Money at 30: Privacy.com Review — How it Could Help Keep Your Money Safe
First the bad news: considering all the major data breaches that have hit retailers, websites, and freaking credit bureaus alike, there’s a very strong chance your personal info has been compromised at some point. Luckily, in addition to steps you can take such as freezing your credit reports to prevent criminals from using this data, there are a growing number of tools you can use to foil thieves in the future. Add to this list Privacy.com, which allows users to create unique card numbers they can use to conceal their actual info.
Beyond the ability to keep your credit card info safe, this free service also has the potential to save you money. Let’s take a closer look at how Privacy.com works and how this tool could benefit your financial life.
Getting Started with Privacy.com
Just like with most websites you encounter, joining Privacy.com starts with you entering your e-mail address and creating a password. Naturally, you’ll also be asked to verify that e-mail address to prove you do, indeed, have control of it. This part of the process is so commonplace that I doubt most would think twice about it. However, it’s the next step that may give some individuals a moment a pause.
In order to create card numbers using Privacy.com, you’ll need to link a funding source that will be tapped whenever one of your proxy cards are used. To link a funding source, you’ll need to select your bank and log into your online banking account. Even for a site with “Privacy” in its domain name (or perhaps especially because of this), first-time users might be a bit hesitant about this aspect of the sign-up process. That said, those who have ever linked their bank accounts on other personal finance apps and sites will surely recognize the banking APIs employed here. This helped ease my worries but I still understand those who might not want to give this info up.
Once a funding source is linked, you’ll be able to start creating cards. You can also link additional funding sources and select which account you’d like each card to pull from. Something to note is that, at this time, funding sources can only be bank accounts and not credit cards.
Creating new cards
When you log into Privacy.com, on the left side of the screen you’ll see a section called “My Wallet.” This is where you’ll not only see any cards you’ve previously created but also has a link to make new ones. These cards can either be assigned to a certain recurring expense (e.g. Netflix, iTunes, Spotify, etc.) or you can create single-use “burner” cards.
To set up a new card, you’ll first want to assign a nickname to your card to help remind you what it’s used for. As part of this process, you can also select from a library of commonly-used logos in order to make it even easier to identify which card is which. For example, Amazon, Postmates, and Groupon are among some of the popular card design options you’ll see when assigning a nickname.
After naming your card, you can select a spending limit. These limits can be per transaction, per month, per year, or total. So, if you’re Netflix bill is $10.99 a month, you can set your card to decline any transactions over $11 (note: it seems Privacy.com only allows limits to use whole numbers and not decimals). You can also create a “burner” card by toggling on the “single-use” options on the bottom left of Spend Limit window. Regardless of whether you’re setting up a recurring limit or a single-use card, just hit “Save Limit” when you’re done to move onto the last step.
As I mentioned, you can link multiple funding sources for use on Privacy.com. Thus the final step in creating a new card it to confirm which source you want the card to utilize. After that, you can hit “Create Card” and you’ll see it join your wallet.
Using your Privacy.com cards
There are few different ways you can utilize the cards you create on Privacy.com: visiting their desktop site, installing the Chrome browser extension, or using their mobile app. In any case, all you’ll need to do is copy the credit card number (or debit card, actually) it assigns to you — complete with expiration date and security code — as your payment info when checking out of an e-commerce site. To make this easier, all you’ll need to do is click on the card number and Privacy will automatically copy it to your clipboard. For mobile app users, the same functionality can be accessed by tapping and holding on the card (single tapping will merely toggle the full card number display on and off). As for the expiration and CVV, you’ll need to enter those manually.
I mentioned above that Privacy.com does offer a Chrome browser extension. There are two main ways that this tool can help make your checkout process easier. The first is that you can click the Privacy extension icon on the right side of your browser to gain quick access to your Wallet in order to view existing cards or create new ones. You can also click the “Transactions” tab to easily view recent purchases you’ve made with your cards as well. However what makes the extension even more helpful is that, when you encounter a checkout form asking for a card number, a little Privacy.com icon may appear in the card number field. Clicking this will then launch a tool allowing you to select or create a new card and have the information automatically entered for you. For that reason alone, if you use Chrome and end up signing up for Privacy.com, I’d recommend installing this extension as well.
Making changes to your cards
It should also be noted that you can make a number of changes to your Privacy.com cards at any time. Among the options at your disposal are the ability to pause your card from being used, increase or decrease your spending limit, switch a funding source, or delete a card entirely. All of these can certainly come in handy as you start to actively use the service.
How Privacy.com Could Save You Money
Protecting you from fraud
The most obvious way that Privacy.com could potentially save you money is by helping protect you from fraud. When retailers or other entities get hacked, your credit card information could be exposed. Thus, by using a proxy card number, you’re limiting what funds thieves can get access to if they should attempt to utilize this stolen data.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that similar technologies are already being employed outside of Privacy’s tool. From digital wallets like Apple Pay to EMV chip cards, transactional tokens are quickly becoming the new norm. That said, not all of these same protections extend to e-commerce, which is where Privacy.com comes in.
Keeping tracking of your memberships and subscriptions
Have you ever signed up for a free trial and forgotten about the service until several months and hundreds of dollars later? This is actually something that Privacy.com could potentially help prevent as well. By using one-time cards to sign-up for free trials, you can ensure that you won’t see subsequent charges that you don’t want. Of course, you should always follow up and formally cancel any trials that unintentionally convert to memberships so you don’t continue to receive annoying e-mails from companies demanding your money.
A similar benefit is that Privacy.com could help you keep track of all the various subscriptions you do have. I’ve long advocated for making a master list of memberships and periodically reviewing them to see where cuts can be made — now Privacy can essentially recreate that functionality, complete with sleek-looking logo card to boot. Plus, by setting your monthly spending limits to match what your charges should be, you can bet you’ll be notified if the cost of your subscription were to suddenly go up, allowing you to consider whether the service is still worth the hiked price.
Referrals and cashback
Finally, like many financial tools and apps these days, Privacy.com incentivizes users to spread the word. First, by sharing your custom referral link with friends, family, and whomever else, they’ll receive $5 in credit that can be utilized when they make their first purchase using the platform. Better yet, you’ll also receive a $5 credit when they sign-up and complete their first qualifying transaction. You can get $5 for yourself by signing up through my link here.
The other way that you can be rewarded for sharing Privacy.com is with their Cashback Key. With a Cashback Key code, you’ll be entitled to earn 1% back on all of the purchases you make using Privacy.com cards over the span of one month. Oddly, while you can access the part of the page where you can enter a Cashback Key you’ve received, this part of the desktop site doesn’t really explain how to obtain one. However, looking in the Privacy app, I see a message telling me and I can earn a Key by referring one more person (I’ve already referred one). Thus, while I’m still not 100% sure on how these Cashback Keys are doled it, they do seem to be tied to referrals. In any case, this seems like a clever way to not only get users to help raise awareness for Privacy.com but to also encourage them to utilize the service more themselves.
The Pros and Cons of Privacy.com
Pro: Greater security when shopping online
In my eyes, the premise of Privacy.com is a strong one. Although most of the major e-commerce sites you visit are secure, breaches are still all too common. While I’m certainly no expert, the tool that Privacy has built seems like a smart solution and one worth trying.
Con: You need to trust the site in order to sign up
On the other hand — and as I mentioned — it’s not hard to imagine that some would-be users might be scared off by needing to enter their banking login info before getting started. After all, that data getting out could lead to more damage than a credit card number being revealed. Of course Privacy.com realizes this conundrum and addresses it in their FAQ section. Regarding the need to log into your bank account, they write, “It sounds risky. But give us a sec to explain how this works. We partner with Plaid to facilitate these connections. Plaid has an agreement with your institution to be a trusted bridge to your bank. When you login via the portal provided by your bank, we are given a token by your bank that allows us to verify your account and conduct Privacy related transactions. We don’t obtain or store your login information, and you can change it anytime without affecting your use of Privacy.” So, if that information helps ease your worries, great. If not, I completely understand.
Pro: Helps you keep track of subscriptions and memberships
If I’m being completely honest, I actually see the real benefit of Privacy not as a tool for protecting your card numbers but for keeping up with all of your subscriptions. From the popularity of streaming services to the numerous SaaS applications some of us may try once and forget about, there’s plenty of opportunity to introduce “money leaks” into your budget that can start to add up. Sure my master list plan works well enough, but Privacy streamlines the whole operation and installs plenty of fail-safes to ensure these costly recurring fees don’t slip through the cracks.
Con: No credit card rewards
Now that we’ve highlighted what I think is the biggest advantage of Privacy.com, I have to mention what I see as its largest drawback — and the one that will likely hinder how much I actually end up using the service. Currently, the only funding sources you can link to cards you create are bank accounts. While this makes sense, it’s a big bummer for people like me who earn significant cashback from credit card rewards. Just as an example, my Uber Visa Card earns me 2% back on Netflix and Spotify transactions in addition to the $50 streaming credit I earned for spending more than $5,000 on the card in a year. As a result, it doesn’t really seem worth it to me to use Privacy cards for these services.
Even if there were a way to link credit cards to Privacy’s proxy cards, it’s unlikely that purchase would be categorized by merchant code, which could still cause issues for those looking to maximize rewards. Because of this, while I’ll still utilize Privacy.com for free trials or the occasional transaction where I want some added protection, I don’t foresee using the platform frequently until a solution to the rewards dilemma emerges.
Final Thoughts on Privacy.com
I’m honestly quite surprised I hadn’t heard of Privacy.com before now. Given its clever functionality and, well, impressively succinct domain name, it seems like the type of tool that would have been on my radar long ago. In any case, I’m glad it’s come to my attention now.
Despite my lamenting the lack of credit card rewards, there’s no doubt that Privacy’s platform can benefit online shoppers (how convenient that I’m posting this review right before Black Friday and Cyber Monday). From an easy-to-use browser extension that makes filling out card forms simpler to the ability to manage your budget more effectively, there are multiple benefits to what Privacy has built that make it worth checking out — especially as long as they’re offering that $5 credit on your first purchase. So whether you want to keep track of your subscriptions and transactions or make an identity thief’s job just a little bit harder, Privacy.com can help you out.
Also published on Medium.