Pay for a VPN Anonymously (Gift Cards and other tips & tricks)
Our post Anonymous Payment Methods discussed in general the topic of paying anonymously for online goods or services. In this post, we go into step-by-step and specific details about how to pay anonymously for a VPN account.
Paying anonymously for a VPN is not something that everyone needs to do, but it appeals to some people who want to keep their online activities as safe as possible. An anonymous VPN sign-up means that your activities can't be traced back to you.
Want to Cut to the Chase? For anonymous VPN service, buy it from Private Internet Access VPN using gift cards you bought in person with cash. But make sure to read all the details below.
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You Could Pay with Bitcoin, but …
The all-too-often heard advice is, “pay with Bitcoin for anonymous VPN service”. Of the 200+ VPN providers in existence today, about two-thirds of them accept Bitcoin as a payment method.
But Bitcoin is not convenient for most people and probably not for you either.
Bitcoin’s complexity also means that it is too easy for you to make a mistake and compromise your identity in the first place. Plus, topping it all off, Bitcoins are not 100% anonymous anyway.
The steps below are the best way to be anonymous and maximize your privacy and pay for an anonymous VPN subscription.
Step #1. Choose a Logless VPN that Accepts Gift Cards for Payment
First things first, you'll need a VPN that accepts payment methods that don't require you to share any personally identifiable information.
We recommend Private Internet Access VPN (or “PIA” for short), a longstanding VPN which is widely recognized as trustworthy and reliable. PIA has been on the leading edge of Internet privacy for many years and is an ardent supporter of privacy-fighting organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Top Tip – Some VPN providers such as Mullvad accept cash payments, which is another way to pay anonymously, but sending cash in the mail is too easily lost or stolen.
You can even “top up” your VPN subscription using more gift cards as time goes on.
PIA supports over 100+ major brand gift cards, including household names such as Starbucks, Costco, Walmart, Best Buy, and dozens more. In further contrast to Bitcoin, which has a steep learning curve (and is prone to mistakes), the gift card option is truly available to everyone.
Why a Logless VPN is also Key to Staying Anonymous
It's also important to make sure the VPN doesn't keep any logs. And when we say no logs we mean no logs! Not even connections logs. You can confirm which VPNs don't keep logs by referring to by referencing our post on Narrowing Down 200+ VPNs.
Private Internet Access VPN meets this requirement too: it keeps absolutely no logs. This helps explain, for example, why PIA VPN is so popular with the torrent file-sharing community.
Using a logless VPN is absolutely crucial because, if the VPN you choose keeps logs, your real IP address will be stamped on their server records when connecting to their service. This means your real IP address could be easily traced back to your ISP and then to you (thanks to the ISP's own connections logs).
Think about that: a VPN that accepts anonymous gift cards or even cash payment is useless for keeping you anonymous if it keeps logs because these logs will include your real IP address. Unless you have also signed up for your Internet access with anonymous or quasi-anonymous methods, this will break the anonymity chain you are trying to achieve.
Step #2. Buy a Supported Gift Card In Person with Cash
Once you've identified a suitable logless VPN provider which also accepts gift card payments, the next step is to obtain a supported gift card. This usually isn't a problem.
Remember, PIA VPN accepts over 100 different gift cards! With that wide selection, you won't have any problem finding a gift card you can use.
BUT, the trick is to buy the gift card with cash. Don't use your credit or bank cards for the gift card purchase. If you do, the retailer where you bought the gift card will have your payment information on file which can be traced back to you. This will defeat your goal of signing up anonymously for a VPN service.
We repeat: pay for the gift card with cold, hard cash.
Top Tip – If you find yourself with no other choice but to buy a gift card online, you can do so at a number of places including Target e-gift cards and BestBuy e-gift cards. But please realize that the online retailer will have your payment information on file and this will break the anonymity chain you are trying to achieve. Look at it this way: the VPN subscription you purchase with the gift card could be traced back to the online retailer and then back to you because the retailer will have your real payment details. Sure this means that any snoops will have to hump through an extra hoop to find you, but we want to completely cut off that possibility.
Step #3. Use Tor Browser (it's free) and Create a Disposable, Throw-away, Single Use Email Account
Next, you will need to set up and use an email account you will use only to sign up for the VPN and receive your username and password details. After receiving your sign-on credentials for the VPN, you will never use or access this email account ever again. You will simply abandon it and never login into it again.
Whatever you do, do not use your personal email address! This will undermine your efforts to stay anonymous because an email address is just as rich a piece of your personal information these days as your credit card number, banking details or phone number.
It doesn't matter what email provider you use for setting up the disposable, throw-away, single use account. However, some providers require more information at sign-up than others.
You probably guessed that when signing up for this email account you should use fake information that can't be linked back to you. Make sure you do not use someone else's real details as this could get you in trouble. Instead, use phony information you make up.
You can also use a temporary email service.
Top Tip – See our detailed techniques on how to use disinformation as a way to protect your personal information online (and offline too).
BUT, the trick is to make sure your real IP address never touches any part of the process when setting up and using this email account or temporary email (even for just the one time we intend to use it). A bit like the payment details above for a gift card, in theory you could be traced back from the email signup if your real IP address was logged when accessing the email account you will use for the VPN signup.
Mask your Real IP Address for the Email Signup Using Tor
To make sure your real IP address never touches any part of this process, use the Onion Router (“Tor”) to conceal your real IP address. The easiest way to use Tor, is to use Tor browser. It's free to download and use.
If you use an “unprotected” Internet connection, some log or record somewhere in the process will be stamped with your real IP address and potentially be traced back to you.
Despite some alarmist reports in the process, Tor is a safe and effective way to hide your IP address online. It's perfectly fine for the purpose we have in mind.
“Well, why the heck don't I just use Tor rather than going through all this fuss for an anonymous VPN account!?”
Good question. Tor is fine for general web browsing, but is slow and limited in a number of ways. For example, it is not suitable for streaming and it does not support p2p torrent file-sharing at all.
If you want to keep your IP address under wraps for anything other than general web browsing, you'll need a premium VPN.
Step #4. Sign up for the VPN Using your Gift Card and Fake Email
Here's where you put it all together.
Go to the VPN sign-up page. We recommend you do this still using Tor browser.
While it's true we have helped convince you to choose a logless VPN provider, often their payments are actually processed by a third party, including for gift cards. This is usually performed invisibly in the background as part of the signup prcoess and you may not even be able to tell. The third party payment processor may be keeping IP address logs, so it's better to be safe and do this step too with Tor browser. It may slow things down a bit, but not enough for you to skip this precaution.
Pay with your gift card and use your fake email address. As indicated above, you may be redirected to a third party site such as Pay Garden for processing the gift card payment (for example, this is the case with Private Internet Access). Hopefully all goes well. Make sure not to click ‘back' or resubmit the page until the process is complete (it make take a moment).
Step #5. Access your Fake Email to Retrieve your VPN Confirmation Email
Once the payment is confirmed and still using Tor browser, fetch your VPN userid and password information. Take note of these credentials.
Top Tip – Password management apps such as Dashlane or Lastpass are free, safe and fast ways to capture such account information.
The email from the VPN may also contain instructions on how to download its apps. Download any VPN apps you'l need with Tor still enabled.
Step #6. Abandon the Fake Email Account
This is the first and last time you'll need to use the fake email account you set up. Forget about it and never access it again. It has served its (single) purpose.
You shouldn't ever need to access this email account again.
Step #7. Enjoy your New-Found Online Anonymity!
Congratulations! You have signed up successfully for anonymous VPN service. 🙂
You can top up your VPN account subscription with additional gift card payments. This can usually be done on the VPN provider's payments page using your existing userid and password. As your credentials stay the same, you won't need to access the fake email.
Just make sure to continue buying any new gift cards with cash!
If you like, you can also sign up for new VPN access every time a gift card payment runs out. You should follow the same steps above and ideally use a new fake email address every time too. You could stick with the same fake email address, but it's just too easy for something to go wrong as time goes on and why we recommend a new fake address each time you sign up for a fresh, new VPN account. Topping up an existing account is far less hassle.
Wrap-Up to How to Sign up for Anonymous VPN Services
The key in the entire process is to always avoid using any personal information (including your real IP address) that can be traced back to you.
Personal information that can be traced back to you includes obvious things like credit card and banking details, but these days also includes PayPal, your IP address and even Bitcoin chains.
The principle is simple, but the steps are not. Our detailed guidance above took you through all the nitty-gritty steps that will let you pay and signup for a VPN anonymously.