In the wake of the recent Sony PlayStation Network security breach, consumers have a renewed interest in single use credit card numbers.

A single use credit card number, also known as disposable, secure, or virtual credit card numbers, acts as an alias for your credit card number.

The majority of major credit card issuers offer this service under various different names. Citibank refers to them as “virtual account numbers” and the service can be accessed by logging into your Citi account and following step by step instructions to generate a virtual account number for use when shopping online.

The temporary number can be used instead of your real credit card number in order to make the transaction more secure. Purchases will still show up on your monthly credit statement just like all regular purchases, but in the event of a security breach, thieves will not have access to your credit card details.

Every time you make a purchase online, you would log into your account and generate a totally new single use credit card number. The numbers are all attached to your regular credit card account, but from a security point of view a hacker targeting the merchant you have shopped with will only be able to access the temporary number and not your real credit card number. One drawback of temporary numbers are that the numbers expire, so if you are setting up a recurring payment you will need to update your payment information when the number expires.

The length of time that numbers are valid varies depending on the card issuer. Discover calls their temporary card numbers “secure account numbers” and they expire on the same date that your credit card does. While Bank of America calls their service “ShopSafe” and the temporary numbers issued are valid for one year.

American Express and Capital One do not currently offer temporary card numbers.

Chase Bank offer a similar service for commercial accounts, but do not offer the service to consumers. However, Visa cardholders can use “Verified by Visa” which requires an additional password when paying for items.

On entering your credit card number, a Verified by Visa pop up window appears. You would then enter the requested information and password in order to verify your identity.

While using a temporary credit card number can increase security for online payments, it is still important to make sure you are using genuine sites and to keep an eye on your account statements for unusual transactions.