I'm confused: for me embossed and prepaid were kind of mutually exclusive. However VIABuy offers prepaid embossed Mastercards.

What are the limitations compared to a non-prepaid MasterCard? Are there any?

Edit: can such a card (embossed but prepaid) used "offline"?

1 Answer 1


Embossed vs. printed

Embossed credit cards are credit cards that have raised numbers. The purpose of the raised numbers is to allow the card to be used with carbon papers in a "zip-zap" offline machine. Printed cards without the raised numbers cannot be used with this machine. Functionally, this is the only difference between the two types of cards. Until relatively recently, just about every credit card had embossed numbers.

The carbon paper zip-zap devices are essentially obsolete. It is extremely easy for merchants to get online (you can process credit cards by smart phone today), and the carbon papers presented a security risk. I haven't seen one of these machines in years.

It is more expensive to manufacture an embossed card than it is to make a printed card. As a result, most gift/prepaid cards were printed to keep costs down.

The trend, however, is for all credit, debit, and gift cards to be printed. I have already received credit and debit cards with printed numbers.

Gift/Prepaid/Debit vs. Credit cards

I've looked at the advertising for the VIABUY card you are looking at. The issue they are talking about is that certain merchants might be reluctant to accept prepaid cards. Hotels are a big example of this: when they run your credit card at check-in, they might get approval for one night, but they want to be reasonably sure that if you stay longer or cause damage, they will be able to charge more. With a real credit card, they are more likely to be able to get more money if needed than with a prepaid, gift, or debit card. I've seen signs on hotel check-in desks asking customers not to use debit cards.

This particular card is designed to look like a credit card, in order to not give away the fact that it is a prepaid card. It doesn't say "prepaid" or "debit" on it, it is customized with your real name, and it has embossed numbers. But as I mentioned above, the embossed numbers on any card today are essentially cosmetic.

Offline transactions

Offline credit card transactions used to be quite common, but are rare today. You might occasionally see them if you buy something at a home sales party: the sales person will write your card number down on the order form and enter it online when she gets home. If the transaction gets rejected at that time, the sales person will simply cancel the sale and call you.

Credit card issuers used to guarantee offline transactions up to a certain dollar amount because they were so common. I don't think they do this anymore.

To answer your question, I don't think you would have a problem using this card in an offline transaction, on the rare occasion that you find yourself in that situation.

  • Thanks for your answer. I understood that usually prepaid mastercards, are not embossed and printed with "electronic use only", using a zip-zap offline machine cannot be permitted as there would be no way to check if the balance is OK (thus making them online only). What about embossed prepaid then?
    – Cedric H.
    Jan 6, 2016 at 13:50
  • That's up to the issuing bank and what contract you signed with them regarding overdraft. I'd presume you'd be expected to repay at the usual usurious interest rates plus a stupidity-tax find. If it hurts when you do that, don't do that ...
    – keshlam
    Jan 6, 2016 at 14:03
  • Thanks for your update/edit. So that answers my question's edit ;) It is still "online only", has all the limitations of a prepaid/debit card but it's just made to look like a normal credit one ?
    – Cedric H.
    Jan 6, 2016 at 14:03
  • @CedricH. Which limitations are you referring to? This product is essentially a debit card without the bank checking account. Debit cards are accepted everywhere credit cards are, with the exception I noted in my answer. The only issue comes when you get close to depleting your funds in your account.
    – Ben Miller
    Jan 6, 2016 at 14:08
  • 1
    When PF Chang (chain of restaurants mostly in US) had a breach of their electronic system they reverted for several months to paper imprinting, or as you say "zip-zap". It was noted in news media precisely because it was unusual -- and although nobody said so, I suspect was chosen partly because it was very visible: "yes we are fixing that huge fraud you heard about, just look at this paper". creditcards.com/credit-card-news/… Jan 6, 2016 at 18:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .