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Virtual credit card numbers can be helpful tool in combatting fraud: Money Matters

February 6, 2019 GMT

Virtual credit card numbers can be helpful tool in combatting fraud: Money Matters

Q: You often write about the danger of using debit cards and giving out credit card numbers to people who maybe shouldn’t be trusted. I don’t recall you mentioning virtual credit cards.

My CitiBank account offers virtual card numbers. They are good for one transaction, for one month. I use that option for all online and phone purchases. The charge shows up on my regular statement. If someone steals the number they can’t use it. I’m surprised all banks don’t offer it. Your thoughts?

B.K., Cleveland Heights

A: I think virtual card numbers or disposable account numbers are a fantastic tool we can use to combat fraud. The problem is that there aren’t many credit card issuers that offer it. Besides Citi, virtual account numbers (VANs) are offered by Bank of America and Capital One, and a few smaller issuers. Some banks offer them for corporate credit card accounts.

The only big downside is if you’re using the virtual account number to make a reservation for a hotel or a car rental. Clearly, you’ll have to use another form of payment when the time comes.

I suspect they’re not offered by more banks because customers don’t ask for them. I’d advise folks that if this is something that’s important to you, ask your current bank if there are plans to offer virtual numbers. Or open up an account with another issuer for online and phone purchases.

Q: I was freezing my credit files and had the numbers in front of me you gave, and started with the first one, Equifax. All was going well till the very end, when he said he was going to give me a PIN. I started to write it down and my pen went blank, so I did not get the PIN, and he said without it I could never unfreeze my credit. He never repeated the number. Now what do I do? I haven’t done the rest or started for my husband until I get this resolved. Please tell me how to do this.

J.L., Brunswick

A: I assume the “he” you mention refers to the computerized voice on the automated freeze line. The credit bureaus shouldn’t tell you that you would never be able to unfreeze your credit files without your PIN, because that’s false. It can be a bit more difficult though to thaw your files without your PIN.

Remember that under a new federal law, you no longer have to pay to freeze or thaw your credit files. It’s totally free.

In the case of both Equifax and TransUnion, you no longer need a PIN if you want to freeze or thaw your files online. You do still need your PIN if you want to thaw your file by phone.

To freeze or thaw your file online with Equifax.

To freeze or thaw your file online with TransUnion.

In both cases, you’ll need to create an online account.

With Experian, you can thaw your credit file without your PIN if you can answer a few questions from your credit file, such as the dollar amount range of your mortgage or a car payment, or which store you have a credit card with, or the name of the employer on your credit file. You can also request a PIN by phone and have the PIN mailed to you. Call 888-397-3742.

If you don’t want to mess with any of this online, you can request a replacement PIN by mail:

You must provide proof of identification, such as a copy of your driver’s license, birth certificate or other documents. Here’s a list of accepted documents.

Your documents and request should be sent to:

Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5788

TransUnion, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, Pennsylvania, 19016

If you’re just starting out with this credit freeze business, you can freeze your files by phone (the easiest option in my opinion):

Equifax 800-685-1111 (Press 3 for a freeze)

TransUnion 888-909-8872 (Press 3 for a freeze)

Experian 888-397-3742 (You have to enter your SSN, ZIP code and date of birth at the very beginning. Then it’s option 1 for fraud issues, then option 2 to order a freeze.)