How to Generate One Time Use Disposable Credit Card Numbers

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Cutting Up Credit CardsThe recent breach of Global Payments has once again brought the issue of credit card security back into the limelight. While most, if not all, affected cardholders won’t feel any financial repercussions, they might have to deal with a little hassle as cards and card numbers are replaced. This rekindled my interest in a technology, one time use credit card numbers, that gained a lot of popularity the last time we had a huge data breach, when Heartland Payment Systems was hacked in 2009.

I was surprised to find out that so few issuers are offering one time use disposable credit card numbers. From what I could find, only Citi, Discover, and Bank of America offered something like this. They all use technology from the same company, Orbiscom, which was acquired by MasterCard in 2009. American Express used to offer a service like this but discontinued it years ago.

I’ll look at the Citi version of the disposable account number generator in greater detail and then link to the other two.

Citi Virtual Account Numbers

Citi’s one time use credit card program is called Virtual Account Numbers and free to card members. The Virtual Account Number program creates a one time use number that is associated with your account number. You can set a limit on the dollar amount plus a time frame with advanced features. Lastly, and most importantly, once it is used by a merchant, that number can only be used by that merchant (it makes it technically not one time use). If someone else were to take the number, they wouldn’t be able to use it to make payments to another store.

To get your number, you can either download a program that will generate it or you can log into your account online and generate it there. First, log in and look under the “Tools & Services” menu at the top. “Get a Virtual Account Number” should be the second item. From here, you can either download the application (only for Windows) or you can launch a web based version (it’s a pop up, so check your pop up blockers). I didn’t download the application version but I imagine it works similarly to the web one.

Citi Virtual Account Numbers Login

Citi Virtual Account Numbers Homepage
From the web interface, you can generate a virtual account number, view your generated virtual account numbers, view/edit your billing information, view preferences, and select your card. Everything works as you’d expect though periodically it would give me a warning that it couldn’t reach the server, then the window would close.

Here are a few screens:
Citi Virtual Account Numbers Homepage
Citi Virtual Account Numbers Homepage

That is a real virtual account number that I posted but I deleted it soon after. We’ll find out how disposable it is. 🙂

Here are the links to the other credit card issuers’ version of this disposable credit card number system:

In my search for these programs, it appears that Chase, American Express (they used to but have since ended the program), Capital One, and many other still aren’t offering this. While using one time use credit card numbers won’t guarantee your card information isn’t stolen through other means (the numbers are only available for use online or on the phone), it can give you peace of mind if you do make a purchase from a vendor with a shoddy looking website.

(Photo: LaughingRhoda)

{ 22 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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22 Responses to “How to Generate One Time Use Disposable Credit Card Numbers”

  1. Shirley says:

    I have used the Discover SOAN since it was first implemented and have never had a problem until Sept 2011 when they discontinued the downloadable version. That lasted about a month and it was back up again “due to customer feedback”.

    If your choice is to not have a SOAN program residing on your hard drive, they also have the web version at

  2. Shorebreak says:

    I would like to a statistic on what percentage of customers actually utilize the virtual account number feature from Citi when purchasing items online. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not that great of a number.

  3. Tim Hawkins says:

    There is another company used in a B2B relationship where the client sends an XML request to Wright Express, and they send back a one use credit card number (and the image if you want it). The client can then forward this v-card via fax or PDF to the merchant (in this case a mechanic). Neat stuff.

  4. longhorns says:

    Citi allows this with “personal” cards but not with “business” cards.

  5. Kenny says:

    I am an avid online shopper from the X486 computer days when auctions and online shopping was very new. My card number was stolen at least 3-4 times even with the use of the most secure sites with 128bit encryption (in mid-to-late 1990’s). Finally, I got to a point where I use to recycle my cards every 9 months by calling Citi to issue a new card even without my card being stolen.

    Finally, in one of these calls to get a new number, I was introduced to Citi VAN and I have used it ever since that time (approx 1996-97 timeframe).

    It was Citi’s biggest secret since no financial advisors, bank managers, Citi Customer Support personnel knew about it.

    It is THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD for Online Shoppers of for repeat usage with Orthodontists, Monthly Service Charges, Paying for Insurance Online, ALL ONLINE SHOPPING, Textbook purchases, Paying Cell Phone companies etc etc etc.

    For those who need this protection it works fantastic with a multi-level protection. I generate $50 cards for Amazon,, and sites since I shop there often, and then when I am near the limit, I expand the $ amount and the time. It works phenomenally well. I also generate numbers and hand them to my kids who might be buying something online. Even they believe in it.

    Thanks Jim for bringing such things to us.


  6. Andrew_Smith says:

    The execution of this great idea at BofA leaves something to be desired. But the biggest challenge is when the virtual numbers are used at Amazon to purchase items sold by Amazon partners. The credit card billing for these purchases sometimes goes through Amazon and sometimes does not. For those which aren’t through Amazon, some such purchase are accepted and some are not, sometimes without any notice whatsoever.
    For what it is worth, I have also read rumors that if a virtual credit card number is used fraudulently, the real card account is shut down, which I had hoped to avoid. C’est la Vie.

    • MikeY says:

      I just had my card hacked, along with several others at an online merchant. So FIA issued a new card and I get to do the hassle of updating a few dozen websites with my new number. I thought shopsafe might help with this for the next future hack (this was my third in 5 years). But in discussing it with FIA,

      1) If your main card is hacked, all your shopsafe numbers are cancelled immediately with no possible extension (you can get a 30-90 day extension on your main card if it is hacked).

      2) If ANY of your shopsafe numbers are hacked, all your shopsafe numbers AND your main number are cancelled.

      The only use I see for shopsafe is when you want to limit the amount an online store can bill you your card (and based upon some info from consumers online, even that is iffy).

  7. Jack says:

    I’ve been using Citi’s VANs for years now. Previously I had two credit card numbers stolen, but since I switched to VANs I’ve never seen the problem. Once a merchant charges a VAN, he’s the only one that can charge it again. So, for example, if you buy something at Amazon and someone intercepts that CC number, he won’t be able to charge it. This is also the source of the Amazon problem. They use up to four merchant names for their convenience, not yours, one for direct purchases, one for Amazon sellers, one for Kindle or other digital purchases, one for cloud services, etc., etc.

    Thus I have to track four cards for their convenience. I’ve complained, but the essence of their response is “too bad, but there are other places you can buy stuff.” I think they’d really like me to get a card from them, but due to their policies I never will.

    One big advantage of the Citi VANs is that charges for all virtual numbers and the actual number are included in a single statement, labeled so you can identify them. It makes for very easy tracking. I have no other account with Citi, I’m not fond of some of their practices, but I’m very fond of their Virtual Account Number system.

  8. irwan says:

    im from indonesia
    what i can use it from my country with my citibank creditcard from indonesia???

  9. Dave says:

    Well, Citi finally screwed the pooch on VAN. They got rid of the windows download version which I no longer use it anyway so don’t mind, however the web based version is now a PITA to use with a multiple login process and multiple clicks. Fire those IT folks.

    • Joe says:

      You are so right about Citi screwing the pooch on VAN. Sad as it is, I am still on dial up. I called Citi about the multiple login process and multiple clicks, and they had no sympathy for the amount of time it takes me to generate a VAN. Since I can no longer manager my VANs, I told the customer service rep that I will dispute any current VAN charged to my account. The customer service rep did not care at all. I am dropping them.

  10. Michael says:

    I used to use the Citi VAN religiously until about a year agao. I haven’t been able to use it once in that year, though I try at least once a month. I get to the launch of the VAN window and sign in but it just gives me a “cannot connect to server” message. Anyone else have this problem? Complaints to their IT department have gone unanswered.

  11. Former Citibank Customer says:

    Ditto, Dave and Michael! For years service from Citibank was outstanding. They even had a nice Windows app “citiucs.exe” that provided all the convenience. Around October of 2012 they suddenly went crazy and pulled the plug on the Windows app, forcing everybody to go through the gazillions of efing clicks on their website. A couple of weeks ago (i.e., January 2013) they went even crazier and now force everybody to go through some kind of “activation code” hoops calling phone numbers listed on the account – this, by the way, does not work for me – there must be a bug in their JavaScript code that makes this impossible. I spent half a day with their inept tech support who in the end were unable to resolve this 🙁 🙁 So, no more Virtual Account Numbers from Citibank for me. This really sucks. I wonder why all this sudden craziness; did they get hacked? Well, they are just pissing off legitimate customers to no end. But thanks to this thread I learned about similar services from BofA and Discover. Great! So, bye, bye Citibank, f.u.

  12. R Pettengill says:

    I agree that the VAN has been very useful for me to virtually eliminate the need to replace my card because of merchants with bad security. I use my real card with a few that I trust like Amazon and the virtual cards with everyone else.

    I do find it very irritating to have to login twice – once to the website and then again to the stupid flash VAN window. Only one login should be required and I should have to accept the terms of service only once.

    It would really be useful to have a Citi VAN application for my iPhone/iPad.

  13. Julian says:

    I was a happy Citibank VAN user for many years, I remember when the Windows app wouldn’t work with Vista and I needed to use the browser version until they upgraded the software. Eventually they got it working, but I suspect maybe Windows 7 became an issue and it required another rewrite of the software. They must have weighed how many people would be pissed off if they pulled the plug vs the cost of the update and they didn’t really care if they lost those customers.

    I am one of the pissed off customers who HATES all the hoops I have to go through to get the browser based VAN to work. I am exploring other options with other companies. Although Capital One doesn’t offer a VAN service that I have found, they have less junk fees and I think it’s time to give them a try…

  14. Dotty says:

    Citibank sent me an email a short time ago apologizing for the inconvenience of the downloaded app being unavailable and announcing its return.
    They still do not have a download for Mac though and I just spent a frustrating half hour trying to find out if the iPad Mobile app had the virtual feature. Apparently not but how hard would it be to actually put that in writing so it would be available as searchable information? Had to deduce from “technical requirements” that it’s only available for computer, even as a web based feature.
    All that being said, I still love it and use it all the time. Don’t even mind the double log-in since I figure it must be a security issue and is worth the extra minute to have the one-time use number.

  15. Anonymous says:

    What Citi has done shows a complete disrespect and disregard towards their loyal customers. They cancelled Virtual Account without a basic apology for inconvinience. I think Virtual Account was the only edge that Citi had over other providers. I don’t see any reason to use their services any more.
    So long Citi!

  16. Billster says:

    I’ve used Citibank’s Virtual Credit Cards for awhile now, and love it. I won’t buy anything online without one. Being a Mac user, we were never given an option for a desktop app. I installed it on a Bootcamp partition and used it once; it’s not that much faster than using the website. Maybe 30 seconds faster. I’m writing because my Mac is down, and can’t generate one on my iPad, since it can’t run Flash. I find myself buying more and more stuff from my iPad, and would really like ability to generate a number on my iPad. I don’t expect this to ever happen, but am writing this with hope that it will. I just hope that we’ll always have the ability to do it on our computers.

  17. Gabriel Garza says:

    I used Citi’s VAN for years, albeit my purchase habits evolved and I haven’t used CC numbers for a while (now I mostly use PayPal).

    On Citi’s issues. They’ve had several security related problems over the years, including a possible vulnerability a few years ago where one potentially could access other customer’s information (you could potentially fool the web site to give you access to someone else’s account). I’m not aware of widespread data compromises on Citi’s side, but it showed that there were some low level design issues on their site, which would require a major rewrite, and even rethinking some of their tech choices.

    Flash is quickly becoming a dead-end tech, and as more mobile devices keep coming up, it becomes more important to provide a solution that works with most. However, the usual response of coding to the minimum common denominator (ie, only support a web app) is not sufficient, since people expect better integrated solutions. Citi needs to redo the VAN app from the ground up, come up with a modular cross-platform approach that would allow to have a native app for all major platforms (mobile platforms and Win and Mac). Maybe partner with antivirus providers, so it can better integrate the VAN concept into their secure wallet solutions.

    There is the problem that VANs (and the concept of disposable cards) didn’t seem to ever take off, and that its future might be uncertain. Most Citi customers seem unaware of having the option, and the public at large uses PayPal to try and protect their financial info on line. And with mobiles, many times you tie your payment info to your phone.

    Besides VANs, there are prepaid credit cards. Albeit, they can be expensive (either with monthly fees or expensive refills).

  18. Steve says:

    I have been using Citi’s VANs for many years. I agree that there are often some login issues, but they are very strong on security and if there is even the slightest hint of tampering, you have to go through multiple logins and even a phone call or text verification. I am all the happier to deal with that.

    I have never had my account number compromised, although they did send me a new card because of the data breaches at Marshall’s and TJ Max.

    In the mean time, several of my friends have had their numbers compromised and had to do without their cards for a week or so while a new one was sent. (The card vendors usually send the card out next day, but sometimes it takes a week or so to figure out that something is wrong). Even though there is minimal liability on the part of the card holder, it is still very inconvenient to be with out a card, even for a couple of days.

    I HIGHLY recommend VANs. I only wish that more banks offered them.

  19. Dinu Rock says:

    Nice post
    Gooooooooooooood Luck !!!

  20. Cedd says:

    Steve you may be happy.

    I however have been put out of the loop using the cards. In 20 years I have never been locked out of my account once. In the past 12 months I have been locked out 3 times with this new dumb approach.

    Okay maybe they need more security but not carrying my cell phone with me due to the way I work makes it almost impossible to create VAN’s now. I must create them at home and carry the number with me now. Well if it gets lost and I can not log in to change it, what good is it?

    Now that I am locked out for a third time and yes I know my security question answers I can not even check my balances or make any payments.

    Suggested by Customer Support, I need a new account. Oh Really! I want to create a new account every time I get locked out. No Thanks.

    Get it fixed Citi. Find a better way.

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