Have you ever had your credit card number stolen or been the victim of identity theft? It can absolutely wreak havoc on your financial life. You may have even considered using a masked credit card for online shopping. But is this really a safe alternative? Let’s remove the “mask” and reveal everything you need to know about masked credit cards.

What do companies like Orbitz, Under Armour, Saks Fifth Avenue, Kmart, Delta, Best Buy, and Panera all have in common? They are all retailers who have reported data breaches since the start of 2018. Unfortunately, they are far from the exception. It’s estimated that three-quarters of all U.S. retailers have experienced a data breach of some magnitude, with half of them recognizing that data was stolen in the last year alone.

If you want to avoid your data being at risk, you don’t have too many options. The safest bet is to stop using your computer, shred your credit cards, buy everything in cash, and maybe even live off-the-grid. This isn’t exactly feasible for most consumers, of course, so luckily there’s an alternative: masked credit cards.

Now, what exactly is a masked card, where can you get one, and will it really protect you? Let’s take a moment to talk about these sneaky, information-protecting products and why they might need to be the next thing you add to your arsenal.

What Is a Masked Card?

A masked credit card is actually a digital product and accompanying service, rather than an actual, tangible card. Some people even refer to masked cards as fake credit cards, though they are absolutely legitimate products.

A masked card service will provide you with a one-time-use credit card number upon request. You can then use that temporary card number, expiration date, and security code to make purchases online and in-stores. Once you’ve used the card combination, it will no longer be valid.

A masked card account will then, in turn, charge the amount to your credit card or bank account of choice. Using a “fake” credit card is the same as using your preferred method of payment, except that you don’t actually need to input the card number that’s in your wallet. The charges are billed instead from the masking company rather than the retailer you’re buying from, but otherwise, the spending is the same.

Masked card services don’t have to be difficult to use, either. Between online plug-ins and apps, you can easily and automatically access temporary card numbers anytime you need to make a purchase.

Why Use a Masked Card Service?

It’s easy to see that there has been an unprecedented influx in data breaches recently, with retailers big and small and even within credit reporting bureaus themselves (we’re looking at you, Equifax). This means that each and every time you use a credit card to make a purchase with a company, you are opening yourself and your personal information up to theft. And that theft can be detrimental.

When you make an online purchase or even scan your card at the register of your favorite retailer, you are opening yourself up to theft. If that business is hacked, your identifying information–including your name, address, credit card number, and more–could easily be stolen and used.

By using a card masking service, you avoid all of that trouble. When you go to make a purchase, regardless of whether or not you trust the security of the retailer, you will be handing over a credit card number that only exists for one use. You will also be giving them an address other than your own, so you aren’t risking your personal information with the purchase.

One of the leading masked card companies, Abine, seeks to make it even easier for you to hide your identity every single time you use your card. The reason is simple, too. As Abines CEO Rob Shavell says, Masked cards are useful because they leave no trace of your real credit card The principle behind what we do for security is very simple: Hackers can’t steal what they don’t have.

How Much Does a Masked Card Cost?

Some credit cards and banks, such as Discover and even Bank of America, offer masking services to their clients. The only problem with these free services, though, is that you will still be handing over personal information to retailers: while the credit card number and expiration date are one-time-use, you’ll still be entering your own billing address.

Third-party masking services, like Abine mentioned above, do a more complete job at hiding your information. They not only provide you with a temporary card number to use for your in-store and online purchases, but you will also use the company’s address and telephone number for said purchases. This way, you literally don’t hand over a single shred of your personal information to retailers, where it can then be compromised. Of course, the trade-off is that this service isn’t free.

Abine’s masking service, called Blur, offers premium features for a very reasonable cost. For only $3 a month, you can protect all of your personal information when you do anything on the web–you will never again have to hand out your real email address, phone number, credit card information, address, and more when shopping online.

You’ll also get added features (some of which are included in the Blur Free service) such as tracker blocking. This way, you can browse the web privately, without cookies watching your every move. You can also protect your online passwords and emails through either the free or paid versions of Blur. However, if you plan to use Blur for masking your credit card purchases, you will need to opt for the Premium, $3/month plan.

Downsides to Masked Cards

So we’ve talked about the pros, but there are also a few cons when it comes to using a masked credit card. If you’re trying to protect your information, though, these may be well worth the trade.

The biggest downside for me is probably related to credit card rewards. When you use a service like Abine Blur, the company will actually be paying for your purchase for you. You will essentially log in and request a masked card through Abine for the exact amount of your desired transaction–very similar to buying a gift card. Abine will then turn around and bill the account of your choice for that masked card purchase. This means that your credit card statement will have Abine listed as the merchant.

If you are trying to rack up as many credit card rewards as possible, this could put a dent in your accumulation plans. Say, for instance, that you have the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers

6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more). 1% Cash Back on other purchases.

If you used that card for your next grocery haul, you would get 6% back on the total. If, instead, you used Abine Blur to mask your card information, you wouldn’t get 6% back because the grocery store won’t be your listed merchant.

While this issue may not be as important as protecting your identity, it is something to remember if you’re playing the credit card rewards game.

The other downside is that using a card masking service is an added step with every transaction you make. You can no longer use stored card information or simply add your card number into the checkout box. Instead, you’ll need to log in to Abine, enter your transaction information, get a temporary card number, and plug that in instead. This only adds an extra couple of minutes to the process but might be frustrating if you’re trying to buy and go.

Bottom Line

Identity theft is a serious issue for millions of Americans, and should absolutely be a concern no matter how you spend or where. No one is immune to data breaches or identity theft, especially when we even have credit reporting agencies being hacked.

However, there are things you can do to mitigate your risk. By using a masked credit card, you can easily protect your personal information every time you shop, whether online or in stores. And the next time you hear about a big retailer getting hacked, you can rest easy knowing that your (real) information wasn’t compromised.