Discover Brings Back Single-Use Account Numbers

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After discontinuing a security feature that let cardholders generate a one-time use number for transactions last month, Discover Financial Services did an about-face and reinstated its Secure Online Account Numbers program.

“After receiving an overwhelming amount of feedback about the discontinuation of secure online account numbers, we are happy to offer this service, once again,” spokeswoman Laura Gingiss said in a statement.

The tool let cardholders create a 16-digit, single-use number that would act as a stand-in for their real account number when making an online purchase. The “disposable” number would be of no use to a cybercrook, since it was valid for a single transaction only. Discover announced in August it would be discontinuing the feature in September, although existing numbers could be stored and used any time before the card expired.

(MORE: Discover Discontinues Random-Number Security Feature)

Credit card customers are protected by federal law, which limits their liability in the case of fraud. And although most credit card issuers promise $0 liability for unauthorized use, “our cardmembers still liked to have the added control of using encrypted account numbers,” Discover’s Gingiss says. So-called “card not present” transactions such as online sales make up a growing percentage of the credit card fraud that takes place today, and big data breaches both on and offline have raised consumer awareness about the vulnerability of their account data.

Interestingly, back in August, Gingiss said one of the reasons why Discover decided to discontinue the feature was because not many customers used it. Maybe a vocal minority made the case for reviving the disposable-number generator, or maybe widespread media coverage of hacker attacks on everything from cell phones to social media sites is making people think twice about just how safe their account data is.

(MORE: Could Your Credit Card Information be Hacked?)

To date, Discover is one of only a few issuers that offer this kind of service; it remains to be seen if other, larger credit card companies will experience growing demand for this additional security feature.