Protect Your Financial Security with Virtual Credit Cards
Updated: May 12
Which Is Safer Online a Debit Card or Credit Card? More importantly; how can a Virtual Card offer additional financial security?
With credit card fraud, the card issuer's money is at stake. With debit card fraud, your money has been stolen. This can be catastrophic if you have an upcoming bill like your mortgage or electric bill. If you typically use a debit card for online purchases, you may want to reconsider. If your card information is hacked and purchases are made without your permission, you'll quickly find out that debit and credit cards are treated quite differently.
The key difference: With a credit card, the card issuer must fight to get its money back. With a debit card, you must fight to get your money back.
If card information has been stolen and potentially fraudulent transactions have been made, two laws protect your rights. For credit cards, the primary law is the Fair Credit Billing Act, or FCBA. For debit card transactions, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) applies. While these laws offer some similar protections, knowing the differences is key to understanding why it's safer to use one type of plastic than the other.
Debit Card Fraud
According to the EFTA, your potential liability for fraudulent debit card transactions is virtually unlimited. You have up to 60 days to report a lost or stolen card under the EFTA. After that, you simply lose whatever money was taken, even funds siphoned from linked accounts. The exact liability limits under the EFTA are:
Lost or stolen card reported before unauthorized transactions: zero liability.
Lost or stolen card reported within two days: $50 liability limit.
Lost or stolen card reported within 60 days: $500 liability limit.
After 60 days: no protection.
It's important to note that if your card is not physically lost or stolen, you have 60 days to report fraudulent transactions with zero liability. If only your card number is stolen, the 60 days start from the date of the statement on which a fraudulent transaction appears.
Credit Card Fraud
Under the FCBA, your maximum liability for fraudulent credit card transactions is $50. If you report your card lost or stolen before any fraudulent transactions occur, your liability is zero. Many credit cards promise zero liability for all fraudulent transactions.
"I've had my credit card information stolen and used fraudulently a number of times," says Tucker Spillane, a 24-year-old credit analyst from New York. "Fortunately, my issuer almost always picks up on it right away … usually because the activity is considered abnormal from my typical spending habits. And they provide their own fraud coverage anyway. I've never had to pay a dime."
The real difference between a debit card and a credit card when it comes to fraud is in how you get your money back. When a fraudulent transaction occurs on your credit card, you have lost no money. You can report the fraud, get a credit on your statement, and the issue will never affect your bank account.
With a debit card, your bank account balance is affected from the moment the fraudulent transaction takes place. If the transactions are significant, you could experience a domino effect of financial headaches. Fraudulent charges can tie up funds so that legitimate charges are declined or cause overdrafts.
If you don't have a credit card...
Although credit cards are a safer bet for spending online, it's possible that you do not have access to one. In this case, there are still ways to protect yourself from fraud. Maintaining a low balance in the account linked to the debit card you use for online purchases can help limit the size of fraudulent withdrawals should they occur. This won't necessarily prevent someone from accessing your account, but it may limit the damage done. You may also want to disable any form of overdraft protection (should you have it) on the account used for purchases. Many banks offer this service (usually on a checking account), which automatically withdraws from a savings account should the checking account be overdrawn. In the case of fraud, this essentially means the crook has access to two accounts instead of one. If you do have overdraft protection in place, be sure to consult your bank on how and when it applies. Another way to limit your liability is to use a prepaid debit card. If someone does gain access to the account, they'll have access only to what you have loaded onto the card.
The bottom line
From a legal perspective, credit cards generally provide more protection against fraudulent activity. But, there are ways to mimic some of these protections with a debit or prepaid card. Deciding which is best for you will help protect your money whether you're spending online or swiping in store.
Overview of Virtual Cards
Virtual cards allow you to minimize the amount of personally identifiable information (PII) you share with places you buy at. Traditionally, virtual cards provided by banks have been difficult and clunky to use, new providers of virtual cards make the process very simple and easy to use, and as a result, we believe virtual cards can be a valuable tool in protecting your privacy and security without compromising your convenience and ease of use.
What is a virtual payment card?
A virtual payment card, sometimes called a temporary card number, burner card or pseudo card number, is a credit or debit card number can be created through a website or mobile app and does not come with a physical card. Virtual payment cards can be utilized for most online purchases. Oftentimes, you can set maximum spend or charge limit on the virtual card to prevent yourself from being overcharged. Better yet, you can usually close virtual cards with just a few clicks online if a data breach occurs.
How do virtual payment cards work?
Virtual cards act like a layer of protection between your funding source and the merchant. They pass any authorized and completed transactions directly on to your funding source (including refunds). These cards can be a buffer against cases when merchants you shop at get breached, merchant overcharges, or grey market subscription scams. They are great to use at popular websites where you have recurring payments, so you don’t have to change the number if your card details are compromised elsewhere.
How can you get virtual cards online?
You may wonder how to get virtual cards from a company like Privacy.com. The entire process is handled through the internet. This means you don't have to fill out lengthy paper documents or go to a physical location in person. In addition, no credit check is required for privacy.com accounts.
What kind of safety measures does a virtual card provider take?
Safety and security are very important as a virtual card provider (it’s the reason you sign up for the service in the first place). In addition, many virtual card providers are held to the same rigorous PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) requirements as your bank or credit union.
How much do virtual cards cost and how do virtual card companies make money?
Some virtual card providers charge fees for every card you create or a monthly fee for access to your account. Other virtual card providers may also charge fees on purchases made with the cards. Cards issued thru Privacy.com are completely free to use when you use a bank account as a funding source. They do not charge any fees to you. They only make money off interchange (the fee that the merchant pays for accepting a debit or credit card), and they will never sell your personal data.
What type of information do I need to generate virtual cards with Privacy.com?
Privacy.com is available online to legal residents of the United States at this time. You can apply for an account online through our website in as little as 3 minutes by providing some basic personal information (name, date of birth, phone number, valid email address, current contact information, US bank account for funding transactions). In most cases they can provide an instant decision about your application 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Ready to get started protecting your Finances Online?
Getting Started with Privacy.com
Just like with most websites you encounter, joining Privacy.com starts with you entering your email address and creating a password. Naturally, you’ll also be asked to verify that email address to prove you do, indeed, have control of it. This part of the process is so commonplace that I doubt most would think twice about it. However, it’s the next step that may give some individuals a moment of pause.
In order to create card numbers using Privacy.com, you’ll need to link a funding source that will be tapped whenever one of your proxy cards is used. To link a funding source, you’ll need to select your bank and log into your online banking account. Even for a site with “Privacy” in its domain name (or perhaps especially because of this), first-time users might be a bit hesitant about this aspect of the sign-up process. That said, those who have ever linked their bank accounts on other personal finance apps and sites will surely recognize the banking APIs employed here. This helped ease my worries but I still understand those who might not want to give this info up.
Once a funding source is linked, you’ll be able to start creating cards. You can also link additional funding sources and select which account you’d like each card to pull from. Something to note is that, at this time, funding sources can only be bank accounts and debit cards. Credit cards are not currently supported.
Creating new cards
When you log into Privacy.com, on the left side of the screen you’ll see a section called “My Wallet.” This is where you’ll not only see any cards you’ve previously created but it also has a link to make new ones. These cards can either be assigned to a certain recurring expense (e.g. Netflix, iTunes, Spotify, etc.) or you can create single-use “burner” cards.
To set up a new card, you’ll first want to assign a nickname to your card to help remind you what it’s used for. As part of this process, you can also select from a library of commonly-used logos in order to make it even easier to identify which card is which. For example, Amazon, Netflix, and Walmart are among some of the popular card design options you’ll see when assigning a nickname. To further customize your digital cards, you can decorate them with emojis or icons to help you remember what each is for.
After naming your card, you can select a spending limit. These limits can be per transaction, per month, per year, or total. So, if your Netflix bill is $12.99 a month, you can set your card to decline any transactions over $13 (note: it seems Privacy.com only allows limits to use whole numbers and not decimals). You can also create a “burner” card by selecting the “single-use” option on the bottom of the Spend Limit window. Regardless of whether you’re setting up a recurring limit or a single-use card, just hit “Save Limit” when you’re done to move onto the last step.
As I mentioned, you can link multiple funding sources for use on Privacy.com. Thus the final step in creating a new card is to confirm which source you want the card to utilize. After that, you can hit “Create Card” and you’ll see it join your wallet.
FYI, with the basic (free) plan, you can create up to a dozen cards a month.
Using your Privacy.com cards
There are a few different ways you can utilize the cards you create on Privacy.com: visiting their desktop site, installing the browser extension, or using their mobile app. In any case, all you’ll need to do is copy the credit card number (or debit card, actually) it assigns to you — complete with expiration date and security code — as your payment info when checking out of an e-commerce site. To make this easier, all you’ll need to do is click on the card number and Privacy will automatically copy it to your clipboard. For mobile app users, the same functionality can be accessed by tapping and holding on the card (single tapping will merely toggle the full card number display on and off). As for the expiration and CVV, you’ll need to enter those manually.
I mentioned above that Privacy.com does offer a browser extension. There are two main ways that this tool can help make your checkout process easier. The first is that you can click the Privacy extension icon on the right side of your browser to gain quick access to your Wallet in order to view existing cards or create new ones. You can also click the “Transactions” tab to easily view recent purchases you’ve made with your cards. However what makes the extension even more helpful is that, when you encounter a checkout form asking for a card number, a little Privacy.com icon may appear in the card number field. Clicking this will then launch a tool allowing you to select or create a new card and have the information automatically entered for you. For that reason alone, if you use Chrome or Firefox and end up signing up for Privacy.com, I’d recommend installing this extension as well.
Making changes to your cards
It should also be noted that you can make a number of changes to your Privacy.com cards at any time. Among the options at your disposal is the ability to pause your card from being used, increase or decrease your spending limit, switch a funding source, or delete a card entirely. All of these can certainly come in handy as you start to actively use the service.
Another interesting feature on Privacy is the ability to share a created card. To do this, just select a card, tap the three dot icon, choose “Share,” and then enter the person’s email address. This will then email them a link they can click to view the card info — and they don’t even need their own Privacy account in order to access it.
In terms of potential use cases, if you wanted to loan someone money or give them what is essentially a universal gift card, you could simply create a one-time use card, set a spending limit, and send it to them. Sure there are other options for accomplishing similar goals, but I think this is a pretty neat feature nonetheless. Of course, you will want to use discretion in who you send cards to and will want to adhere to Privacy’s terms and policies, which you will need to agree to before proceeding with your card share.
How Privacy.com Could Save You Money
Protecting you from fraud
The most obvious way that Privacy.com could potentially save you money is by helping protect you from fraud. When retailers or other entities get hacked, your credit card information could be exposed. Thus, by using a proxy card number, you’re limiting what funds thieves can get access to if they should attempt to utilize this stolen data.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that similar technologies are already being employed outside of Privacy’s tool. From digital wallets like Apple Pay to EMV chip cards, transactional tokens are quickly becoming the new norm. That said, not all of these same protections extend to e-commerce, which is where Privacy.com comes in.
Keeping tracking of your memberships and subscriptions
Have you ever signed up for a free trial and forgotten about the service until several months and hundreds of dollars later? This is actually something that Privacy.com could potentially help prevent as well. By using one-time cards to sign-up for free trials, you can ensure that you won’t see subsequent charges that you don’t want. Of course, you should always follow up and formally cancel any trials that unintentionally convert to memberships so you don’t continue to receive annoying emails from companies demanding your money.
A similar benefit is that Privacy.com could help you keep track of all the various subscriptions you do have. I’ve long advocated for making a master list of memberships and periodically reviewing them to see where cuts can be made — now Privacy can essentially recreate that functionality, complete with sleek-looking logo cards to boot. Plus, by setting your monthly spending limits to match what your charges should be, you can bet you’ll be notified if the cost of your subscription were to suddenly go up, allowing you to consider whether the service is still worth the hiked price.
The Pros and Cons of Privacy.com
Pro: Greater security when shopping online
In my eyes, the premise of Privacy.com is a strong one. Although most of the major e-commerce sites you visit are secure, breaches are still all too common. While I’m certainly no expert, the tool that Privacy has built seems like a smart solution and one worth trying.
Con: You need to trust the site in order to sign up
On the other hand — and as I mentioned — it’s not hard to imagine that some would-be users might be scared off by needing to enter their banking login info before getting started. After all, that data getting out could lead to more damage than a credit card number being revealed. Of course Privacy.com realizes this conundrum and addresses it in their FAQ section. Regarding the need to log into your bank account, they write, “It sounds risky. But give us a sec to explain how this works. We partner with Plaid to facilitate these connections. Plaid has an agreement with your institution to be a trusted bridge to your bank. When you login via the portal provided by your bank, we are given a token by your bank that allows us to verify your account and conduct Privacy related transactions. We don’t obtain or store your login information, and you can change it anytime without affecting your use of Privacy.” So, if that information helps ease your worries, great. If not, I completely understand.
Pro: Helps you keep track of subscriptions and memberships
If I’m being completely honest, I actually see the real benefit of Privacy not as a tool for protecting your card numbers but for keeping up with all of your subscriptions. From the popularity of streaming services to the numerous SaaS applications some of us may try once and forget about, there’s plenty of opportunities to introduce “money leaks” into your budget that can start to add up. Sure my master list plan works well enough, but Privacy streamlines the whole operation and installs plenty of fail-safes to ensure these costly recurring fees don’t slip through the cracks.
Con: No credit card rewards
Now that we’ve highlighted what I think is the biggest advantage of Privacy.com, I have to mention what I see as its largest drawback — and the one that will likely hinder how much I actually end up using the service. Currently, the only funding sources you can link to cards you create are bank accounts and debit cards. While this makes sense, it’s a big bummer for people like me who earn significant cashback or rewards from credit cards. As a result, it doesn’t really seem worth it to me to use Privacy cards for these services.
Even if there were a way to link credit cards to Privacy’s proxy cards, it’s unlikely that purchase would be categorized by merchant code, which could still cause issues for those looking to maximize rewards. Because of this, while I’ll still utilize Privacy.com for free trials or the occasional transaction where I want some added protection, I don’t foresee using the platform frequently until a solution to the rewards dilemma emerges.
Final Thoughts on Privacy.com
I’m honestly quite surprised more people are not using f Privacy.com. Given its clever functionality and, well, impressively succinct domain name, it seems like the type of tool that would have been everyone's radar long ago.
Despite my lamenting the lack of credit card rewards, there’s no doubt that Privacy’s platform can benefit online shoppers. From an easy-to-use browser extension that makes filling out card forms simpler to the ability to manage your budget more effectively, there are multiple benefits to what Privacy has built that make it worth checking out —