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Privacy Tech | Credit card company offers virtual payment numbers Related reading: ICO launches second round of privacy research funding



As time has passed, online shoppers have become more accepting of e-commerce, potentially storing their credit card information with 30 websites a year. That is the number Capital One Senior Vice President Tom Poole cited when discussing how e-commerce fraud has also risen as that level of comfortability has settled in.

In order to help online consumers protect themselves from malicious actors, Capital One has developed Eno, an app its customers can use to produce virtual credit card numbers when shopping online.

Capital One customers can download Eno right onto their browser, where they go through a verification process to link the app with a main credit card account. When making purchases, Eno will detect when a customer reaches a checkout page. The extension will produce a window asking if the user wants to pay using virtual credit card numbers.

The virtual cards are merchant-specific, meaning customers can re-use those numbers whenever they revisit the store. This is a calculated decision by Capital One, eschewing the idea of the “burner card” other virtual number services have offered before.

“Our first instinct was that the real value would be burner cards, but what we increasingly found was, at least in our research, that despite really wanting burner cards to work, most customers didn’t really see that as an issue,” said Poole. “They rarely had a place where they were so worried that they wanted the card to be destroyed immediately following their first purchase.”

On the surface, it may seem like Eno may only be beneficial to someone buying items from across the  web, but Poole notes the app has plenty of use for C-suite executives. Larger companies cannot afford the disruption associated with a compromised credit card, giving them a much stronger incentive to protect their accounts.

“In corporate, what you find is you have much larger sums of money moving and you have many more relationships you are responsible for paying,” said Poole. You have the ability to control those relationships. When one of those relationships, for whatever reason, gets disrupted or compromised, the others remain intact, and you are not interrupted in your business dealings. The importance to consumers is high; the importance to businesses is off the charts.”

One of the challenges Capital One continues to work on is educating consumers on just how virtual credit card numbers actually work. Poole likened it to talking about selling combustion engines when you really just want to sell a car, and because of that disconnect, Capital One is continuing to work on different ways to explain the benefits of Eno in an easy-to-digest manner.

“There’s a whole new language that you have to come up with to get this to appeal to the broadest set of customers that have this problem and are looking for solutions, but may not recognize that virtual credit card numbers may be that answer,” Poole explained.

Since Capital One is using Eno through its own customers’ transactions, Poole believes his company has an advantage in developing the application. Even with the head start, however, the company still had to work out some of the challenges associated using virtual cards for online transactions, including returns.

“There are also issues of dispute, which is when someone disagrees about the charge, and then you have to map it back to the right account and how does that get resolved within the networks and if networks have rules for that,” said Poole. “They don’t necessarily contemplate virtual, so we had to build systems infrastructure to deal with all of that.”

When asked about where Eno could go moving forward, Poole said Capital One will likely focus more on ensuring the extension is functioning at its best rather than rushing to develop a new set of features. Poole acknowledges going gung-ho in releasing new features is tempting, but Capital One aims to stick to their approach of “obsessively perfecting” what they have right now, because while the company is happy where Eno stands, they know it can be even better.


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