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Money Mistake Monday – My Credit Card Numbers Online Syndrome.

When I do buy goods from retailers, quite often I end up doing it online due to the cheaper prices and the lack of taxation. However, I used to just leave my credit card trails all over the internet at various retailers, letting them store the numbers on their servers just to make my life easier next time I came along to shop. But that all changed one day, when one of my friends had his credit card number stolen from a big-box retailer’s online store and some thief racked up $5,000 in charges, I got scared. I realize that credit cards will normally remove the charges when your number gets stolen, but that could be a long drawn-out battle and one that I do not really care to fight. It was at that point that I changed my online behavior concerning credit cards.

I no longer allow any online retailer to store my credit card number, nor do I use my actual number when making purchases. Most credit card companies will provide what are called “virtual account numbers”, which are single-use only numbers that you can use for online shopping. Once you buy the product, the charge goes through to your actual account number, and the virtual number no longer works. So even if someone managed to get or see your virtual number, they could not use it for anything at all, and your real account number cannot be breached. It really is a brilliant idea and one that I use quite often.

If you are logged into your credit card’s website, there should be a button for “create a virtual account number”, where you can get a number to use once. There are also some companies that provide a plug-in or a bookmarklet for your web browser that will insert a virtual number into the credit card field at a retailer’s site, which is pretty cool. If you don’t see anything about it on the site, give your credit card company a call and ask them about it. Any way that you can get the number, it is a great way to shop online without giving away your actual credit card number.

When I decided to make that change, I did have to go back to any retailer I had shopped at and remove my credit card number, but it did not take that long, and the piece of mind I got from it was worth it. My friend taught me a lesson at his expense, but hopefully I can stop it from happening to me.


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Comments (9)

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  1. FFB says:

    I’m going to think twice now before I store my info on a website (gotta go through already used sites too). I never knew about the virtual number. That’s awesome. Thanks for the info (and sorry to hear about your friend’s charges).

    -FFB

  2. David says:

    Thanks and glad you will give them a shot, it’s pretty cool!

  3. mjmcinto says:

    I don’t use a virtual account number. I do however use only one card, and that card only gets used at Costco and online. It’s an amex card, and I use it b/c they have good fraud detection, and are generally pretty good about removing charges, etc.

    Here’s an example (this predates the popularity of Virtual Numbers):
    I’m good about checking my accounts online. My bank account gets checked daily, and the credit cards at least once weekly. I got a call from Amex one evening and they were inquiring about a charge to a website for several hundred dollars that didn’t fit w/my spending habits (I had actually logged in a few hours earlier, and it wasn’t even posted on my transactions yet). It sounded like it *might* be a site my wife would have used, but it did seem odd that she wouldn’t talk to me about a several hundred dollar purchase, so I asked them to hold for a few minutes while I verified w/my wife that it wasn’t her. A few minutes later I told them it wasn’t us, they sad no problem, thanks for the info, and that was it. It never even made it to be posted on my account where I could see it.

  4. Mrs. Micah says:

    I’m trying to remember—does PayPal offer them for non-PayPal credit card users who do have PayPal accounts?

    I know they offer then for people using their credit cards.

  5. David says:

    That I am not sure about, because I do not have a CC with them. Anyone?

  6. Clever Dude says:

    But what if you have to return the item. How do they credit the charge to a now defunct number?

  7. david says:

    From my experience, for chargebacks the number still works as it is on record with your CC company.

  8. Raya says:

    Answer to Mrs. Micah:
    There is no problem using a virtual cc # on a website tied to paypal, as you treat the charge as a non paypal transaction. Your generate a virtual number on the screen and then enter it the same way you would for a standard credit card entry, e.g. master charge. The beauty of this system is that you have created a “virtual” credit card that displays all the information contained in a standard credit card.

  9. Raya says:

    Clever Dude:

    Unfortunately David’s response to you is incorrect: Using virtual credit cards is not good if you think you may want to return your purchase.

    The reason:
    A virtual credit card number expires the same day it is created which means that it will no longer be valid if a credit card refund is attempted.

    Also, many companies refuse to issue refunds to a different credit card.

    Your best bet is to request that a credit be applied to you account.

    Sorry,
    Been there, done that!

    Raya

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