03 Nov 2015 19:32 IST

How to protect online payments

Your Visa or MasterCard only gives you one layer of protecion. Here's how to secure your card details

Want to buy a book? A camera or a bottle of perfume? Go online. The reach of online shopping is widening and the allure of convenience is hard to quell. But there’s the risk of your card details being stolen and your security compromised.

True, a layer of security is added through verification codes (via Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode) to complete a transaction . Even so, security is still a stumbling block for many of us. Enter, virtual cards.

Single use cards

Virtual cards are solely meant for making online payments. They are generated using your credit or debit card. They look exactly like a regular credit/debit card, with name, card number, expiry date and card verification value (CVV) number. These cards don’t have a physical existence. You can load these cards with a specific amount.

Why are virtual cards better? That’s because a virtual card can be used for one transaction only. Once you use it to make a payment, the card expires. So even if the card’s details are lifted, and payments with it are attempted, no payment will go through. Virtual cards have their own distinct card and CVV numbers and expiration dates. Your actual credit/debit card details are not used. How’s that for protection?

Virtual cards also come with very short expiry periods, with the maximum timeframe being 48 hours.

Instant generation

It’s hardly going to escape your notice that for every purchase you make online, you need to get a new card. But the beauty of virtual cards is that they are generated in a matter of minutes.

Simply login to your internet banking and choose the tab for virtual cards. Enter the amount you want loaded onto the card, and the card account to which you want to link the virtual one. The card is created, and you can view it, instantly.

Take down the card details for once you close the window showing the virtual card or log off, it cannot be reviewed in the next session. The card can be used at the desired merchant Web site immediately following generation. The process to make payments is identical to regular debit or credit cards. The virtual card expires if not used within its timeframe.

Card limits

The amount to be put on the card is left to you, though it has to be within specified limits, which vary with banks. ICICI Bank, for example, has a ₹1 minimum while State Bank of India keeps it at ₹100. Amounts cannot go beyond your credit card limit or the balance remaining in your bank account. Some banks cap amounts at ₹50,000. Others also allow linking only to credit cards and not debit cards.

When you’re using your debit card to generate a virtual card, until the time the card is used, a lien of that amount is created on your account. Once used, the amount is deducted from the bank account. With credit cards, the amount shows up in the monthly billing statement.

Unused amount on the card will be returned. If you have used a credit card, the amount will be credited in the monthly statement. With debit cards, the amount is put back into the bank account, in a few days. Virtual cards can also be blocked or hot-listed. Amounts loaded will be returned in a manner similar to unused balance, as is also the case with unused expired cards.

Banks don’t charge a fee for this service. Banks offering virtual cards include Axis Bank (through their e-Wallet service), HDFC, SBI, Kotak Mahindra Bank, and ICICI Bank.


Since virtual cards come with quick expiry, don’t use them for automated instalment payments. Don’t use them where you may need to produce the card, such as for airline or movie tickets, for verification, since you won’t have a physical card.