GREENSBORO, NC – You’ve heard about it before; a scammer makes a copy of you online, and then used that copy to steal your identity and your money. But, what if you could make a copy of you and beat them at their own game?

Virtual or temporary credit cards let you do just that. Companies issue you a random, computer generated temporary card number while you shop online and it keeps your actual credit and debit card information hidden from thieves and hackers.

Right now, only a few banks and credit card companies, like Bank of American and Citi, offer the service. But, there are third-party companies, like Privacy, that issue virtual credit card numbers.

Privacy is free and allows you to link your checking account to the service and works with hundreds of banks, like Chase, PNC Bank, and Wells Fargo. Through Privacy, you link your real checking account to the service, then Privacy generates a temporary card number to use when you shop online.

With virtual credit cards, you simply enter the fake card number when you purchase something. You can even set a daily limit (i.e. $100 per day) and expiration date (i.e. 10 days after the number is created) on the virtual card number. If a hacker gets a hold of your virtual credit card number, they can’t exceed the daily limit and can’t make a purchase past the expiration date. And you real credit and/or debit card information is still protected.

There are a few drawbacks. For instance, if you purchase someone and want to return it, the retailer may require the refund to be placed back onto the same account number. If you used a virtual credit card and it’s passed the expiration date, you would have to settle for store credit instead. Also, virtual credit cards can only be used online.

Still, if you do a lot of online shopping, a virtual credit card can be another layer of protection.