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This article was last updated Aug 28, 2014, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.
Have you noticed that almost all of the major thefts of confidential financial data are happening in the U.S. and not in Europe? A few years ago, Americans were not really targeted any more than people in other industrialized countries. In the U.S., we are now more susceptible since our credit card technology is so out of date it presents a golden opportunity for tech-savvy criminals to potentially access our information. As we’ve been pointing out for the past 18 months, banks and major corporations across the U.S. should have seen this risk coming. I imagine that most of them probably did, but they did not respond to the imminent threat in a way to protect the average consumer.
Temporary Authorization Numbers
International cyber criminals, credit card thieves and computer hackers have had a very successful and profitable year at the expense of American consumers. By 2016 all of that is scheduled to change, and we can start to breathe a sigh of relief as chip enabled plastic is implemented all across America. In the interim, however, some banks offer a way to protect yourself when using a credit card online by issuing a temporary credit card authorization number. The idea is that you use the number once, or for a very short period of time, like 24 hours, and then it becomes completely obsolete. Another advantage is that the numbers are unique and only available for use during a specific timeframe. Due to the short shelf life, there is no incentive for a credit card thief to steal it. By the time they are able to print it onto a forged credit card or sell it to someone else it will likely be useless. If a criminal tries to use one of these it will be easier for law enforcement to track down their activity and apprehend them.
How to Use Temporary Numbers
The numbers work through online credit card accounts for customers whose banks offer this technology. Users can log into their account and generate a temporary credit card number that is different from, but directly connected to, your actual permanent credit card number. Once you have log into your account you will be able to:
- Designate the amount you want to spend, and the system will generate a temporary 16-digit account number, complete with an expiration date and security code.
- Some banks let you decide how long you want the number to remain valid and viable. Typically banks let you set a timeframe from one day all the way to one year.
- Others have more restrictive systems, so that you have to designate the particular retail location where you want to use the number. In that case, it will only be available for use with that merchant during the timeframe the authorization number is still valid.
- Regardless of your bank’s policy, the most secure strategy is to plan when you are going to shop and then set the number to remain valid only at that particular retailer through that point in time.
The number works just like an ordinary credit card number, so it doesn’t have to be processed differently and there are no identifiers flagging it as a temporary number.
Where to Find Them
Many of the big credit card companies offer this service. The best way to find out how to acquire a temporary authorization number is to call your card company’s customer service line or search for it on your banks website. The services we were able to find information on include:
- ShopSafe Protection by Bank of America
- Single-Use Accounts (SUA) by Chase
- Virtual Account Numbers by Citi
Some believe the issuance of temporary authorization numbers is no longer necessary due to $0 fraud liability for unauthorized purchases in the event your credit card is lost or stolen, such as Discover.
Other Relevant Information
When using a temporary card number, be sure to hang on to your purchase receipts in case you decide to return items for a refund. In certain cases the merchant may find it difficult to process your refund. Normally they just credit your account with the balance owed to you, but it could be a problem if your number no longer works. To avoid any stress or confusion, talk to your credit card company ahead of time and ask them how to proceed in the event that you need to ask a merchant for a refund.
*Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes per the card issuer.