EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 137 - February 20, 2005 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 9

One-Time Use Credit Cards Offer Safer Online Shopping

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Have you ever paused as you were entering your credit card number into a web-form on the Internet, wondering if the site would really keep your information secure? Whether you are making an online purchase or registering for a new service, you should always be careful!

Some credit card companies offers one-time use credit card numbers to make online transactions safer. They are called substitute credit card numbers, or "controlled payment numbers."

My own credit card is administered by MBNA, and it allows me to generate unique credit card numbers where I decide the limits. I contacted MNBA Corporation, and spokesperson Jim Donahue (Senior Executive Vice President) had this to say:

"ShopSafe keeps your true account number off the Web and out of merchant databases by generating a random, substitute number in its place. The substitute number links back to the cardholder's true account number, but no one other than the Customer and MBNA ever sees the Customer's true account number. Charges appear on the Customer's statement, as normal. Customers can generate a unique ShopSafe number for each online purchase and can also set spending limits and expiration dates. It's that simple."

Donahue said for security purposes, MBNA does not comment on how many customers use ShopSafe. He said ShopSafe provides customers with the following benefits:

  • Cardholder's true account number is never shared with the merchant;
  • Cardholder's true account number is never retained in merchant's database;
  • Cardholder places a specific limit on how much can be charged to his/her account by merchant;
  • Cardholder sets an expiration date, beyond which charges to his/her account will be refused;
  • Accepted everywhere Visa or MasterCard are accepted online.

The only limitation is that the cardholder must have an MBNA-issued credit card (there are over 5,000 choices) and must enroll (free) in the service at

Recently I logged in to MBNA (the same place I can review my credit card transactions), and used the ShopSafe service to create a one-time number with a limit of $15. I used this number to register with a new site that required credit-card registration. Now if there is ever an attempt to use this credit card, I will know which site is responsible. Best of all, if there is a security breach, I don't necessarily have to cancel my credit card and wait for a new one to come in the mail.

A July 2004 article in Bank Technology News said Citi, Discover and MBNA are all testing controlled payment numbers. Call the customer service department of your credit card service and ask if they have any such programs.

Citibank Virtual Account numbers

MBNA ShopSafe

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About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to

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