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What Is a Virtual Credit Card Number?

What Is a Virtual Credit Card Number
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Updated January 27, 2024

Virtual credit card numbers are digital cards available through select card issuers used in place of your actual credit card number. They hide your payment information online, creating a more secure and convenient way to make credit card purchases. Your physical card information is not shared with merchants when you use a virtual card.

Sometimes, virtual credit card numbers are one-time–use numbers for a single transaction. Some issuers designate a virtual card number for a specific retailer. Generally, you can generate as many virtual numbers as you want for eligible credit cards.

Why should you use a virtual card number?

In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 87,451 reports of credit card fraud. Banks and financial institutions continue to improve cybersecurity measures, but scammers and hackers are getting smarter, too. While credit cards come with basic fraud protection, using a virtual card number can create a more secure environment for online shopping, especially if you're on the go and must rely on public networks for internet connections.

How to generate a virtual credit card number

Follow your card issuer's instructions for enrolling your credit card into a virtual credit card program. Once enrolled, you can generate a virtual card number online. Depending on your issuer, this may require using a specific internet browser, browser extension, or mobile app. Some issuers allow you to turn the virtual card number feature on and off as needed.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Additional fraud protection
  • Can protect you from data breaches
  • No physical card is required for online purchases

Cons:

  • Can't be used for in-person shopping
  • Not all card issuers offer them
  • Could make returns or in-person verification more difficult

Benefits

Additional fraud protection

Using a virtual credit card number disguises your actual card number, reducing the potential for fraud when shopping online. If you run into an issue of fraud, that specific virtual card number is locked, but other virtual numbers through the issuer will continue to work.

Protection from data breaches

If a merchant or retailer falls victim to a data breach, your credit card information won't be compromised if you use a virtual card number.

No physical card is required

Digging through your wallet or purse to find your credit card when shopping online is unnecessary. Generally, you can access your virtual card number through your online account, mobile app or a browser extension.

Disadvantages

Can't be used for in-person shopping

Because the number is virtual, there is no physical card to swipe, insert or tap for payment when making purchases or paying for services in person.

Not all card issuers offer them

Not all credit card issuers offer virtual credit card numbers. Others only offer virtual numbers for select cards. Ask your card issuer if it provides virtual card numbers and how you can request them.

Difficult to use in certain scenarios

Virtual credit card numbers are designed for online use, but there are times when you could still run into issues. Store returns become more challenging because the card number attached to your order won't match the number used to make the purchase. Save your receipts to verify the purchase. Also, you might experience difficulties with in-store pickups of online orders. Sometimes, store associates may ask you to present the payment card, which you can't do with a virtual card.

How do you use a virtual credit card?

Virtual credit card procedures vary between card issuers. Usually, you must enroll your card for a virtual card number first. Once enrolled, you can often add your virtual card as a payment option with a merchant online or in a mobile app. During checkout, select the virtual card from among the payment methods stored. The merchant may ask you to confirm your identity before completing the transaction.

Who should get a virtual credit card?

You should consider getting a credit card with virtual credit card numbers if you frequently shop online or make payments from unsecured networks. Credit card fraud can happen anytime, so you may consider using a virtual number regardless of how often you shop online.

Virtual credit card alternatives

While virtual credit card numbers offer safety and convenience, they aren't the only digital payment option. And because you can't use them for in-store shopping, they aren't as versatile as some alternative payment options.

Mobile wallets

Mobile wallets, or digital wallets, are the digital version of your physical wallet. Instead of carrying around physical payment cards, which increases the chances of their getting lost or stolen, you can load your actual card number and information into a mobile wallet. You can use your mobile wallet for payment at select retailers with payment processors equipped with compatible hardware.

Popular mobile wallets include:

  • Apple Pay
  • Google Pay
  • Samsung Wallet
  • PayPal
  • Venmo
  • Walmart Pay
  • Amazon Pay

Payment apps

Payment apps allow you to send money to people or businesses quickly. People tend to carry cash less now, relying more on payment cards and digital payments. Many businesses have become cashless, making debit cards, credit cards and digital payments more necessary.

With payment apps, you can link payment cards, including credit cards, to use for digital payments or to deposit to your payment app balance.

Popular payment apps you can download to your mobile device include:

Examples of virtual credit cards

Below are some credit cards which offer virtual numbers. Examine your spending habits and needs to determine which card, if any, are right for you.

Credit cardAPRAnnual feesCredit scoreBonus rewards full
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bonus_miles_full
reg_apr,reg_apr_type
annual_fees
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bonus_miles_full
reg_apr,reg_apr_type
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For rates and fees of the card_name, please visit this URL.

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TIME Stamp: virtual credit cards make shopping online more secure

Virtual credit cards aren't necessary, but they can protect your personal and financial information. They're convenient for certain types of purchases but not for others. Consider your online shopping habits and how secure the networks are when you shop online to determine if it's worth using. Virtual credit cards require enrollment to use, but are free for cardholders.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Are virtual credit cards free?

Yes. Card issuers do not charge cardholders for access to virtual credit card numbers.

Can I get a Chase virtual credit card number?

No. Chase does not currently offer virtual credit card numbers for any of its credit cards.

Can I get an American Express virtual credit card number?

Virtual credit card numbers are available for all eligible American Express credit cards in good standing. You can enroll an eligible card for a virtual card number from a desktop or mobile device.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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