Whether it is from Amazon India or Flipkart or Snapdeal or Aliexpress, I buy from all of them a lot and regularly – bordering on making me an online shopaholic. I try to minimise sharing of my credit card details (I never use my debit card online) and when available I pay for the purchases through a reputed payment gateway (or wallet) like PayPal or PayTM or Amazon Pay and so on. When that’s not available I do UPI transaction using the BHIM app or pay directly from my bank account (Net banking) – this way, the target site can’t replay the transaction or debit additional money from my account without my explicit intervention (by needing me to enter a password and an OTP).
With these small precautions I limit to the extent possible, the sites where my card information gets stored and also I get to see the transactions I do in a few centralised places. Most often, smaller sites or one-off product shops, don’t give you a wallet choice and they only accept credit card information. Also, there are times when my son wants to buy something online and I don’t want to waste my time doing the whole shopping for him – sharing my credit card details to my son will be illegal, as even sharing to your spouse is not allowed. To handle these scenarios, master card and visa card have been offering for a few years now, what is called Virtual Cards and they have been available in India as well.
The way these virtual cards work is, you login to your bank’s website and purchase one for a predefined value, a prepaid card. You will be presented with an image or an email, with details of a 16 digit number, expiry date and a CVC code. Using these you can buy from any online site where the physical presence of a card (like in a merchant place or a restaurant) is not needed. For the site from which you are buying, the virtual card looks and behaves like a standard credit card. The only difference being, virtual cards are single use only. After the purchase (successful transaction), any balance amount in the virtual card will be refunded back to your account by your bank in a day or two. With Virtual Cards, even if the site where you made the purchase gets hacked or the owner of the site reuses the card information without your knowledge, it will fail.
Awareness of the existence of this product (virtual cards) is almost NIL with the bank staffs I checked with.
Many of the Banks in India, offer these virtual cards from their official website – for example, I saw it available online from SBI, Kotak Mahindra Bank, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank. Each of them gives a different name like Net Card or Prepaid Card or Virtual Credit card or Netsafe, but the product is the same.
I have been using these virtual cards from my bank for the last few months – I find using them to be easy and feel safe. Give them a try next time you want to buy something online from one of the many small sites.