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According to a somewhat related question:

Shutterstock subscribes to Account Updater, and gets updated copies of your card info when it expires or is replaced.

VAU is Visa's version; more info is in a fact sheet here. MasterCard calls their version Account Billing Updater. American Express calls their version Cardrefresher. Payment processors will often aggregate multiple Card Brand's versions into a single service for Merchants.

It is theoretically possible to opt out of Account Updater, going through your bank to do so. It's one of those 'you have to know in order to ask' type of things, and I'm betting the ease of doing so varies from bank to bank.

I called my bank (Bank of America) and they're saying opting out of this is not possible, even going as far as hinting that I'm trying to do this so that I could scam merchants. Is there an obligation on the banks side to opt me out of this "helpful" service?

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    @RonJohn the New York Times pulled this trick on me. I've thought I could automatically stop my subscription since I replacedy card but they sneakily charged me $4 on the new card. Not a lot of money, but its a matter of principle. – JonathanReez Jan 6 at 1:24
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    I've actually been working with this at my day job. I can't tell you how to do it, but I do know there's an indicator in the updates that the merchant gets which means "Cardholder opted out". It's either something that's allowed on a bank-by-bank basis, or the CS rep you got just didn't know about it. – Bobson Jan 6 at 3:11
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    This is absolutely amazing. Thanks for alerting us to this, @JonathanReez .... I am going to try to opt out today .... – Fattie Jan 6 at 11:18
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    @JonathanReez Cancelling a service by changing your card number is problematic. The merchant will generally try to charge the card a few times before giving up, and they may have continued providing you service during that time - at which point you do owe them payment, since you never notified them you wished to cancel. (A service which just shuts down your account on renewal day if they fail to charge your card would just turn you off.) On the other hand, if you tried to cancel and use changing the card number as a way to ensure that it stops, then that's fine. – Bobson Jan 6 at 23:11
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    @JonathanReez - Well, I've got worse news for you, then. I believe that if the recurring payment is set up correctly (and the rules on what that means have changed in the last few years), then your bank may choose to continue to honor those recurring charges against it, even after you've gotten a new card... without the merchant even needing to get the new card number. Effectively, the payment request says "I am authorized to make this charge because of <this> previous charge which the cardholder authorized". Still up to the bank to approve it or not, but the intent is that there's a chain. – Bobson Jan 7 at 2:54
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I've contacted my bank (Bank of America) over both email and phone with no luck - it seems that there's no way to opt out of this service. A Google search for "visa account updater opt out" shows that credit unions often offer an opt out, but not major banks.

However there's a neat solution - Privacy.com virtual one-off cards. Each merchant gets its own unique card and you can cancel it at any time, without the "account updater" getting in the way. If you value the ability to fully control your finances, this might be the way forward. I wish they allowed fully anonymous usage funded by, say, Bitcoin - but so far that's the best I could find on the market. If you live in the EU, you can use disposable Revolut cards for the same purpose.

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  • Privacy.com is US only, so it's unfortunately useless to the most of the world – Andrew Savinykh Jan 7 at 21:46
  • @AndrewSavinykh updated with an EU solution. Not sure about other regions. – JonathanReez Jan 7 at 21:49

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