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What Are Virtual Credit Card Numbers?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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Virtual credit card numbers are numbers connected with a virtual credit card account. Unlike standard credit card numbers, the virtual number is intended for short-term use, sometimes for a single purchase. One of the more common uses for virtual credit card numbers is making purchases online, usually discarding the number after a few purchases are conducted. This approach helps to minimize the potential for hackers to gain access to working card numbers and use those numbers in some sort of online credit card fraud.

With virtual credit cards, the account holder does not receive a physical credit card. Some providers will provide images that include the virtual numbers, while others may provide a simple email with the card number or numbers to the holder. The terms of use are usually included in the mailing, providing the holder with a quick reference guide to exactly how the account is structured in terms of duration or card balance. All the data necessary to use the card for online purposes is included in the documentation, making it easy to cut and paste the data directly into the ordering information when making an online purchase.

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A number of providers offer virtual credit card numbers to their clients, usually at very reasonable rates. In actual practice, a single number may be structured for use with one vendor, or may be used for online purchases with many different vendors over a specific period of time, such as a calendar month. Once the virtual card has served its purpose, the account holder settles the outstanding balance and the number is deactivated. Some consumers choose to create several different virtual credit card numbers at one time, using each one with a specific vendor for a short period of time before abandoning the numbers in favor of a new set of virtual numbers.

There are a number of scenarios in which virtual credit card numbers are ideal for making purchases. For example, a consumer who wants to control his or her online spending could make use of a prepaid virtual credit card that is set to a certain limit. Once that limit is exhausted, no more purchases are made for the month. This solution also helps to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of credit card fraud, even if a seller’s client database is compromised in some manner. Since the number expires quickly, the card number is worthless and cannot be used to run up huge amounts of debt.

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