Capital One hopes to stamp out fraud by giving you as many credit card numbers as you want

Having just one primary credit card number is a huge risk, providing thieves with a single point of access for fraud. A new system from Capital One aims to resolve that by giving users as many credit card numbers as they need, helping to minimize the damage from high-profile data breaches.

Tom Poole, senior vice president for Payments and Identity at Capital One, spoke with OWI about the new system, which provides consumers with unique credit card numbers for each vendor, all tied to the same original card and account.

“A mission-purpose number,” Poole said.

He talked about the dread that comes from having a credit card number stolen, mostly in the form of inconvenience, where the consumer needs to re-enter their new card information with every online retailer they do business with.

Capital One’s approach is a mix of old technology and new. It leverages the company’s Eno personal assistant and browser plugins to automatically generate new credit card numbers. But the numbers themselves are just traditional credit card numbers, using the same existing payment infrastructure that most any retailer accepts.

Poole and his team at Capital One wanted to keep the tokenized, virtual credit card number system as simple as could be. In achieving that, they discovered it came with unintended benefits beyond enhanced security.

For example, the ability to simply delete a virtual credit card number from their account gives customers more control, particularly when it comes to bothersome retailers.

Consider the hassle of needing to call and jump through hoops to cancel an account. Rather than waiting on the phone to close an account, users could instead disable the card specific to that company, achieving the same result.

Having the card numbers stored in a browser plugin also makes it easier for customers to complete a transaction when shopping online.

Finally, Poole said customers will also feel more comfortable doing business with a vendor or merchant they might otherwise have avoided, fearing credit card theft. Now, with a unique single-site number, the risk associated with that transaction is much lower.

After a soft launch last fall, Capital One’s virtual credit card system formally debuted to the public earlier this month. Poole said reaction from consumers has been extremely positive.

“They wonder why it hasn’t existed before,” he told OWI.

For now, the system is available for major desktop browsers, with the Capital One team working on a mobile version still to come. But because they work like regular cards, generated credit card numbers can be saved in accounts specific to various websites, meaning that a persistent number created on the desktop could easily be accessed and used via smartphone.

Poole said he could also see where the ability to generate a new credit card number could give consumers more confidence to complete a transaction when they are traveling, or using a network or computer that is not familiar. By generating a new number on the go, consumers can be empowered and spend a little more freely, which is a win for Capital One and online merchants.

And the next time a major retailer has a data breach, and stolen credit card numbers flood the internet, Capital One may not have to send out as many replacement cards to resolve the issue. For consumers generating virtual card numbers in Eno, the necessary response will be as simple as opening a browser.