The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Thursday, May 26, 2022

How to Get a Virtual Credit Card Number

Virtual Credit Cards

credit card advice

Brittney Mayer

Written by: Brittney Mayer

Brittney Mayer

Brittney is a Credit Strategist and Finance Expert who has spent years honing her knowledge of the credit industry both personally and professionally. Brittney applies her more than a decade of research experience to crafting in-depth consumer guides designed to help CardRates readers make better, more informed financial decisions.

See full bio »

Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian is a Content Editor who brings her journalism experience in business and consumer finance to ensure CardRates news articles and reports have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. Her primary goal is to assure editorial content meets the highest level of quality and precision.

See full bio »
Advertiser Disclosure

While the implementation of chipped EMV credit cards has eliminated a large portion of card-present (CP) fraud, the amount of card-not-present (CNP) — read: online — credit card fraud has steadily risen over the last few years.

In an effort to combat CNP fraud, card issuers and third-party companies have developed what are called virtual credit cards.

Designed for use when shopping online, virtual credit cards are randomly generated, single-use credit card numbers that can limit an online fraudster’s access to your real financial information. This may sound like some complex bit of science fiction turned non-fiction. But you don’t need to be a tech whiz to use virtual credit cards. Keep reading for an overview of how these fraud-inhibiting card numbers work.

Issuers | Third-Party Companies | Click to Pay | FAQs

Limited Issuers Offer Virtual Credit Cards

Although virtual credit cards can be useful, they’re still somewhat of a novelty in the consumer credit card world. The popular payment processor, PayPal, was one of the original sources for virtual credit cards, but the company has long since discontinued the service.

Today, only a handful of major credit card issuers offer the ability to create virtual credit cards for online shopping: Capital One, Citibank, and American Express.

Capital One

Capital One’s virtual credit card service is available for all Capital One credit cards through Eno®, an “intelligent assistant” that helps Capital One customers with a variety of tasks. To use Eno® to create a virtual credit card number, you’ll need to be on a computer and have the Eno® extension for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
  • Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24% - 24.24% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 15.24%-25.24% variable APR after that
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
15.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
  • Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
15.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good
Eno will create merchant-specific virtual cards linked to your card account, and you can opt in to express checkout the next time you visit that merchant’s website.

Citi

Only select Citi cards are eligible for a virtual credit card number, but the process is pretty straightforward for those cards that do qualify. Simply register your Citi credit card in the program, and then you can generate a virtual credit card number through the online interface. Virtual card numbers are only good for up to 12 months.

Reports indicate the following two Citi cards provide virtual account numbers:

CITI® RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Only Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back. Intro APR does not apply to purchases.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
0% Intro APR Period 18 months on Balance Transfers
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

CITI® RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 60,000 Points are redeemable for $600 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

All purchases made with a virtual account number will appear on your statement as any other transaction would and will include the virtual account number that was used.

American Express

American Express only offers virtual cards for its business credit cards under its American Express Go™ program. It allows primary accountholders to create virual cards for employees online, where they can also manage and control their spending limits. The following cards qualify for virtual employee card numbers:

Business Platinum Card® from American Express Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

CATEGORY RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your Card within the first 3 months of card membership
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, 1.5X points on business categories and purchases of $5,000 or more on up to $2 million per calendar year, and 1X point for each dollar you spend on other purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months from the date of account opening on purchases eligible for Pay Over Time
  • Get up to $400 back per year toward U.S. purchases with Dell Technologies, up to $360 back per year for purchases with Indeed, and $120 back per year for wireless telephone service purchases on the Business Platinum Card, plus additional credits. Enrollment is required for all.
  • Access to more than 1,400 lounges across 140 countries and counting with the American Express Global Lounge Collection®
  • Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of an eligible fare and get 35% of those points back, up to 500,000 points back per calendar year
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
14.49% - 22.49% Pay Over Time
$695
Excellent
Blue Business Cash™ Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

CATEGORY RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in qualifying purchases on your card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 2% cash back on all eligible purchases on up to $50,000 per calendar year, then 1%. Cash back earned is automatically credited to your statement.
  • Buy above your credit limit with Expanded Buying Power. Make business purchases over your credit limit with no penalty or enrollments, and still earn cash back on those purchases. Terms apply.
  • 0% introductory APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable APR applies
  • Get an approval decision in as little as 30 seconds
  • $0 Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
N/A
13.49% - 21.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
American Express® Business Gold Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

CATEGORY RATING

★★★★
4.4

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first 3 months of card membership
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points on the 2 categories where your business spends the most each billing cycle, including airfare purchased directly from airlines, U.S. purchases for advertising in select media (online, TV, radio), U.S. purchases made directly from select technology providers of computer hardware, software, and cloud solutions, and U.S. purchases at gas stations, restaurants, or for shipping. Applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these 2 categories each calendar year.
  • Earn 1X Membership Rewards® points on other purchases
  • Book your flight with American Express Travel using Membership Rewards® Pay with Points and get 25% of those points back, up to 250,000 points back per calendar year
  • $295 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
14.49% - 22.49% Pay Over Time
$295
Excellent

American Express Go™ was created as an expense solution for businesses to help them more easily manage payments on-the-go.

Third-Party Companies Offer Virtual Credit Cards

Beyond the credit card issuers, several third-party companies have also explored the idea of virtual credit cards.

For example, third-party platform, Privacy, offers single-use and merchant-locked virtual cards that can be used through a Google Chrome extension. Privacy virtual cards act more like debit cards than credit cards as they are funded directly by a US bank account. There’s no fee to use the service, as Privacy gets a portion of the interchange fee paid by merchants.

Otto is a free virtual card provider that allows you to create unlimited virtual payment cards online. You can easily mange recurring payments and set unique card numbers for each biller. You can limit spending and receive instant notifications whenever one of your virtual cards is charged, among other features.

Merchants Partner With Click to Pay to Offer Virtual Numbers

Click to Pay was created as an express checkout option in 2019 that works with all of the major card payment networks: Amex, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa. When making an online transaction, you can select Click to Pay during checkout and your card details will be tokenized — meaning your info is automatically turned into a virtual card number specific to that retailer.

This essentially means that any credit card number can be instantly transformed into a virtual card number — the caveat is that Click to Pay is only available on select websites, but that currently includes more than 10,000 merchants.

You’ll first need to register with the service before you can use Click to Pay, which can be done at the links provided above, depending on your card’s payment network (Amex, Discover, Mastercard, or Visa).

How Do Virtual Credit Cards Work?

While each issuer of virtual credit card numbers will likely have its own method, the general idea is still the same: an operational credit card number is randomly generated with a computer algorithm, similar to how modern EMV chip cards operate for card-present purchases.

Once generated, virtual credit card numbers can be used to make online purchases just as a regular credit card number would be used at checkout. The difference is that most virtual credit card numbers have limitations on where and when they can be used that help prevent them from being used by data thieves.

In other words, instead of putting your actual credit card number into the payment box when shopping online, you can mimic the EMV technology in your chip card by using a random number that’s specific to that merchant or transaction and can’t be used to make unauthorized purchases anywhere else.

The actual limitations set for a specific virtual credit card will depend on its type and issuer, though most providers will allow you to set individual spending limits for each virtual credit card you generate.

Most virtual credit card numbers are one of two types. Single-use virtual credit card numbers are as they sound: only good for a one-time purchase. Once that transaction is complete, the number is no longer valid and can’t be used for additional purchases.

Merchant-tied virtual credit card numbers can often be used for more than one purchase, but they can only be used with a specific merchant. These cards will typically have built-in expiration dates — usually up to 12 months — with the ability for users to set their own expiration dates for shorter periods.

How Do Mobile Wallets Differ From Virtual Credit Cards?

One thing to keep in mind when investigating ways to shop safer online is to understand the difference between virtual credit cards and other digital payment methods. Mobile wallets, for example, aren’t the same thing as virtual credit cards, though they can offer additional security when shopping online.

Instead of providing alternative credit card numbers, mobile wallets allow you to associate your credit cards with a specific service, which acts as an intermediary for payments.

It’s the technology companies that seem to be making the most inroads into getting users onboard with mobile wallets, thanks, in large part, to their devoted mobile phone users. Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Microsoft Pay are all vying for acceptance at retailers around the country.

One primary difference between a mobile wallet (or digital wallet) is that a mobile wallet can be used to make payments in a store — because it is a payment method — whereas a virtual card number is meant to be used for a specific online payment.

Are Virtual Credit Cards Worth Having?

Like it or not, credit card fraud is an unfortunate way of life in our modern economy. When credit card issuers close a doorway to fraud, the relentless fraudsters open their own metaphorical windows.

And while credit card users generally can’t be held responsible for unauthorized purchases, credit card fraud can still be a major inconvenience that can take months to clear up.

So, can virtual credit card numbers eliminate the risk? A major chunk of it, sure. And they can offer a good deal of peace of mind. But, that’s not to say they’re a perfect solution. Virtual card numbers have their downsides.

For one thing, virtual credit card numbers are only as secure as the company that issues them, particularly if you use a third-party company. If the issuer gets hacked, your information could be at risk.

Virtual credit card numbers are only as secure as the company that issues them.

Additionally, using a virtual credit card number may prove to be a problem when making reservations with a hotel or car rental agency, as these places often require the credit card used to make the reservation be presented at check-in to verify your identity.

Another drawback of virtual credit card numbers is in the case of returns, as most merchants require refunds to be issued to the card used to make the original purchase. This can be particularly challenging with merchants that require you to have the original card present for the return.

Virtual Numbers Can Protect Against Fraud

Fraudsters can gain access to your credit card account info whether you made an in-store purchase with a physical credit card or an online purchase without it. Card skimmers, data breaches, malware, and identity theft are just some of the culprits. But using a virtual card number to complete an online purchase can make it so that a thief never sees your actual credit card information. Cardholders would be wise to use virtual card numbers when available.

Advertiser Disclosure

CardRates.com is a free online resource that offers valuable content and comparison services to users. To keep this resource 100% free, we receive compensation for referrals for many of the offers listed on the site. Along with key review factors, this compensation may impact how and where products appear across CardRates.com (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include the entire universe of available offers. Editorial opinions expressed on the site are strictly our own and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by advertisers.