Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2007 Issue

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

PayPal Virtual Debit Card helps prevent fraud (but only a good education can prevent PayPal's spelling errors).


Once you are approved you choose a security image that tells you that you are on the PayPal site. The PayPal logo on your desktop launches the software, where you login using your regular PayPal ID and password. When you select "generate virtual card number" a MasterCard in a floating window appears, with a uniquely-generated number, expiration date, and security code. It also displays your current PayPal balance and the source of backup funding. This is all very handy for making purchases, as the numbers are large and easy to read and you don't have to drop everything and login to a website to check on your information (How many times have you held you credit card at an angle to your desk light to read the numbers?) . Once you use the information in your order, you just close the window and that number will never appear again nor can it be used again.

Now for the fine print: There is no charge to either download or use the PayPal Virtual Debit Card. However, they may decide there is a fee in the future and of course you can opt out at that time or whenever you wish.

If you have more than one user who uses your computer they can use the same software, but they have to login to their PayPal accounts separately. There is a Daily Limit on the card that can be viewed in your PayPal account and negotiated with customer service. You cannot fund the card with another credit card or with currencies other than US dollars. You can, however, use the card to pay for goods in foreign currencies as long as they accept MasterCard -- but you will be paying MasterCard's currency conversion fees (For a better way to handle foreign transactions, see my December, 2006 and January, 2007 columns).

You can use the card even if there are no funds in your PayPal account, as it will draw money directly from your backup funding source. The card cannot be used with any service that requires that you show a physical card at a later time, such as certain theater ticket purchases, hotels, and car rental agencies. Nor can the card be used to open an account that requires an unchanging credit card number.

If you are enrolled in the PayPal rewards program, there is no cash back given on the virtual card. Please be sure to read the Agreement when you enroll for other niceties.

I can say from my experience, after having tested the virtual card for a few weeks, it does work great. It gives me another reason to maintain my PayPal account. When I really need a credit card for convenience, security, and to make sure I have redress when I'm purchasing from unknown sources, this is a much safer way to complete the transaction than using a physical credit card.

Renee Magriel Roberts can be reached at renee@roses-books.com.

Rare Book Monthly

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