The world wide web is becoming more and more focused on privacy solutions. With hundreds of companies and other actors vying for our attention, it has become very important to introduce extra privacy measures to our online routine. This includes paying for goods and services anonymously.
Some of the anonymous payment methods can be used online or offline, whereas some others may only be usable with an internet connection. Awareness of ways to pay anonymously is an important step in keeping your identity hidden.
- Pros: can be the most anonymous if handled correctly; widely supported online
- Cons: payments take long to process; limited utility offline
Cryptocurrencies use cryptography and decentralized user processing in order to validate tokens that represent monetary value. These tokens can be verified and traced back through every transaction. Crypto is typically used to facilitate anonymous online payments.
It’s great for private payments where you want to stay anonymous, but the successful cryptocurrencies (Ethereum, Bitcoin) are quite expensive and must be purchased on Cryptocurrency markets. It is also common for these markets to require registration with private information, which can negate the whole anonymity aspect.
This method requires an internet connection and a crypto wallet application, so it’s not the most natural offline payment method.
Prepaid gift cards
- Pros: completely anonymous, payments are instantaneous
- Cons: not widely accepted
The prepaid gift cards that are sold at gas stations or by other retailers can actually be used in some circles as an anonymous payment method. Depending on the privacy service to which you want to subscribe, they may be able to accept prepaid gift cards as a payment method. This is great because the cards don’t contain any of your identification or payment credentials.
They are also quite widely available, and easily usable on services which accept them (e.g. to pay for VPN anonymously). The only point at which you may need to be concerned about your identity is when you actually sign up for whatever service you intend to pay for.
Depending on the gift card, you’ll be able to use it online, offline, or both.
- Pros: very convenient both for paying online and offline
- Cons: sign-up process may not be anonymous
Another anonymous alternative to traditional payment methods is the prepaid card. These cards are offered by major providers and are available to a similar degree with prepaid gift cards. They are loaded beforehand with money, and you can pay cash for the physical card itself, which removes the need for transactions that might identify you.
In order to use these cards online, you must register the card with some sort of website in order to use it. It’s a great way to sign up anonymously for services much in the same way that prepaid gift cards are used. One advantage of this method is that the cards can be used offline for anonymous purchases as well.
It’s important to avoid cards that are re-loadable since these require actual credit and an SSN in order to activate, defeating the purpose of using an anonymous payment method.
Disposable (Virtual/Masked) credit cards
- Pros: very convenient because you’re using your regular credit account
- Cons: only works online
Virtual credit cards have some advantages over prepaid cards and the like. These are credit card numbers that allow you to perform credit transactions with your real credit account without revealing your actual credit card account number. This is great because it allows for anonymous accounts to operate with funds from your real credit account, and protects your real account in case of a data breach.
If you’re worried that your data may have been stolen or compromised, you can simply close the virtual account and protect your real account credentials from malicious actors. One downside to this is that attempting to get a refund on the services may be a little bit difficult.
This method can only be used online, since it uses virtual credit card numbers and not physical cards.
- Pros: widely-accepted and reliable
- Cons: achieving true anonymity is a hassle
Although PayPal has had a kind of spotty track record when it comes to online privacy and respecting its users’ data, it can be used for making semi-anonymous payments over the internet. In order to make an anomymous private online payment with PayPal, you will need to register a payment card or bank account. When you make the transaction, your recipient will only see your registered name and email address.
This means that it is possible to register your account on PayPal with a throwaway email address, and fund it using a virtual credit card. This way, you can make anonymous payments that would be difficult to trace back to you. Granted, the process is a bit cumbersome, but on the plus side PayPal is widely accepted.
Since the service only works through the PayPal website, this method is online-only.
- Pros: easy to pay completely anonymously
- Cons: can be difficult to find in some regions (particularly the US and Canada)
Paysafecard is an anonymous payment app that allows users to search for retailers who sell prepaid Paysafecard vouchers. Users can then buy the vouchers with cash and use the Paysafecard 16-digit PIN in order to perform anonymous online payments. They boast about being the world most popular online prepaid payment method.
Users can also combine up to ten PINs in order to pay for larger items and subscriptions. This is great because many subscription services for higher-end VPNs and other privacy software can be quite expensive. Although this is a great payment method for making anonymous online payments, it is much easier to find the cards for sale in Europe, and users in Canada or the USA may have some difficulties.
This method requires a combination of online and offline interactions, and so is only usable if you have an internet connection. If you want to check out the relative availability of Paysafecard in your area, check out the mobile app to search for local retailers who sell it.
- Pros: easily available and can be completely anonymous to use
- Cons: rarely available as a payment method online, vulnerable to scams
Cold. Hard. Cash. This is the tried and true original method of anonymous payment. Although it will be necessary to arrange a cash payment by secure mail courier or established international cash payment service (such as Western Union), this method can’t be beaten in terms of anonymity. Just remember not to include a return address or any other identifying info before you send the money.
Although this method is tried-and-true, there are some obvious disadvantages, such as possible mishandling by mail or getting scammed by a less-than-reputable service. That being said, cash is still a great standby for making anonymous payments.
Third-party private payment services
- Pros: largely dependent on the vendor
- Cons: requires research to tell the good from the bad
A wide range of private payment services (such as Entropay or MaskMe) have popped up in response to the growing demand for anonymous online payment methods. They all have different little peculiarities about how they handle anonymous online payments. In general, these are good to use as long as you make sure you’re careful not to register with your email address or real name.
Of course, it’s also important to do your research on the different services available, since some of them may be poorly regulated, and it’s easy to get scammed. Obviously, since these methods are either websites or mobile apps, they are only usable online.