The Internet is becoming increasingly focused on privacy solutions. With thousands of businesses and other actors vying for our attention, it has become incredibly important to introduce more privacy measures to our online day-to-day. This includes paying for goods and services online anonymously.
Some anonymous payment methods can be used online and/or offline, whereas others may only be available with an internet connection. Awareness of ways to pay online anonymously is a very important step in keeping your identity off the radar.
- Pros: can be completely anonymous if handled correctly; widely supported online
- Cons: some payments take relatively long to process; utility offline is limited
Cryptocurrencies (or cryptos, for short) use cryptography and decentralized user processing to validate tokens that can represent monetary value. Crypto tokens can be verified and traced back through every transaction. Cryptocurrencies are typically used to facilitate anonymous payments online.
Crypto is great for private payments if you want to stay anonymous, but the more successful cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin) are quite expensive and must be purchased on crypto exchanges. It’s also common for these exchanges to require registration with private information, which can negate the whole anonymity aspect.
Cryptocurrencies require an internet connection and a crypto wallet app, so it’s a pretty limited offline payment method.
Prepaid gift cards
- Pros: absolutely anonymous, payments are instantaneous
- Cons: not very widely accepted
Prepaid gift cards sold at gas stations or retail shops can be used in some instances as an anonymous payment method. Depending on the service to which you want to pay for, they may be able to accept prepaid gift cards as a payment method. This is great as the cards don’t contain any ID or payment credentials.
They’re also quite widely available, and easily usable on services that accept them (for example, to pay for a VPN service anonymously). The only point where you may be concerned about your identity being revealed is when you actually sign up for the service you intend to pay for.
Depending on the prepaid gift card, you may be able to use it online, offline, or both.
Prepaid debit cards
- Pros: super convenient both for paying online and offline
- Cons: the sign-up process may not be anonymous
Another anonymous alternative to traditional payment methods is the prepaid debit card. These cards are offered by major providers and are available to a similar degree with prepaid gift cards. They’re loaded beforehand with money, and you can pay with cash for the physical card itself. This removes the need for transactions that might identify you.
To use these cards online, you have to register the card with some sort of website. It’s a good way to sign up anonymously for services in much the same way that prepaid gift cards are used. One advantage of this payment method is that the cards can be used offline for anonymous purchases as well.
That said, make sure to avoid cards that can be reloaded as these require actual credit and an SSN to activate, which defeats the purpose of using an anonymous payment method.
Disposable (Virtual/Masked) credit cards
- Pros: incredibly convenient because you’re using your regular credit account
- Cons: only work online
Virtual credit cards have certain advantages over prepaid cards and the like. These are credit card numbers that allow you to perform transactions with your real credit account, without revealing your actual credit card account number in the process. This is great since it allows for anonymous accounts to operate with funds from your actual 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. One downside to this is that trying to get a refund on the services can be somewhat difficult.
Disposable cards can only be used online, since they use virtual credit card numbers and are not physical cards.
- Pros: reliable and widely-accepted
- Cons: achieving true anonymity is difficult
Although it’s had a somewhat spotty track record when it comes to respecting its users’ data, PayPal can be used for making semi-anonymous payments online. To make an anonymous online payment with PayPal, you’ll 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’s possible to register your account on PayPal with a throwaway email address, and fund it with a virtual credit card. That way, you can make anonymous payments that are difficult to trace back to you. Granted, the process is a bit cumbersome, but on the plus side, PayPal is very widely accepted.
Since the service only works through the PayPal website, this method is online-only.
- Pros: easy to pay 100% anonymously
- Cons: can be difficult to find in some countries (particularly the US and Canada)
Paysafecard is an anonymous payment app that enables users to look for retailers who sell prepaid Paysafecard vouchers. The users can then buy the vouchers with cash and use the Paysafecard 16-digit PIN for anonymous online payments. They boast about being the world’s most popular online prepaid payment method.
You can also combine up to ten PINs in order to pay for larger items and subscriptions. Although this is a great payment method for making anonymous online payments, it’s easier to find the cards for sale in Europe, while users in North America may face some difficulties.
Paysafecard requires a combination of online and offline interactions,which means it’s only usable if you have an internet connection. If you want to see the 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 100% anonymous to use
- Cons: limited availability as a payment method online
Cash is the tried and true original anonymous payment method. Although it you’ll have to arrange a cash payment by a secure mail courier or an international cash payment service like Western Union, this method can’t be beaten when it comes to anonymity. Just remember not to include a return address or any other identifying information before you send the money.
Although cash is tried-and-true, there are some obvious disadvantages, such as possible mishandling by mail. That said, cash is still a great standby for making anonymous payments.
Third-party private payment services
- Pros: largely dependent on the vendor
- Cons: requires extensive research to tell the good from the bad
Many private payment services have popped up in response to the growing demand for anonymous online payment methods. They all have different little idiosyncrasies about how they handle payments. Typically, these are good to use as long as you make sure you’re careful not to register with your personal email address or your real name.
Of course, you’ll have to do your research on the different services available because some may be poorly regulated, which means it’s easy to get scammed. Obviously, since these methods are either websites or mobile apps, they’re only available online.