Diggin' technology every day

December 7, 2011

Protect yourself this holiday season with this tech tip from all of us

Filed under: Random Thought — Nate @ 11:29 pm

Well, I guess it’s just from me, since there isn’t an us anymore (picture of the evil monkey from family guy comes to mind, pointing at the former techopsguys)

I was having some talks about this with some co-workers today, it started when sent me an email from their collections department saying that I owed them money on something that I ordered on August 12th 2011. I got the item a long time ago, and is one of those places that charges you the same time the item ships. Well I guess this order must’ve slipped through their system somehow (probably along with a bunch of others too). It was an order for a carrying case for a laptop.

I’ve been a happy and loyal customer of for almost a decade now, my email from them goes back to December 24th 2001. and (now were two of my main shopping sites early on. I still do a bunch of business with, but haven’t bought from since they were bought I think.

This was the first such collections email I had received so I thought maybe it was a scam, or a spam or something but the email address I use is not easy to guess and they had all of the right information. So I went to the site and gave them an updated credit card for them to use. You may remember my email system strips out things like links that point to spoofed sites.

The reason the transaction failed is well they weren’t supposed to wait four months before attempting to charge the card. I have been using temporary credit cards generated from Bank of America’s ShopSafe program for many years now, and my standard is to keep the expiry date of the temporary cards to the minimum of two months. So when’s systems failed and they went back to charge an old order of course it failed since the card was expired.

(Think 4 months is bad? One company I worked for had to literally cut their largest customer a $1M check to sort out an accounting problem(the large customer was and is a publicly traded company so this came up during their quarterly review for earnings) due to their billing system not properly billing customers for something like six months and they weren’t able to go back and charge them too much time had passed)

Anyways my point is Bank of America is not the only bank out there that has this ability I know others do (though can’t think of any off the top of my head I’m sure they exist). What is sort of shocking to me though is over the years as the holidays come and go there are news casts and stuff that try to give tips for how best to protect yourself with online shopping. Usually the tips are good but I’ve never — ever seen anyone mention taking advantage of temporary credit card numbers to better protect your online purchases. I use them even with merchants I trust like I think it’s a good habit to be in. I booked my recent hotels and airline tickets with them. Not only have I not heard the media report on this technology but I very rarely come across anyone that even knows such stuff exists (or if they have heard of it, they have never used it).

There’s really only one place that I haven’t been able to use temporary credit card numbers online — that is wingstop. Damn place wants to see the card you used in person when you go to pick your grub up, and I don’t know about you but I haven’t owned a printer in seven years.

These temporary cards can be more labor intensive if your ordering through marketplace sites like, because the cards only allow one merchant to charge them, so if you have an order with stuff from 5 different merchants you have to split it up into 5 different orders, or use a regular credit card (I of course go ahead and split it up since there is no savings for shipping or anything).

The temporary credit cards also work well for recurring payments. I use one for my co-location bill for this blog. The bill is $100/mo, I think my temporary card for that has a limit of $120/mo, and it allows up to $120/mo each month for as long as I want. It doesn’t allow more than $120/mo though. I can even arbitrarily increase the limit (but I can’t decrease it). I can even arbitrarily extend the expiry date (but I can’t decrease that either). It’s really handy.

When I signed up for a premium subscription to LinkedIn, they sent me an email saying they’ve automatically opted me in to auto renew when my subscription is due next year and that I need to do something special to get out of it. Joke’s on them though, the credit card used to sign up will not only be long expired by then but I have the ability to go into the Shop Safe system and pro-actively delete the credit card whenever I want!

Having a hard time getting someone to stop renewing auto payments? Next time use a temporary credit card!

Now they aren’t perfect. For example there is really no way to tell what charges map to what credit card numbers, and customer service really has little knowledge of this program. Not only that but I think when it comes to fraud, there is no distinction between Shop safe numbers and regular card numbers. If a shop safe number is compromised I DON’T CARE. Chances are it has less than $10 in credit left on it, assuming it is not expired and assuming I haven’t gone in and nuked it anyways! But the bank doesn’t have a way to distinguish it (I don’t think), so if a merchant reports the card # I used was stolen then they flag the account like they otherwise would.

With Shop safe (or a similar program) I’m so much better protected in the online world than I am in the real world. Not that I have much to worry about anyways, it’s not as if I’m liable for fraudulent transactions on my card(I did have a few about a year ago though my card was canceled before I knew what was going on and while the bank said they were going to send me something that disclosed what was bought that never happened, I just signed some paper saying purchases from those merchants was not me).

But I like to be a safe shopper anyways, whenever I can.

So spread the word if you can – use temporary credit card numbers for online shopping for about the most safe shopping experience around!

If you know what other banks offer this capability leave a comment!

Happy Holidays from techopsguys^H

(that makes 100 blog posts for 2011 ! woohoo! I don’t think I’ll come close to the 132 I did last year at this rate)

I started more formally collecting stats on the traffic on the site if your curious check this site out(updates each Sunday). The number one search term for December for my site? Of all things? The HP Touchpad ? I think I have one, maybe two posts on that (plan to have a follow up once HP makes their big decision). OK looks like 4 posts.

I had one crazy IP from Rackspace hosting hitting this site about once every two seconds, 280,000 hits over the span of about 6 weeks, I blocked them at Apache with a message asking them to fix their bot or justify their traffic to me and I’d unblock it but got no reply. They continued for a few more weeks after I blocked them. Really strange!

My data goes back to the middle of August 2011.


  1. Hi again Nate,

    there seem to be no temporary / virtual cards for regular banking customers in the UK. (by which i mean not credit impaired)

    It is all geared towards the zero credit culture, where high or punitive / userous fees go hand in hand with mutual exclusion, meaning there is a back room credit rating system to lock low scoring applicants to one product. At some time in the not so recent past (trying to pinpoint it would just anger me) the clearing bank system basically designated half the population as trailer trash. Given that maybe half the population is penniless and homeless without state aid, maybe that was logical. But it means there are frightening hurdles for someone coming out of that into a job that might offer independence (not least of which is them then assuming the tax burden to pay for the rest).

    Trying to avoid the unavoidable politick, you have to be quite expert about the payment networks to get even vaguely fair service. I ordered – forget what, now – from an online merchant who obviously didn’t have stock, and had no intention to deliver. So i called to reverse the transaction. The bank told me i needed a fax letter of permission from the vendor! Well, this got me reading the Riot Act, in full. Win for having all calls recorded. Obviously that was utter rubbish. But someone told this bloke to say that in stentorian tones.

    One thing which is coming in, i believe, is that SABRE will set up a virtual card number for all bookings soon. That sounds nice. But it relies on trusting your agent, as it is one step removed. I know my agent well, and to be honest i don’t think they often need to pay onwards by card, as they are well trusted. But that might solve many hotel problems worldwide. Moreover, it may stop the annoying practice of ring fencing money, based on an estimate, on check in. e,g, so I once had to accommodate a group at a Four Seasons, paid on my usual card. Next check in, alone, they ring fence a whopping amount, estimated on the earlier very high spend! Easily fixed, helpful staff, but another chain might not care, might be anywhere, currency hassles, you just don’t know.

    I was alerted to this outfit at who are disintermediating consumer purchases. They just took a biggish VC round. (I do not think it big, or venture capital, i think it is debt financing for held loan books, VC my backside) What rings alarm bells with me, is how they entice customers with installment payments, something of a USP to the vendor, a latterday Sears if you like (or Littlewoods, in the UK). So, they arbitrage the merchant acquirer fees against low rent credit lending, and intend to backload those stage payments. Neat, but a negative social indicator. I believe that model only works to the advantage of early adopters, because if everyone did this, the costs materialize in less liquid buying public and reduced demand.

    None of this is growth positive, it is bottom feeding. I believe bottom feeding is now the “growth” industry. But it is not growth, in any shape or form, cannibalism at best, socially disruptive at worst. To get growth, you have to permit a regular Joe taking his first job to be able to suss the credit system, rather than be pounced upon.

    I am super careful, therefore, where i stick my card, as it were. Joke of this season is Amazon not being able to take a single payment for large composite orders. Twice in one week they tripped the bank risk limits, cramming a dozen or more payments in a immediate batch, and i had to chase half the order. I presume this is because they act in some kind of escrow position with my bank details, and aggregating the sum total and paying onwards would incur further costs. But right here is a application for issuing virtual numbers, like SABRE says they will do.

    anyhow, Happy Holidays from me!

    – j

    Comment by John (other John) — December 11, 2011 @ 5:48 am

  2. […] – the number they attempted to use is a ShopSafe number, a service that BofA offers that I have written about in the past, where I generate single use credit cards for either single purchases or recurring subscriptions. […]

    Pingback by Caught red handed! « — October 16, 2012 @ 7:46 am

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