The Ins and Outs of Temporary Credit Card Numbers

Ashley Ferraro, Consumer Operations
Aug 23, 2023
 • 
10
 Min Read

With many different card products available, it can be easy to confuse their various definitions. Temporary credit card numbers, for example, are sometimes mistaken for virtual cards, which is an entirely different product designed to enhance payment security online. 

A temporary credit card number may refer to credentials assigned for temporary use until the arrival of a physical credit card.

To remove all confusion about the true meaning of temporary credit card numbers and how they differ from virtual cards, this article will answer the following essential questions:

  • What are temporary credit card numbers?
  • How do they compare to virtual and fake credit cards?
  • How do virtual card numbers work?
  • How to get a virtual credit card number?
  • What are the benefits of using a virtual credit card number for online purchases?

What Are Temporary Credit Card Numbers, and How Do They Compare to Virtual Cards?

A temporary card typically refers to a digital version of your regular card, issued immediately after approval so that you can use your credit or allotted funds before the physical card arrives. Such a card usually expires as soon as you receive your actual plastic card. The number on your temporary card can be different than on the physical version, but that depends on the issuer.

While temporary credit card numbers are sometimes used as synonyms for virtual card numbers or single-use card numbers, these terms cannot be considered interchangeable.

A virtual card can be used as a temporary but also a more permanent payment method. It has a unique number, expiration date, and CVC/CVV, which masks your payment data to protect you from online fraud and other forms of financial cybercrime. This card is connected to your actual bank account or credit line but does not show your underlying payment information to merchants or third parties during online transactions.

You will likely receive a temporary credit card number from your bank after you’ve been approved for a physical credit card. However, this number will typically expire once the physical version arrives. Once your physical card is set up, you may request a virtual credit card number to protect your future online transactions if the bank allows for such a feature.

How Do Virtual Credit Card Numbers Work?

When it comes to the payment process and security protocols, virtual cards work exactly like regular cards. Since they’re digital, you can use them online or—depending on the card—load them into a digital wallet for in-store purchasing. To merchants, the virtual card number functions equivalently to regular cards, i.e., merchants conduct the same payment processing whether you’ve entered a virtual, temporary, or permanent card number.

The transaction is processed using the virtual number, and the payment is eventually charged to your underlying credit card or bank account. Depending on the affiliated card’s features, you may be unable to use it beyond the designated transaction, a fixed period, or a specific merchant.

Source: Artem Podrez

Benefits of Using Virtual Card Numbers for Online Purchases

Using virtual card numbers for online transactions offers several significant benefits. First and foremost, they boost security by limiting the exposure of your actual card details, reducing the risk of fraud and unauthorized transactions

They also provide an extra layer of protection for online purchases and subscriptions. You can set spending limits, specify the validity period, or restrict usage to specific merchants while keeping track of your transactions. A virtual card minimizes the potential impact of data breaches or unauthorized use of your real card and bank information

For a clearer picture, the table below provides an overview of the benefits of a virtual card for online purchases:

Features
Benefits
Enhanced online security
Reduced risk of exposing actual credit card information during online purchasing
Fraud prevention
Protection against unauthorized transactions and fraud
Convenience
Ability to create cards instantly
Automatic card closure
Single- or time-limited use for more security
Merchant flexibility
Different numbers for specific vendors or transactions
Control and tracking
Effortless transaction monitoring 
A snap of a customer paying at a contactless terminal via their watch

Source: Ivan Samkov

How To Get a Virtual Credit Card Number?

If you want to obtain a virtual credit card number, you can request it from:

  1. Banks or credit unions—Many banks and credit unions offer virtual credit card numbers as part of their services. Contact your financial institution to inquire whether this product is available.
  2. Independent virtual card providers—Many third-party service providers specialize in virtual credit cards. These companies often have platforms or mobile apps where you can create and manage virtual credit cards independently of your bank. Research reputable virtual card providers and compare their features, fees, and security measures to find the best option.
  3. Digital wallets and virtual payment platforms—Some virtual wallets and digital payment platforms, such as PayPal, Google Pay, or Apple Pay, offer virtual credit card number services. They allow you to link your existing credit card or bank account to their system and generate virtual card numbers for online transactions. 


The availability and requirements for virtual cards may vary
and are dependent on the features, terms, and conditions of your regular card. They are primarily dependent on the criteria for your regular card.

The Life Cycle of a Virtual Card—Steps to Acquire Virtual Card Numbers

If you want to use a virtual card for online shopping, these are typical steps to take:

  1. Contact your card issuer—Approach your card issuer or financial institution to inquire if they offer virtual card services. 
  2. Access your account—If your card issuer supports such services, log in to your online account using the bank's website or mobile app. Navigate to the section related to virtual card generation.
  3. Generate a virtual card number—Once in the appropriate section, select the option to generate a new virtual card. Some banks may require you to specify the designated amount and duration of your virtual card number.
  4. Receive the virtual card details—After generating the virtual card number, review the new card number, expiration date, and security code (CVV/CVC) displayed on the screen. Some banks may also allow you to copy this information to your clipboard for easy pasting during online transactions.
  5. Set usage limits and expiration—Depending on the bank's features, set specific usage limits or expiration dates for the virtual card. For instance, limit the card to a single use or a particular spending amount.
  6. Use the virtual card—Once you have the virtual card details, use them for online purchases or in-store shopping if the virtual card can be added to your digital wallet. The virtual card will act as a stand-in for your real card.
  7. Monitor transactions—Keep an eye on your virtual card transactions like you would with your regular card. Many banks provide transaction histories for virtual cards separately, allowing you to review their usage.


Note that the virtual card number will typically expire after the specified duration or beyond the spending limit. Once this point is reached, the virtual card number becomes invalid, and no further transactions can be made with it.

Virtual Debit Cards—Convenient for Everyday Transactions

Credit cards, and by extension, their virtual incarnations, are convenient payment methods but may not be the best solution for everyday transactions due to the potential of accumulating debt and associated fees.

If you plan to use your virtual card for online shopping, getting an affordable virtual debit card that does not accumulate debt may prove to be a better choice in the long run. In case your current financial institution does not offer it, consider an independent provider.

It’s crucial to choose a company that provides ease of use, compatibility with your preferred online merchants, and reasonable fees. 

Privacy Cards—Modern, Convenient, and Reliable 

Privacy lets you create multiple virtual cards with one account, making online transactions quicker and safer. The cards come from Visa® or Mastercard® and are accepted by most online vendors supporting U.S. payment cards

With Privacy, you can:

  • Assign a virtual card to a specific merchant—If you frequently shop at a particular vendor or need a card for recurring subscriptions, Privacy allows you to create a Merchant-Locked Card. It ties to the first vendor you use it at and cannot be used on other websites.
  • Generate a one-time-use virtual card—For enhanced security when dealing with potentially less trustworthy merchants, Privacy lets you create Single-Use Cards. They close after the first authorized transaction, mitigating the risk of fraudulent activity.

Privacy, a BBB-accredited and PCI-DSS-compliant company, offers convenient access to its services through any web browser. The dedicated Android and iOS apps allow for seamless use on the go. To streamline your online shopping experience, Privacy provides browser extensions for Google Chrome and Firefox, which can automatically fill in the virtual card numbers at checkout.

A photo of a person struggling to enter their card information while making an online purchase on the go

Source: Anete Lusina 

Managing your virtual cards and maintaining control over your finances is simple with Privacy. Here’s what you can benefit from:

  • Customized spending limits—The expenditure limit feature allows you to specify maximum spending caps per transaction, month, or year, ensuring you stay within your budget. You can monitor your children's spending or designate funds to trusted employees for business-related costs.
  • Pausing and closing cards—Privacy also allows you to close or pause individual cards without impacting your primary payment card or bank account. You can halt unwanted subscriptions and proactively avoid fraudulent charges.
  • Push notifications—To keep you informed and protected, Privacy sends out real-time push notifications whenever your virtual card is used or declined.

Privacy’s Personal Plan lets you create up to 12 cards monthly and is free for domestic transactions. In case you need more, upgrade to a higher tier. Check out the specifics in the table below: 

Offer
Card Limit per Month
Best for Price per Month
Personal
12
Individuals
$0
Pro
36
Individuals or small businesses
$10
Premium
60
Medium to large-sized businesses or organizations
$25

Besides additional cards, Pro and Premium tiers offer other perks, such as 1% cashback on select purchases totaling up to $4,500 monthly.

For added convenience, Privacy integrates with 1Password Manager, enabling you to securely manage your passwords, virtual cards, and other sensitive data from a centralized platform.

Getting Your Privacy Card

To get your Privacy Virtual Card, follow these steps:

  1. Access the signup page 
  2. Provide the mandatory Know-Your-Customer (KYC) information
  3. Link your bank account or debit card
  4. Request a Privacy Card


Privacy Virtual Cards are available to U.S. residents who are over 18 and businesses based in the States.

Temporary Credit Card Numbers—More Essential Information

Virtual cards can only be acquired if you already have an account at a bank or a financial institution and own a product such as a credit or debit card. If you are waiting for a credit card to arrive and want to take advantage of a temporary credit card number in the meantime, you should know the answers to the following questions:

  • Are temporary credit card numbers safe to use?
  • Can you use a temporary credit card number in a store?
  • How can I manage and monitor transactions made with temporary credit card numbers?
  • What steps should I take if a temporary credit card number is compromised?

Are Temporary Credit Card Numbers Safe To Use? 

The number on your temporary credit card may be the same as on your actual credit card, which means your real card data can be exposed during online transactions. 

Can You Use a Temporary Credit Card Number in a Store? 

Temporary credit card numbers are primarily designed for online transactions. However, some can be loaded into a digital wallet and used in brick-and-mortar shops.

How Can I Manage and Monitor Transactions Made With Temporary Credit Card Numbers? 

Most providers offer online platforms or mobile apps where users can view and manage their temporary credit card activity. Clients can enable real-time alerts for every transaction to identify any suspicious activity promptly.

What Steps Should I Take if a Temporary Credit Card Number Is Compromised?

Though temporary, the number is still connected to your credit line and may lead to financial losses, which is why you should report the incident to your provider immediately. Request new credentials if necessary, and monitor the credit card account for any unauthorized payments.

Stay Vigilant—The Difference Between Temporary Card Numbers and Fake Card Numbers

Fake credit card generators are fairly common on the internet, and people often wonder what the difference is between fake and temporary card numbers. It is essential to establish the exact meaning and use of both products to avoid getting into legal trouble.

Fake credit card numbers, also known as dummy or fake cards, are credentials designed to mimic the appearance of valid payment methods for demo or testing purposes. Unlike temporary or virtual cards, they lack any connection to an actual funding source. These fake cards typically include essential details like expiration dates, CVV, zip codes, cardholder names, and billing addresses and are helpful to developers in demo environments. For example, developers may use a dummy card number to test the performance of a payment interface created for a mobile app or an e-commerce website. These simulations are crucial for identifying integration flaws and bugs in the design without jeopardizing real funds.

While fake card numbers are helpful for developers and for testing payment interfaces, these cards are not intended to be used for real-life transactions. Attempting to use fake card numbers outside of their intended purpose is considered fraud. Don't be seduced by free online fake card generators.

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