Ever known a banker with an original idea? Me neither. So, while my patent is pending, I encourage every banker to take this idea and run with it. You can use it for free until my patent is approved. And I promise not to gouge you thereafter. If you’re like my family, you probably spend almost half of your disposable income (whatever that is) on Internet purchases. Why? The products cost less. You don’t pay sales tax. And oftentimes, shipping is free. Never mind not having to deal with computer and automobile sales associates who by profession single-handedly account for the expression ate up with the DA. The problem with Internet shopping is you just don’t quite feel safe leaving your credit card or bank account number scattered all over the countryside. Not to mention you have to keep track of hundreds of passwords at various web sites. You do use different passwords, don’t you? News Flash: All it takes is one disgruntled nerd, and your account numbers and passwords are public information, at least to the highest, unscrupulous bidder.

The solution actually is quite simple. The world needs one-use credit card and bank card numbers. How it would work is equally simple. You visit the web site of your bank or credit card company, log in, and click on a button to request a one-use account number. The bank’s web site then spits back a number which is valid for a short period of time, an hour or perhaps two. Now you visit the web site where you wish to make a purchase, order your stuff, fill out their account application, and plug in your one-use account number in place of your normal credit card information. The expiration date and secret number on the card (which you’ve now provided to hundreds of vendors) remain the same as what’s shown on your credit card. The easiest implementation would be to add four more digits to existing credit card numbers; however, this would tip off the merchant that the number can’t be used again. I can think of some reasons you might not want to do that. With modern databases, it would be trivial to design a system which ties standard credit card numbers back to an existing account, and that probably would be my preference. But you know how banks are. They will want to tip off porn sites and other subscription services that you may not be back next month for fear of losing their 3% cut of the proceeds forever more. In any case, one-use numbers would solve virtually all credit card fraud problems for banks while also protecting customers’ account information from hackers, disgruntled nerds, and unscrupulous businesses. So why wouldn’t you do this? Aside from greed on repetitive monthly charges, I can’t think of a reason. Can you?

P.S. to my banker and sales friends: My apologies for the opening salvos, but I wanted to get your attention.

Editorial footnote: Actually, I’m about six months late on my patent application and someone beat me to it. So while I won’t be getting rich, hopefully all of us will see a more secure way of handling Internet commerce very soon. And while I’m apologizing for my lack of originality, whatever happened to the (quite similar) American Express experiment? And what about the Citigroup, MBNA, and Morgan Stanley experiments? Perhaps they all need a good database consultant. What do you think?

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Better it should be a single use rather than time limited. Not every place will charge the card immediately. It certainly wouldn’t have worked when I bought my Mac Mini, since the card isn’t being charged until it ships, which may be 3-4 weeks.

  2. WHY WONT YOU PUPLISH WHAT I THINK>>>>IS IT BAD IF PEOPLE DISAGREE WITH YOU???????

    Take a 12 digit account number (because the first 4 digits identify the bank) and calculate
    the permutations. Now take the amount of purchases on the internet in
    a year.. or even 6 months and you will grossly out way the
    permutations. The solution would be to increase the account to 32
    digits, but then you would have to recode every freaking POS terminal
    in the world… Very cost effective. Or we could guarantee ageist
    fraud like we do now….. Great waste of internet space ( see what
    happens when publishing is low cost)

    [WM: We publish posts of people with different views all the time. Your first post had a number of personal attacks. We don’t publish those, and we don’t edit other folks’ comments.]