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Virtual credit cards

Joe Minihane
Written by  Joe Minihane
Jonathan Leggett
Reviewed by  Jonathan Leggett
5 min read
Updated: 15 Mar 2024

Heard about virtual credit cards but not really sure what they are or how they work? Read our guide and we'll walk you everything you need to know.

What is a virtual credit card?

A virtual credit card acts as a digital alternative to the credit card in your wallet.

Using a randomised credit card number instead of the long one on the front of your card, it can be used as an added layer of security - ideal if you don’t want companies storing your card details.

This can help protect you from data breaches, as the virtual card number is usually only used once or over a limited period, with a new one usually generated each time you make a purchase or when you choose to change it.

using phone to pay

How do virtual credit cards work?

A virtual credit card can be generated via your bank or credit provider, usually then being made available via an app on your phone.

By adding it to your Apple Pay or Google Pay wallet, you can then make purchases in shops using the card.

When you use the virtual card, it creates a new 16-digit number rather than giving shops or online stores your actual card number.

It might even give a new card verification value (CVV), the three-digit code you find on the back of your card.

This way if details get stolen in a data breach, your actual card number won’t have been shared.

You may have noticed the option to use a virtual card when a form auto-fills in Google Chrome or when using Safari on an iPhone.

By doing so, you’re adding an extra layer of security.

Some virtual cards let you set spending limits, use different card numbers for each transaction or choose to have one number for a set period, for example 24 hours.

Check directly with your provider to see if you can get a virtual credit card.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of virtual credit cards?

Advantages:

  • Stronger security: By randomly generating a new card number each time you make a transaction, your details will not be stored on any servers, lowering the chances of your information being exposed in a data breach

  • Phone control: By controlling your virtual credit card via an app on your phone, you can set spending limits and only use the card for a period of your choosing, helping you to budget better

  • Auto fill: The fact that forms auto fill on the likes of Chrome and Safari make it easy to use virtual cards

Disadvantages:

  • Don’t always work in high street shops: you’ll need Apple or Google Pay on your phone and for the shop to accept these payment methods

  • Not every bank is on board: you can’t get virtual credit cards from all banks, so you should check to see if they’re available

Are virtual credit cards safe?

Yes. Virtual credit cards are safe. In fact, they are generally seen as safer than regular credit cards as they do not require you to enter your personal information, such as the long card number, into any online store.

Where is my online card kept?

Your online card is kept on your bank’s app and in your Google or Apple wallet, if you have one.

These can usually only be accessed via numerous security layers, such as through Face ID on an iPhone.

Your card details will change as the number generated for each purchase is almost always a one-off. So your details will be secure.

Can I get a virtual debit card?

Yes, you can get a virtual debit card. With auto fill, the process is the same as using a virtual credit card.

If you want a virtual debit card, you should contact your bank to see if you are eligible.

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