What is a Virtual Credit Card and Is It Safe?

Virtual credit cards are a great way to protect your physical credit card and its resources.
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Your credit card information is the key to the kingdom for scammers. If they can access your money, they can quickly scam you for everything you’re worth. Credit card fraud isn’t new, but as online shopping has grown, so have the fraudsters who steal credit card information online.

Virtual credit cards help you avoid the unfortunate experience of a stolen credit card by providing unique credit card numbers that you can use for online purchases. These unique credit card numbers are connected to your actual card, but in the case of fraud, you don’t have to cancel your actual credit card. You can just cancel the virtual card that was stolen.

Not all credit cards can create a virtual credit card, so you’ll have to check with your credit card company to see if you can activate one. Your bank may also offer a virtual debit card solution that can be used instead of using your debit card when shopping online. It's worth checking since virtual cards can help you stay safe online.

Let's find out how virtual credit cards work to protect you from fraud, how to get one, and how to secure your virtual credit card information with one of the best password managers.

In this article
What are virtual credit cards?
Benefits of virtual credit cards
Limits of virtual credit cards
How to get a virtual credit card
Virtual credit cards vs. digital wallets
When to use a virtual credit card
Virtual credit card FAQ
Bottom line

What are virtual credit cards?

Virtual credit cards are unique, 16-digit account numbers that are tied to your actual credit card. This allows users to create temporary credit cards for transactions to keep their bank accounts more secure. 

By using a virtual credit card, you limit your exposure if that credit card number is stolen by hackers or leaked in a data breach.

Some virtual credit cards are also disposable credit cards, meaning they can only be used once. After that, the card details are no longer active and you can’t use the disposable card as a payment method.

Benefits of virtual credit cards

Virtual cards add a layer of security so that your actual credit card information is more secure. While it may take a little more work to set up a virtual card, the temporary credit card number it provides can reduce the chances that your banking information is stolen.

In some instances, virtual credit cards also give you the ability to set a different expiration date and credit limit. So even in the event that your card number is compromised, the amount of money that fraudsters will be able to access is limited. If your virtual credit card is stolen, the scammer will have access to only whatever credit limits you set, and you can cancel the virtual card without canceling your physical card.

Virtual credit cards can also be an effective way to manage your online accounts. You can create virtual credit cards for various payments so that you can better manage them. If you’re signing up for a free trial or don’t want something to auto-renew, a virtual credit card could also help alleviate the hassle when you forget to cancel.

If you’re worried about remembering the different virtual cards you set up, you can use a password manager to help you keep track of them.

Limits of virtual credit cards

While virtual credit cards can add extra security, they’re also another thing to keep track of. If you can’t set limits to your virtual credit cards, remember to turn them off after the transaction. There is still the chance that someone could gain access to your virtual credit card number and spend quite a bit before you notice.

There may also be limitations on how you can use the virtual card. Hotels, flights, or other purchases that may require pre-authorization could conflict with your virtual card. And if you need the physical card for check-in or other purposes, that can also be a concern.

Overall, virtual credit cards can help you protect your real credit card information, but you should still treat a virtual credit card with the same security as a physical card. Without the right limitations in place, a bad actor or hacker could gain access to all of your available credit on a virtual card.

How to get a virtual credit card

The process for getting a virtual credit card will differ for every credit card provider. Many credit card companies offer a virtual credit card that can be accessed through its mobile app or online. Depending on your credit card provider, you can follow the steps outlined by the credit card company to create the virtual card. Some credit card companies allow you to set limitations on purchase amounts and set date ranges when the card is active.

Which providers offer virtual credit cards?

Many credit card companies offer virtual credit cards, including: 

  • Visa
  • Mastercard
  • American Express
  • Capital One
  • Citi

There are also other providers, such as Divvy, which provides credit cards for businesses. With Divvy, businesses can set up virtual credit cards and adjust spending limits for different employees.

We looked through some of our credit card accounts to see if we could set up a virtual credit card, and we didn’t have much luck. Some credit card companies may not offer virtual cards or they may offer them only for certain cards, so you may not be able to find a way to add virtual cards, even if your credit card company provides them for some users. 

For example, Discover Card allows you to add your card only to your digital wallet but doesn’t allow you to set up a virtual card. American Express virtual credit cards are only available when using Google Chrome or on an Android device.

Virtual credit cards vs. digital wallets

Virtual credit cards and digital wallets seem like the same thing, but they’re very different. 

Your digital wallet is an extension of your actual wallet, and the credit cards in your digital wallet are replicas of your regular credit cards. If your digital wallet is stolen, so is your actual credit card information. 

You can use your digital wallet with something like Apple Pay or Google Pay. A digital wallet still helps improve the security of your credit card by limiting the opportunity for your credit card to be physically lost or stolen.

Virtual credit cards are different because they are unique card numbers that are used for specific transactions. In many cases, these unique numbers are used only once or for a certain type of transaction. Your virtual card can be used only for online transactions.

Some institutions may combine the two, such as Bank of America, which shows your digital wallet card as a virtual credit card. However, this is not a Bank of America virtual credit card, it is just a digital version of your actual card.

Some states also allow you to add a digital driver's license to your digital wallet, but currently, they're usable in a limited number of places.

When to use a virtual credit card

If you’re like us and you have your credit card number memorized, you may be wondering if virtual credit cards are worth the extra effort. Virtual credit cards benefit online security, but are they a convenience or a hindrance to your day-to-day life? Here are a couple of scenarios where we think a virtual credit card is better than using your physical credit card number:

  • Purchasing items from a store that you’re unfamiliar with
  • Online shopping on public Wi-Fi (also, use one of these recommended virtual private networks for additional security)
  • Giving payment information over the phone

Virtual credit card FAQ


Are virtual credit cards safe?

Yes, virtual credit cards are safe. Virtual cards create a unique credit card number for you to use for certain transactions, which gives your real credit card number another layer of protection. If a virtual credit card is stolen, your actual credit card is not compromised.


How do I use my virtual credit card?

Use your virtual credit card like any other card when shopping online. Use the 16-digit virtual credit card number instead of the credit card number on your actual card.


Are virtual credit cards accepted anywhere?

Your virtual credit card will be accepted just like your actual credit card. So if you have a Visa credit card, the virtual version will be accepted anywhere that takes Visa.


Do virtual credit cards cost money?

No, virtual credit cards do not cost money if offered by your current credit card company. If your current credit card doesn’t offer a virtual card option, you may have to get a new credit card with a different provider if it's important to you.


What is a temporary credit card?

A temporary credit card is a credit card number that is created for limited use, such as a virtual credit card. These temporary credit cards are created to be used for a limited time — unlike your physical credit card, which expires every few years.

Bottom line

Overall, virtual credit cards are a great resource to help you protect your actual credit card information. By using a virtual credit card, you’re minimizing the risk of your credit card information being compromised. From our perspective, virtual credit cards may take a few extra minutes to set up, but they can help protect your accounts. We think that the use of virtual credit cards will continue to rise as more and more credit card companies start to adopt the process. 

Virtual cards can help you avoid credit card fraud and can play a big part in protecting your identity along with some of the best identity theft protection services.

If you’re interested in using a virtual credit card, check with your credit card company to see if it is an option for your account. If it is, you can quickly set up virtual credit cards for any online purchases.

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Author Details
Andrew Strom Adams is a freelance writer focused on online privacy and digital security. He writes on various topics to help individuals protect themselves on the internet. Andrew has worked in legal marketing, technology, and startups. He has more than 12 years of experience in marketing and communications. He holds an M.B.A. from Westminster College and a B.A. in journalism from Oklahoma Baptist University. When he’s not writing, he’s playing with his two kids or watching reality TV.