Buy online without revealing card number

If you worry about about using your credit card for online purchases, you're not alone.

Despite advances in encryption technology, used by most online merchants, concern over credit-card fraud and identity theft has been rising sharply over the past decade. The Federal Trade Commission now ranks identity theft as US consumers' top fraud complaint.

Wary online shoppers can now take advantage of technology that claims to eliminate the threat of credit-card fraud and identity theft.

With the new security feature, being introduced Tuesday by Citibank, credit-card numbers are never transmitted across the Internet. Instead, a random, substitute number is generated for every purchase. The program, Virtual Account Numbers, is free for Citibank cardholders.

Once the software has been downloaded, customers provide user names and passwords that automatically trigger the security feature during a purchase. Retailers treat the substitute number like any credit-card number – so there's no delay. The substitute number becomes invalid after each purchase.

The technology, patented by payment-security firm Orbiscom, also works for credit-card transactions over the phone.

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