Combatting Data Breaches with Virtual Payments


Is a virtual payment card number the way to go to prevent payment-related data breaches?

That may be the solution, according to a new survey by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) in partnership with AirPlus International, a provider of business travel payment solutions.

Nearly 70 percent of 144 business travel buyers surveyed in January said that their travelers have been affected by a payment-related data breach from an outside vendor such as an airline, hotel or retailer in the past year.

Those travel buyers believe the threat is increasing, with 68 percent saying that their programs face a greater risk of fraud now than they did two to three years ago.

Most managers—81 percent—are worried about data breaches.

Data breaches have been a source of serious concern among major companies in recent years. Marriott International, the largest hotel company in the world, is still recovering from a breach that compromised the personal information of as many as 383 million guests.

The new survey found that 79 percent of travel buyers believe single-use virtual card numbers are effective at preventing fraud. Yet, only 20 percent are using this payment method.

“We have seen the need to educate around virtual card benefits not just to travel managers but to corporate finance and procurement departments as well,” said Diane Laschet, President and CEO of AirPlus International Inc. “This method of payment has the strongest level of security controls available on a payment tool which is critical in the age of data breaches. When you couple that with the comprehensive data associated with each transaction it is easy to see why this is the future of business travel payment. The benefits really touch all areas of the company from the back office to the traveler.”

Payment controls can also prevent fraud but travel buyers rarely use them. Such controls include limiting the amount allotted to a single transaction, restricting payment within a certain country and setting daily or weekly spending limits.

Nearly 40 percent of travel buyers never or rarely restrict the amount allowed in a single transaction.

Robert Cole, founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing and travel technology consulting firm, said using single-use virtual cards is the logical move to prevent fraud.

“You are asking for trouble. Why do people lock their doors and have burglar alarms?,” he said. “It’s a security thing. You probably don’t want to leave a basket of cash at night.”

He says travel buyers should consider using a virtual card.

“It’s reliable and easy and fast,” he said.

How do travel buyers respond to threats?

Six in 10, or 58 percent, of the travel managers said their organization alerted employees, followed by canceling and reissuing corporate cards and monitoring corporate card statements. A few provided employees access to credit monitoring. The study recommends communicating travel spending policies better with their employees.

Nancy Trejos is covering industry news for GBTA. She has been a journalist for more than two decades, covering various subjects and traveling all around the world. She was a business and leisure travel writer at USA TODAY from November 2012 to January 2019, writing about destinations, business travel, hotels, airlines, rental cars, and the sharing economy. Previously, she spent 13 years at The Washington Post covering travel, personal finance, education, and the war in Iraq. She is the author of the personal finance memoir "Hot Broke Messes: How to Have your Latte and Drink it Too." She has also worked for the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press and was a contributor at Latina magazine. She graduated from Georgetown University and lives in New York City.

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