How to protect your aging parents from online fraud with Privacy.com

A person holds a physical debit card while shopping online
 

At a Glance

Privacy.com makes virtual, masked debit cards to protect you against online fraud. While it’s an intimidating concept for those of us who aren’t techy, it’s surprisingly easy to use. Plus, it has a host of benefits for caregivers, allowing you to share money, keep track of caregiving expenses, and stop paying for subscription services you don’t use. But its most important benefit is what it’s best at—preventing your or your aging parents’ financial information from getting into the wrong hands.

Cost: Free

Available on: Any desktop. Or get the app on IOS or Android

Restrictions: Must be 18 + and a U.S. resident


To me, the internet can feel a lot like the Wild West. Instead of gunslingers, though, we have fraudsters. And instead of a showdown at high noon, we have data breaches and scams.

Enter the sheriff, Privacy.com.

Wild West metaphor aside, navigating the era of online credit card fraud is tricky enough. But when you’re responsible for protecting your aging parents from the online criminals of the world, overwhelming doesn’t feel like a strong enough word.

Privacy.com’s solution is simple. Instead of trying to stop fraudsters from stealing, Privacy.com ensures the information they could steal is practically worthless.

They do this with what’s called masked debit cards—so-called virtual debit cards that act like and essentially are disposable credit cards, connected to a real bank account.

If a fraudster gets a hold of these masked cards, they won’t have access to any of your real financial information, and most likely won’t be able to draw any funds from them.

As someone who identifies as “tech suspicious,” I wasn’t 100% on board with Privacy.com when my web developer boyfriend first told me about it. It just seemed complicated and too high-tech.

In full disclosure, it took months for me to use it myself. But once I put aside my (unfounded) suspicions, I found there are far more benefits to Privacy.com than, well, just protecting your privacy (although with the very real financial and time costs of scams, that is really the only reason you should need to try out the service). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, let’s dive into the basics.

How Privacy.com works

Four credit cards displayed on a table.

Privacy.com creates virtual debit cards. Every time you need a new card, Privacy.com generates a 16-digit debit card number, expiration date, and security code (CVV code). When you make a purchase using a Privacy.com debit card, money is drawn from your bank account, filtered through their system (obscuring your information), and passed along to the vendor.

On your bank statement, the charges show up as the vendor + Privacy.com.

You make a new card by clicking the grey “New Card” text or icon (where and what this looks like depends on your browser and if you’re using the desktop version or the app). Once you click it you can, and should for organizational purposes, give the card a nickname. You also have the option to personalize its background with common logos for online vendors like Spotify or Groupon. You’ll set a spending limit (if you have one) and choose which type of card you want it to be.

You have two choices.

The first is a “burner” card. This card is only valid for one purchase.  

I have used burner cards in the past for magazine subscriptions, holiday gifts from websites like Society6, even for tax purposes. They’re best when you don’t plan to buy from that specific merchant repeatedly or websites you don’t trust—you know, like that sketchy one that has the cheapest walkers.

Because it’s only valid for one purchase, if a fraudster attempts to use this burner card, the transaction will be rejected immediately.

Once you click “spend limit,” there’s a toggle switch at the bottom left-hand corner that says “Single Use.” Turn it on and you have yourself a burner card.

The second type of card is a single merchant card. This ties the generated debit card to one vendor—like Amazon or CVS.

I tend to use single merchant cards for bills, like internet and car insurance, but it works well for subscription services like Netflix or any other time you buy from a trustworthy merchant on a consistent basis.  

Because it’s only tied to one vendor, if a fraudster attempts to use it anywhere but that specific vendor, the transaction will be rejected. Say Netflix has a data breach. If the fraudster tries to use your debit card anywhere but Netflix, it won’t work.

A single merchant card is the default setting. Unless you turn the “single use” toggle switch on, your card will be a single merchant card and it will be tied to the first vendor you use it for.

You can set a spending limit for both types of cards, for individual charges, per month, or per year, and the card will deny any transactions that exceed this limit. You can change this spending limit at any time. You can also pause a card, as you would with a regular credit or debit card, or delete a card at any time (but you can’t reactivate deleted cards).

Something to note here: When you first open an account, you will have monetary and card restrictions—how much money you can spend through Privacy.com and how many cards you can open. This helps prevent scammers from using Privacy.com. These limits will increase over time.

You use the virtual debit card the same way you would use your actual debit or credit card online: by putting the debit card number, expiration date, and CVV code into the appropriate boxes.

Privacy.com makes this even easier by allowing you to copy the debit card number simply by clicking the number on the desktop version or tapping and holding the entire card on the app. The expiration date and CVV code have to be typed in manually. If you’re a Chrome user, you can also check out the Privacy.com Google Chrome Extension.

You can also use your Privacy.com virtual debit card to pay over the phone the same way you currently use your real debit or credit card.

The one difference between Privacy.com’s virtual card and a real debit card is that you can use a pseudonym and a fake billing address to further protect your privacy.

A cautionary tale about pseudonyms

beware of pseudonyms when using Privacy.com

Remember my developer boyfriend—the one who introduced me to Privacy.com? He bought a Playstation on Black Friday from Walmart but didn’t want Walmart to mail ads to our home. So he used a Privacy.com burner card, a fake address, and a pseudonym: Mr. Peaches.

He ordered the PlayStation online and opted for picking it up from the local store, leading to an awkward exchange with the employee who helped us.

She asked for an ID—my boyfriend flashed it—and she shook her head.

“It says here this is for a Mr.… Peaches.”

Her voice wobbled on the name, her eyebrows furrowing, because what kind of name is Mr. Peaches? She squinted at the label, and yes, her eyes hadn’t deceived her, it definitely said Peaches.

All this while she struggled to maintain her professionalism. After all, it was possible that Mr. Peaches was his real name.

My boyfriend, having not foreseen this hiccup, tried to explain, cheeks beet red.

“It doesn’t match because…” he scrambled for a way to explain Privacy.com in a sentence or two.

Luckily, the employee saw a second label on the package which said my boyfriend (his real name) was allowed to pick up the PlayStation in lieu of Mr. Peaches. He had left this instruction with Walmart when he bought it.  

So I see two lessons here. If you are going to use a pseudonym for a transaction you’ll be picking up in person ensure 1) the name isn’t too ridiculous, embarrassing, or inappropriate. Honestly, it could’ve been much worse than “Peaches” and 2) make sure to leave special instructions allowing your real identity to pick it up.

Moreover, if you do use a ridiculous name, some e-commerce sites might think you’re a scammer and the transaction won’t go through. And it’s possible a pseudonym will make any disputes or returns more difficult. So always use them with caution.

How Privacy.com makes money

Privacy.com is a free service, which prompts any savvy individual to ask the question: how are they making money (or in other words, what’s the catch)? For Privacy.com, at least, there doesn’t appear to be a catch.

Here’s how it works. Every time you make an online purchase, the merchant pays a small fee. This is called interchange. Privacy.com takes a cut of that fee.

They are not in the business of selling your data. And there are also no hidden fees.

How to make an account

(Note: While I signed up on a desktop, and will describe that process specifically, you can also sign up through their IOS/Android apps using a similar process.)  

Privacy.com has a simple, intuitive, and friendly-to-the-tech-suspicious interface.

Once you type in the URL—www.privacy.com—you’re greeted with a glaringly obvious call-to-action on the center of their home page: a blue button that says, as of this writing, “Try Privacy, It’s FREE.”

You can scroll, as I did, to learn more about the service. If you’re the thorough type, this step can cost you a few hours as you jump from link to link, but to actually create an account takes seconds.

You’ll put in your email, create a password, and agree to their terms and conditions. You’ll get an email from Privacy.com asking you to verify your email address. And you’ll be taken to your Privacy.com homepage.

On the left of your homepage, you’ll see the heading “My Wallet” and beneath it a digital card that says “My First Virtual Card.” Later, this is where you will be able to see all the cards you’ve created and where you will go to make new ones.

On the right, you’ll see the heading “Getting Started” with a checklist beneath it. You’ve already completed the first step (creating your account). The next step is to connect to a funding source—which, at this point, has to be your checking account. A Privacy.com representative said the option to use your debit card as a funding source will be available in the next few months.

You can’t make or use any virtual credit card until this step is completed.

You’ll also need to provide Privacy.com with your first and last name, billing address, date of birth, and phone number. This is due to know-your-customer banking regulations. Privacy.com will verify your information against public records.

Know your customer regulations often lead institutions to collect your social security number. Because Privacy.com cares about your privacy (hence, the name), they don’t require this. And the less information they have, the more protected you are.

Which is an apt transition into discussing the primary benefit of Privacy.com, and one of the core reasons why it was invented in the first place: to protect you from online fraud.

Benefit # 1:  privacy.com protects your aging parents from online fraud

A woman holds her head in her hands while looking at her computer. Credit card fraud costs time and money.

We’ve already discussed all the ways Privacy.com protects your personal information, but I’ll quickly review:

  • They collect as little data from you as possible—and do not sell that data

  • They create masked debit cards, so merchants (or fraudsters) never see your real banking information or credit or debit card information when you make a purchase

  • The two types of cards—burners and single-merchant—prevent fraudsters from making any successful purchases

  • You can use pseudonyms to further protect your information and to prevent marketers from advertising to you

If the person you’re caring for makes online or over-the-phone purchases without you present, you can create a Privacy.com account for them and instruct them to only use those digital cards when they make purchases. If that’s too difficult to explain, you can make the card and give them the card number, expiration date, and CVV code on a piece of paper or over the phone (like you would if you were giving them your personal credit card information to use).

If the person you’re caring for doesn’t make their own online or over-the-phone purchases, when you make purchases for them—whether it be ordering their favorite meal for delivery or ordering their prescriptions—you’ll be protecting either your own banking information or theirs, depending on who’s financially responsible for their care. Which brings us to the next benefit:

Benefit #2: Privacy.com allows you to securely and easily share money

If the person you’re caring for either fully or partially supports themselves financially, you can create a Privacy.com account connected to their bank and share that account with everyone else who is responsible for caregiving in the family. (Make sure you really trust these people—it’s probably not smart to give login credentials to someone you pay to caretake, for example.)

That way, everyone who is caregiving can access those funds without needing a physical debit card.

If you don’t want to give anyone else login credentials, you can share money on a card-by-card basis. This also works if the financial burden falls primarily on you and the Privacy.com account is connected to your bank.

Say your brother or sister helps out by ordering groceries for Mom or Dad—you can send them a picture of your digital card, secure in the knowledge that your information is protected.

Benefit # 3: Privacy.com helps you keep track of expenses

A screenshot of an Android phone displaying a purchase notification from Privacy.com

On your homepage, Privacy.com lists all of your transactions, including the date, the vendor, if it’s settled or pending, and the amount spent. There’s also a box on the top right corner that tells you the amount of money spent that day and the past 30 days, as well as “cashback earned” and “account credit,” which you can read about on Privacy.com’s Frequently Asked Questions page.

If all the caregivers agree to use Privacy.com for all caregiving purchases, it’s really easy to see how much you’re spending and where.

Moreover, Privacy.com emails you or, if you have the app, notifies you when a purchase has gone through and specifies how much it was and to where (just be sure to have your notifications turned on in your settings).

This is especially helpful for those monthly bills that you set to pay automatically, allowing you to keep track of your mom’s heating bill, for example, without having to scroll through your or her bank statements.

Benefit # 4: Privacy.com helps you track subscription services

Years and years ago, I signed up for an Amazon Prime free trial. At the time, I hardly ever used Amazon, but I needed some books for college and thought free shipping sounded pretty nice.

Of course, I forgot that I had signed up for the free trial, and ended up being charged for the year’s membership. And for a college student—that was a big deal financially.

I’m sure you’ve been there, too.

With Privacy.com, you don’t have to feel that pain again. You can use a burner card to sign up for any service with a free trial period. If your mom wants to try out CBS All Access, for example, you can have her test it out without the fear of being charged for the next six months because… well, because you’re a caregiver with a lot going on and of course you’ll forget to cancel it.

If you use a burner card, you’ll be notified that the payment didn’t go through when the service attempts to charge you at the end of the free trial. You can check in with mom to see if she liked and/or used the service and either cancel it or set up a recurring payment plan depending on the answer.

And Privacy.com is also helpful for keeping tabs on what subscription services you do end up paying for—just scroll through your single merchant cards.


Benefit #5: Privacy.com allows you to stay on the couch

A woman shops on her phone while sitting on a couch

I debated whether to include this benefit or not because it’s not caregiver specific, but, hey, it’s one of the best parts of Privacy.com.

When I’m perusing the online shopping aisles of the internet, I don’t always have my wallet and credit or debit card right next to me. Sometimes, it’s all the way down or upstairs (and yes, I do realize how lazy I sound here).

Paying with Privacy.com is as easy as opening a new tab and copying and pasting a number. No moving required.

What are the downsides of Privacy.com?

While I am clearly a fan of using Privacy.com’s masked debit cards, I do want to mention a few possible drawbacks.

The first: you miss out on earning points or cashback from credit cards rewards (and using Privacy.com’s masked debit cards won’t help your credit). This is not really a big deal if you’re more of a debit card person, but for someone who has six credit cards all earning points from different services, this is something to consider.

There’s also the intimidation factor. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog (oh so long ago) I was inherently suspicious of Privacy.com, though I can’t exactly explain why. You do have to trust the service with your banking, and some other personal information, but Privacy.com does address that in their Frequently Asked Questions page. I think—for me anyways—it was just such a new concept I had to first fully understand the idea before I could use it.

But spending time on their website, and just deciding to go for it, helped me go from suspicious of Privacy.com to enamored by it. I now use their masked debit cards for every purchase I make online… Which could be a drawback as well. It’s so easy to put in your debit card information that I may be making more online purchases than I used to.

All that being said, I do think Privacy.com is a valuable service to help protect you and your parents’ sensitive financial information. It’s definitely worth looking at.

Let us know in the comments: Is online fraud a concern you have as a caregiver? If so, do you think Privacy.com might ease some of those concerns? And what other tech do you use or recommend?