The 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.
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:
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:
- Discover Secure Online Account Number  – Works pretty much the same, except it’s orange instead of blue.
- Bank of America ShopSafe  – I did not play with Bank of America’s version but the screenshots make it look similar to Discover & Citi.
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 )