Shop online safely with a virtual credit card

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Posted at 7:08 AM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-21 11:41:15-04

IDAHO — The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many consumers to move toward online shopping. In fact, e-commerce sales are predicted to rise over $709 billion in 2020. Unfortunately, that means a rise in scammers, waiting to steal your financial information at checkout.

Luckily, the Better Business Bureau is sharing tips to help you protect that information. Rebecca Barr with the BBB says you can try out a virtual credit card. The virtual card allows consumers to create uniquely generated card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes for online and over-the-phone purchases.

These unique numbers can be generated for each individual purchase or used over a longer period of time. Depending on the issuer, virtual credit cards can be used through a browser extension, online account, a program you download to your PC, or an app. Purchases made with virtual credit cards don't have any unusual effects on your credit score and simply alter the numbers you use to pay.

Currently, only a few big financial institutions offer virtual credit cards. If your bank or credit union does not, then consider a digital wallet app like Apple Pay or Google Pay, which also uses single token transactions.

So how do these virtual cards help you? Virtual credit cards offer extra protection when a company you've shopped with uncovers a data breach. Cyber thieves may be able to get a hold of your purchase information, but it won't do them much good since your real credit card information is not attached to any purchases made with your virtual card.

The virtual cards are also easy to deactivate if they're current. This means if a company you've shopped with experiences a breach, you won't need to cancel your card, wait for a new one, and then update all your automated payments with a new credit card number.

To make sure you're keeping that information safe, Barr suggests remembering these easy tips:

  • Continue to review your transactions regularly. While virtual credit cards offer extra protection from fraud, they don't make you immune. Review your credit card statements regularly, and if you find any unusual charges, contact your credit card issuer immediately.
  • Set up spending limits. Most virtual credit cards allow you to set spending limits for each virtual card number or specific merchants. Not only will this help mitigate losses if a virtual number becomes compromised, but it can also help you stick to your monthly budget.
  • Don’t use a virtual credit card to pay for long-term subscriptions. Since virtual credit cards have shorter expiration dates, they aren’t a good way to pay for subscription services. As soon as the expiration date passes, further transactions will be declined and your subscription could be canceled.

For more information on virtual credit cards, click here. BBB also offers more resources to help protect your information here.