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The recent Sony PlayStation Network breach has spawned a renewed interest in single-use (also called disposable, secure or virtual) credit card numbers. A single-use credit card number is basically an alias for your actual credit card number.

Most of the major credit card issuers offer this service, but it goes by different names. Citibank calls them virtual account numbers. You log on to your Citi account and follow the steps to generate a virtual account number. When shopping online, you use this number instead of your real account number. Purchases that you make with your temporary number show up on your statement like all of your other transactions.

Each time you shop online, you log on to your account and generate a new single-use number. Each of these numbers is attached to the same credit card account. From a security standpoint, here’s the advantage: If someone hacks into one of the websites where you’ve shopped and obtains your account number, the hacker gets the temporary number you used and that number can’t be used again. Your real credit card number is safe.

A drawback is that these numbers expire. The length of time that the numbers are valid varies among issuers. Discover calls them secure account numbers and they expire on the same date that your actual credit card account number expires. Bank of America calls this service ShopSafe and their numbers expire after one year. So if you’re using one of these numbers for a recurring payment, you’ll need to update your account information when the number expires.

American Express and Capital One don’t currently offer this service. A spokesperson for Chase said that the issuer has a similar program for commercial accounts. Chase doesn’t currently offer this service to consumers but cardholders can use Verified by Visa, which involves keying in an additional password when you pay for an item. When you enter your card number, a Verified by Visa window appears. You enter requested information plus your password, and this verifies your identity.

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