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Are virtual credit cards safer than physical cards?

Virtual cards offer a layer of security compared to physical cards because they protect your real credit card information. This makes them safer than physical cards in several respects:

  • Virtual credit cards can be restricted to specific merchants and limited to certain spending limits. They can also be programmed for single use, automatically deactivating after the first transaction. These rules offer extra fraud protection compared to a regular credit card.
  • Unlike physical credit cards, virtual cards can’t be stolen or lost. If you carry a physical credit card and it’s stolen, you can be vulnerable to fraud. Virtual cards live in your digital wallet, keeping you safe from fraudsters.
  • Virtual credit cards must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which contains regulations and guidelines designed to safeguard credit and debit transactions and prevent the misuse of cardholder information.

What is a virtual debit card?

Similar to a virtual credit card, a virtual debit card is a unique, 16-digit card number with a security code and expiration date that’s created digitally and is different from your real debit card number. Some banks allow you to create virtual debit cards through their online banking or mobile app. Once you create a new card, you can use it for online payments or in-store contactless payments. This allows you to use funds directly from your bank account without sharing your actual card information.

Benefits and drawbacks of virtual credit cards

Virtual credit cards offer many advantages, but they have a few downsides. Here are some of the pros and cons of virtual cards:

Pros:

  • Improved security: Using virtual cards while making online purchases protects your actual credit card details and offers greater security compared to using a physical credit card.
  • Flexibility: You have the option to set custom spending limits, choose specific vendors where the card can be used, and set expiry dates–without affecting your real credit card.
  • Convenience: Virtual credit cards are generated instantaneously and can be used right away for online purchases and contactless payments.

Cons:

  • Can’t always use them in-store: Not all stores offer contactless payments like Google Pay or Apple Pay. While virtual cards are ideal for online shopping, you may be limited when it comes to in-store purchases.
  • Refunds may be complicated: Each store has its own policies, and some may only offer refunds through the initial payment method. This could be an issue if you used a virtual credit card number that is now inactive. In this case, you might receive store credit, a check, or a gift card instead.
  • Not ideal for reservations: When you make a hotel reservation with a virtual card, it can be difficult to match your payment method during check-in. Hotels typically require a physical card upon arrival, so using a virtual card may require additional confirmation, like contacting your bank.

How to get a virtual credit card

  1. Get a credit card: A virtual credit card is attached to your existing credit card account, so it’s necessary to have a credit card first. Most credit card issuers offer virtual cards, including Mastercard, Visa, and American Express. Corporate cards like Ramp also offer virtual cards.
  2. Log into your online or mobile credit card account and navigate to your account settings: Most banks or credit card accounts will have the option to request a virtual card under “Account Settings” in their online platform or mobile app. If you can’t find where to get virtual cards, check out their online help center.
  3. Download your credit card issuer’s virtual card app, if necessary: Some banks, like Chase, require you to download a virtual credit card app that’s separate from their online and mobile banking. Other providers will let you request virtual cards in the same app.
  4. Generate a 16-digit virtual credit card number: Receive a unique virtual credit card number. Note that some banks, like Capital One, will give you a different number for different merchants. Other providers will let you use the same number for different merchants, if you choose.
  5. Set spending limits, vendor restrictions, and when you want the card to expire: You can set up your virtual card so it expires after a single use, or keep it for several months and use it for recurring payments. At this point, you can also set spending limits and vendor restrictions.
  6. Start using your virtual credit card: Use your virtual card for online credit card transactions or in-store contactless checkouts, just like you would a regular credit card.

Create unlimited virtual cards with Ramp

At Ramp, we provide physical and virtual corporate cards that empower your employees to spend while allowing you to enforce your company’s expense policy. Our cards come with spend management features, so you can easily assign virtual cards and create custom guidelines for how they’re used.

In the Ramp dashboard, we provide a comprehensive view of your company's spending, offering real-time updates and cost-saving insights. You can filter spending by merchant, type, or other rules. Our platform also seamlessly integrates with accounting tools, letting you sync expense data to automatically generate expense reports.

See how Ramp’s virtual cards can streamline your company’s finances.

Try Ramp for free.
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No personal credit checks or founder guarantee.
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Finance Writer and Editor, Ramp
Ali Mercieca is a Finance Writer and Content Editor at Ramp. Prior to Ramp, she worked with Robinhood on the editorial strategy for their financial literacy articles and with Nearside, an online banking platform, overseeing their banking and finance blog. Ali holds a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy from York University and can be found writing about editorial content strategy and SEO on her Substack.
Ramp is dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes make informed decisions. We adhere to strict editorial guidelines to ensure that our content meets and maintains our high standards.

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