Jackie here, with AllClear ID. Virtual credit card numbers have been around for several years now, but aren’t really utilized by many people. If you haven’t heard of these before, virtual credit card numbers are basically a temporary card number that you can use when shopping online. These temporary numbers provide additional protections to consumers to reduce the likelihood that their credit card numbers will be compromised and used fraudulently.

How Does It Work?

Virtual card numbers aren’t offered by every credit card company and the process for getting a number will vary a bit depending on your card. Generally you will log on to your credit card website, enter in some basic information and receive a temporary number and expiration date. Learn more about this service for Discover, Citibank and Bank of America credit cards.

When you go to checkout, you use your temporary card number just like you would your regular card. The provided numbers are linked to your account and purchases will be charged just like they always are. Once you create the temporary number you won’t notice a difference in your online shopping. Retailers won’t even realize you aren’t using your actual card number.

Do Virtual Credit Card Numbers Reduce ID Theft Risk?

Virtual credit card numbers are a little more effort since they require you to create unique numbers each time you make a purchase. However, they do shield your card number from merchants, hackers and id thieves. For some, the extra effort is worth the protection while others prefer to rely on the fraud protections provided by their credit card companies. Credit cards typically carry a $50 fraud liability limit–sometimes even $0–if fraudulent purchases are reported quickly.

Virtual credit card number or not–it is important to keep your eyes open for fraudulent purchases and id theft. Check your bank statements and credit reports often to look for inconsistencies. Being aware can help you notice the signs of id theft early on, making resolution much easier.