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Ideal for shopping online, a virtual credit card number is a number that is linked to your regular credit card account that is either good for a single use or for a limited amount of time after which it expires. If a thief or hacker were to get a hold of your virtual number, they would only be able to make a limited amount of fraudulent transactions, if any at all.

While virtual numbers are not an option for every single credit card out there, many of the big issuers offer them. They may be made available either through the issuing bank or the payment network. You can find out if the card you carry has the option to generate a virtual account number for use on the internet by visiting your card issuer’s website or calling the company and speaking to a customer service representative. Be sure you gain a thorough understanding of what, precisely, the service entails and what the fee is.

Every issuer has their own system for issuing virtual credit card numbers but in general, it is simple to generate a 16-digit number for temporary use. The process will most likely entail you logging into your credit card account, clicking a few boxes and choosing an expiration date. To use the number, you enter it, the security code and the expiration date you established into the appropriate fields during the checkout process.

One excellent way to make use of a virtual account number is for making recurring payments on something you don’t want to renew automatically after a certain point, such as a subscription. Many issuers now allow you to customize your virtual number in a variety of different ways, which means that you now have more control over what they can be used for. You could adjust the expiration date so that the number is good for a day or a year, you can set a spending limit, you may be able to earmark a number for use with a particular merchant or some combination of the three – all of which work to ensure that the number, if stolen, would be useless in the hands of a thief.

Virtual numbers are not restricted to be used on the World Wide Web, although they were initially created specifically for online shopping. They can be used when making catalog or phone orders as well. However, you should be cautious about using a virtual number for a transaction that may require you to show the credit card used for payment at a later date – such as for airline tickets or for events tickets that you will retrieve from a will-call window at the venue.

One other fact you should know about virtual credit card numbers is that they may potentially make returning an item a bit more difficult. This is due to the expiration date of the number – it was valid at the time of purchase but not weeks later when the buyer decided to make the return. This made it so that banks and retailers could not determine how to get the funds back to the person who initially purchased the item. This can be solved by either extending the expiration date when you set up the virtual number to allot some extra time for returns, or by resigning yourself to receiving store credit in exchange for returning an item bought with a virtual number.