Virtual credit cards help guard online shoppers from scammers

Virtual credit cards are unique credit card numbers that allow you to make online purchases on your main credit card account without using your main credit card number.

Asking someone if they shop online might be a silly question--especially this time of year.

However, the constant threat of credit card fraud is always serious.

Citi and Capital One offer “virtual credit cards." These are unique credit card numbers that allow you to make online purchases on your main credit card account without using your main credit card number.

The banks let you set a spending amount and expiry date on the card.

The payments product "Privacy" lets a customer limit a virtual credit card number for use at a single outlet--like Walmart, Amazon, and Spotify.

A video explaining what these cards are is below.

Jim Winsett, local president of the Better Business Bureau, said he feels confident in this payment method.

"It's giving you the option of still getting another resource or another credit card that can be used within multiple transactions or even a single transaction," he said. "And then that essentially disappears.”

Winsett calls the virtual cards another layer of protection because scammers can't trace it back to your real card.

NewsChannel 9 spoke with shoppers near Coolidge Park on Tuesday. Many of them had not heard about virtual credit cards.

“It’s intriguing, yeah,” said Leisl Slaughter. “I’d give something like that a chance.”

Another set of shoppers said they would consider giving the format a try.

“That sounds pretty cool, be a safer way to shop online without having to worry about getting fraud,” said Destiny Johnson.

On top of protecting your funds, Winsett says the ability to limit the card's amount protects your budget, too.

"It says to you, 'you're out of money, now, and your really shouldn't sent an more,'" he said.

Although the card prevents scammers from stealing your real card information, the fully-online format comes with limitations.

Returning items you order online to a physical store could be a challenge with virtual credit cards. Without a physical card, you cant insert or swipe the card you used for the purchase to process your refund back to your account.

The shoppers we spoke with saw this as an inconvenience.

"I return a lot of stuff, especially with clothes, I really don't like trying on clothes in stores, so that would definitely be an issue," Johnson said.

Winsett says shoppers could get too comfortable with this level of protection--falling victim to phishing scams or trusting sites we may not normally trust.

"We have other online payment options that have proven at this point that they are secure," he said. "Why not just use another resource that you have in place?"

Winsett also said to be careful when using virtual cards to pay for subscriptions because the cards can be set to expire on a monthly basis.

“You’ve got to make sure you calendarize it, who, what, when, and where, those charges should be taking place,” he said.

Watch Eryn Cooper's 6PM report below.

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