out the merchant directory in the table above.

The Masterpass logo at checkout.

The Masterpass logo at checkout.

Visa Checkout

Setup
Learn More
Details
  • Digital wallet service
  • Doesn’t provide VANs, but works in a similar way
  • Accepts Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover cards

The Visa Checkout service replaced the old V.me payment system. After signing up you can add cards from any of the major issuers, not just Visa cards.

Like Masterpass above, Visa Checkout users will occasionally see deals with particular merchants. A recent deal was $25 off a future order at Shutterfly after making a purchase from that company using Visa Checkout.

You can use Visa Checkout at a wide variety of merchants, which you’ll find linked in the table above. Click the Visa Checkout logo to use it for your purchase.

The Visa Checkout logo at checkout.

The Visa Checkout logo.

Amex Express Checkout

Setup
  • Automatic for Amex cardholders
Learn More
Details

Amex cardholders don’t need to sign up or register to use Amex Express Checkout.

Just click the logo when you checkout with a participating merchant, and you’ll be asked to provide your American Express login details. Then you can select the card you’d like to pay with.

The Amex Express Checkout logo.

The Amex Express Checkout logo. It’s not weird to order smiley strawberries for yourself.

American Express Credit Cards

American Express has quite a few good cards. Here are a few of its best.

Key Terms & Features

  • 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines, and flights and hotels booked through Amex Travel
  • $200 airline fee credit, $200 Uber credit, $100 Global Entry/TSA Pre✓ credit, Global Lounge Collection
  • $550 annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Platinum Card from American Express

 

Key Terms & Features

  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets and with Amex Travel
  • 20% point bonus for making 20 or more purchases with the card per month
  • 15-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers, no balance transfer fee
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Amex Everyday Credit Card

 

Key Terms & Features

  • 6X points per dollar at participating SPG and Marriott properties, 2X points for all other purchases
  • Annual free night award, SPG Silver Elite status, premium internet access
  • $95 annual fee, waived the first year

Read more in our Review of the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express

Chase Pay

Setup
Learn More
Details
  • Digital wallet service
  • Doesn’t provide VANs, but works in a similar way
  • Only for eligible Chase credit cards

Only some cards and devices are eligible for Chase Pay. You can check the list of cards that work in Chase Pay here. Chase Pay is available for iPhone 5 or newer, iOS versions 9 and up. It’s also available for Android OS 4.1 and up.

With some merchants you may need to make purchases through the actual Chase Pay app if you want to use this payment method. Otherwise, like Masterpass and Visa Checkout, you should look for the Chase Pay logo when checking out online.

The Chase Pay logo at checkout.

The Chase Pay logo at checkout.

Chase Credit Cards

Here are some of the top credit cards offered by Chase.

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Key Terms & Features

  • 2X Ultimate Rewards points for travel and at restaurants
  • 50,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee, waived the first year

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

 

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the Chase Freedom, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Key Terms & Features

  • 5% cash back in categories that change every 3 months
  • 15-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Chase Freedom Credit Card

 

Key Terms & Features

  • No balance transfer fee for transfers made in the first 60 days
  • 15-month 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee

Read more in our Review of the Chase Slate Credit Card

Instant Credit Card Numbers

Need a credit card fast? Some card issuers provide instant credit card numbers that you can use immediately after being approved.

Not all issuers offer this service for all of their cards. American Express, Capital One, and USAA are the only issuers that provide it for all of their cards. Some other issuers provide it for some of their cards.

Instant card numbers are similar to virtual card numbers, but they’re not quite the same. Instant card account numbers are the same as the account numbers on their corresponding physical cards, while virtual account numbers are different than the account numbers on physical cards. So instant card numbers don’t offer the same kind of protection that virtual numbers do — you’ll be exposing your actual card details online when using instant card numbers.

There are several issuers that offer instant card numbers, at least for some of their cards:

  • American Express: You can get an instant card number after being approved if Amex can instantly verify your identity. The account number will be the same as the physical card you get, but the other details may differ.
  • Bank of America: Three BofA airline credit cards will provide instant numbers if you apply while booking travel on their respective airline websites.
  • Capital One: Check your card details after being approved by logging in to Capital One’s mobile app.
  • Citi: Some of Citi’s co-branded cards are rumored to provide instant card numbers: the American Airlines, Costco, and AT&T cards.
  • USAA: Instant card numbers are provided for all cards, but credit lines are limited to $1,000 (the actual physical card will have your normal credit limit).

And there’s one other type of credit card that often provides instant card numbers:

  • Retail Store Credit Cards: Many store cards can be used immediately after approval — they’re often advertised at checkout counters, so you can use them for the purchase you’re making.

You can learn more about instant card numbers and find out how to get them here.

“Instant approval” cards are a separate but related concept. If you’re trying to get a new credit card as soon as possible, we suggest reading more about instant approval credit cards.

Virtual Prepaid Debit Card Services

There are quite a few other online services that mask, or hide, your payment information.

Some of them use prepaid virtual cards. These aren’t virtual credit cards — rather than having a line of credit, they’re tied to the specific fund that you deposit. They’re pretty much like digital versions of the prepaid cards you can buy at stores.

Other companies may use different methods. And they may be more or less secure, depending on the particular service.

Here are some of the more popular providers of virtual prepaid cards and payment masking services. Take note that we haven’t tested these companies, and we don’t vouch for their services in any way.

PayPal once offered a popular virtual prepaid debit card, but that product has been discontinued.
Service Details
Emburse
  • Made for businesses
  • Some fees apply
Entropay
  • Up to 10 virtual prepaid Visa cards at a time
  • Some fees apply
Netspend
  • Create virtual prepaid Visa cards or Mastercards
  • Some fees apply
Privacy
  • Must provide bank login details
  • Free
SpectroCard
  • Create virtual or plastic prepaid Mastercards
  • Some fees apply
TangoCard
  • Create virtual gift cards for participating merchants
  • Free

Wrapping Up

Virtual credit card numbers can help keep you secure when shopping online or by phone. They don’t actually provide any extra fraud protections, but they act as an extra layer between you and identity thieves.

Consider using a virtual number if you’re making a payment to a potentially shady company or risky website. Or, if you want to take extra steps to maintain your privacy you can use virtual numbers for all of your online shopping.

If your card issuer doesn’t offer these disposable credit cards, think about using a digital wallet instead. You can go with Visa Checkout or Masterpass for almost any card.

Before entering your credit card information, stop and think: Do you feel confident sending your personal details to this company?

Now that you know how to stay secure when shopping online, find the right card for you with our Best Credit Card Picks.
Was this helpful?

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by bank advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers' responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

The Insider

Susan Shain
No Credit Check Credit Cards (And Why We Don’t Recommend Them)
Susan Shain | Dec 07, 2018

Looking for a no credit check credit card that also offers instant approval? Here are our recommendations — plus why you should proceed with caution.

Read More
Brendan Harkness
Review of the Victoria’s Secret Angel Card
Brendan Harkness | Dec 01, 2018

The Victoria's Secret Angel Card and PINK card are popular for their rewards. But are these store cards worth getting? Read our review to find out.

Read More
Susan Shain
What Are Contactless Credit Cards? And How Do I Get One?
Susan Shain | Nov 29, 2018

Contactless credit cards are finally catching fire in the U.S. Here’s how to use this futuristic technology — and start paying with a wave of your hand.

Read More