Anonymously paying for goods and services online is one of the crucial steps for your digital privacy. Some anonymous payment methods can be used online and/or offline. In contrast, others may only be available with an internet connection. Awareness of ways to pay online anonymously is essential for keeping your identity off the radar.
When it comes to anonymous online payment methods, there are many options to choose from:
- Cryptocurrencies – mostly anonymous and a widely used payment method online
- Prepaid debit cards – widely available and easily usable on services that accept them
- Disposable (Virtual/Masked) credit cards – add a safety layer that protects you, should your data become compromised
- Prepaid gift cards – if you manage to find a service that accepts prepaid gift cards, these are among the most anonymous and efficient payment options
- PayPal – widely accepted, but semi-anonymous
- Google Pay – semi-anonymous and isn’t widely available
- Apple Pay Cash – isn’t anonymous and isn’t widely available
- Paysafecard – availability will vary depending on your location. Otherwise, it’s an anonymous payment solution
- Venmo – semi-anonymous with wide availability (process the same as PayPal’s)
- Cash App – flexible and anonymous app if you’re willing to deal with the limits
- Paying by cash – the most anonymous payment method
- Third-party private payment services – many different types of services to choose from
- 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 debit cards
- Pros: super convenient both for paying online and offline
- Cons: the sign-up process may not be anonymous
Prepaid debit cards are an anonymous payment method offered by most major providers. They’re loaded with money beforehand that you can spend. 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. Plus, they usually have very high fees for transactions.
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.
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.
- 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 e-mail address.
This means that it’s possible to register your account on PayPal with a throwaway e-mail 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: very cheap to maintain
- Cons: is neither widely available nor accepted
Since 2018, Android Pay and Google Wallet merged into one entity that is Google Pay. It combines a digital wallet platform and an online payment system into one entity. Using it is very much like using PayPal, you can use a throwaway email, and fund it with a virtual credit card.
Without any fees to use debit cards or bank transfers, it’s one of the cheapest services if you want to add an additional layer between your banking information. It’s pretty flexible, too, considering integration with other Google services. It’s possible to send and request money through Gmail and Android messages. If you’re using an app, you will need the recipient’s email address or phone number.
If you want to pay using Google Pay for online purchases, you might run into some trouble. Being a reasonably new payment method, it isn’t widely supported, so it isn’t yet widely available.
Apple Pay Cash
- Pros: available in more countries than Google Pay
- Cons: significantly more restrictive than Google Pay
If you have an iPhone that’s running at least iOS 11.2, you already have Apple Pay Cash. If you already set up Apple Pay with your debit card, you can easily send or request money via iMessages.
The major caveat is that it’s only compatible with iOS, so the actual usage option becomes very limited. There’s no desktop interface, so you’ll be left with an even worse and more restrictive version of Google Pay.
However, if you do manage to get it up and running, this adds an additional layer of protection to shield your banking data. Yet, that gets hammered by the limited usage options. The lack of privacy gets shot down, as well. It won’t be optimal to use a throwaway email with an Apple product that has to be associated with a particular device.
- 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: Easy-to-use and widely available (through PayPal checkout)
- Cons: Not very anonymous
Venmo can be as anonymous or public as the person using it intends. It integrates a friend list and social feed that adds more livelihood to the act of money transfers, which can potentially be privacy liabilities. It’s even possible to publicly announce the made transactions.
It functions as a digital wallet, so when someone sends you the money, you can keep it there or transfer it to your bank account, which will charge you a 2.9% rate of the total amount. It’s not intended for large transactions –a weekly limit of $5,000 is a pretty limiting factor. For everyone else, that should be enough.
Venmo is PayPal’s subsidiary, so the payments will go through their checkout process. This smears some shady users’ data practices on Venmo, as well. However, if you follow the same safety precautions as using PayPal, Venmo is an anonymous intermediary for your transactions.
- Pros: No need for bank account
- Cons: Your funds aren’t FDIC-insured
Cash App is an anonymous mobile payments service, allowing users to transfer and request money. Using unique usernames known as $Cashtag you can transfer money with username alone, eliminating the need for bank account details.
Without identity verification, you’ll be limited to the daily spending limit of $250. It’s also possible to withdraw money using its debit Visa card or transfer it to any other bank account.
You can request for money by entering someone’s e-mail or phone number. Once the request is received, both parties will need to confirm their banking information, and the transfer will go through.
Not only this service isn’t very restrictive, it adds more flexibility to cash out your wallet. It adds a sufficient barrier to your privacy when making purchases. It even supports Bitcoin trading.
Paying by cash
- 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, you’ll have to arrange an anonymous cash payment by a secure mail courier or an international cash payment service like Western Union, this method can’t be beaten. 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 e-mail 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.
Services you may want to pay for anonymously
All bank purchases leave permanent bank records. Suppose you’re living in a restrictive country, or the only banks that you have are government-owned. In that case, your purchases can be used against you. That’s proof that would hold up in the court of law that you knowingly broke the law. Here’s what this applies to.
A VPN subscription records on your bank account is pretty good evidence that you’re trying to bypass Internet censorship. This might instantly flag you as a suspicious individual.
Thus, some VPN services have added cryptocurrency payments. That way, you can pay for your subscription without leaving a permanent record. NordVPN is one of the best overall services, and it does accept cryptocurrencies.
In some countries, the media that isn’t government-controlled is forbidden. So, if you’re subscribing to Wall Street Journal, you could quickly become public enemy #1. Although it may seem like a stretch, these moderns versions of McCarthyisms are prominent in strict regimes.
Porn is widely banned in most Islamic countries. It’s also a pretty embarrassing find when personal finance consultants in banks look at your monthly budget. One way to keep the books clean is to use a payment method that isn’t tied to you.
How to receive money anonymously?
If you want anonymously to receive money online, cryptocurrencies are the best option. Offline, the cash is still king when it comes to anonymous transfers.
Both methods are very hard to pin down directly to you. You could receive money in cryptocurrencies, then convert it in currency and transfer it to your own bank account.
How to send money anonymously?
Sending cryptocurrencies is the most discreet way of online money transfers. Most online wallets also double as cryptocurrencies wallets. You can use a phone number or email, which will be the only info that you’ll need to make a transfer. This is much safer than using fake names on services that eventually will ask for verification.
Does signing up with a fake name make transactions more private?
Signing up for services with the fake name might sometimes add additional problems down the line. For example, PayPal’s sign-up process can be completed with a fake name. They’ll have no ability to verify your identity unless you want to transfer your money somewhere else. To do that, you’ll have to verify your identity or link your bank account. If the names mismatch, you’ll get flagged, which could lead to freezing your funds in the wallet.