Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2007 Issue

Better Credit Card Security: Using PayPal's New Virtual Debit Card

Generate a virtual card number every time you shop using the PayPal Virtual Debit Card.


by Renée Magriel Roberts

Books come in and out of our shop like driftwood on the tides; there is a constant ebb and flow of materials. Since we do not have a bricks-and-mortar shop, the large majority of our transactions occur on the Internet, where we buy as well as sell. This being the case, we are always concerned with credit card security, whether we are working with established dealers or buying from an unknown individual.

Even with an established dealer, security for your credit card information is not a sure thing. If your number is "erased" it can (and usually does) still exist on a computer system that may not be forever physically or virtually secure. Or your credit card information can be jotted down on a piece of paper and end up in the wrong hands. There just is no guarantee that once that number is given it will not eventually be used fraudulently. You just have no control over what happens to your information.

Whole industries have sprung up to prevent credit card fraud, insure against credit card fraud, and commit credit card fraud. To guard our own shop from fraud, I've tried to limit our exposure by creating a discrete bank account for book purchases which is minimally funded. This makes transactions easier to check because they are not intermingled with all of our other purchases, and I change the card numbers regularly, a stop-gap measure. Naturally I do not send my credit card information in emails, which just exposes the data to a wider audience.

I am always looking for a better way to make purchases, so I was pretty interested in a new product that I saw advertised by PayPal during a recent visit to the site -- a "Virtual Debit Card". The idea behind this is simple and brilliant: Software on my computer generates a virtual card number, expiration date, and card security code every time I shop, everywhere I shop, as long as the merchant accepts MasterCard. This is a unique number, used only for a single transaction; once it is used it cannot be used again.

The virtual card also includes a couple of other features: a fraud site alert which warns you if you are on a known or potentially fraudulent website and a form fill feature that will automatically fill an order form with your shipping and billing details, if you care to use it. Like a physical credit card there is 100% protection (zero liability) against unauthorized payments sent from your account. The card gives absolutely no information about your PayPal account to the merchant, nor details about your bank account, other than the billing and shipping information you provide.

The card is in beta right now, available from PayPal's site. There is an online demo you can see without an account, but if you want to try the card out, you need to have a PayPal account and one of the following attached to it: PayPal Buyer Credit, PayPal Plus Credit Card or a Verified bank account. You also need a confirmed address on file with your PayPal account and your account is reviewed by PayPal's account department before approval.

Rare Book Monthly

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