Private Payments: Prepaid Cards
11 May 2020
In a previous post I outlined my concerns related to conventional card payments, how cash is slowly dying and why you should consider using the Monero cryptocurrency wherever possible to ensure maximum privacy for your payments.
In this post I’m going to share with you another, easier solution; one which doesn’t require any knowledge of cryptocurrencies or blockchain technology. This alternative solution is the use of prepaid cards, and I’ll take you through my own technique, which will involve:
Note that while the country is in lockdown in order to control the Covid-19 pandemic, you’re probably not going to get the opportunity to put some of these steps into practice. However, that just means you have one more privacy technique to try out once restrictions are eased and shops are reopened.
Prepaid cards aren’t a new idea; they’ve been around for years, particularly in countries like the US. However, here in the UK, laws and regulations are different, and as a result similar solutions such as virtual cards are either unavailable or available without the key benefit of providing the same level of privacy.
For example, many of the virtual cards available in the UK require the user to provide personal information with their applications, which will invariably be cross-referenced with all sorts of financial and legal entities in order to get to the bottom of exactly who you are. From a privacy perspective, this defeats the object.
Prepaid cards, on the other hand, can be found and purchased anonymously in a number of popular stores all over the country, such as Wilkinsons and Sainsbury’s.
Prepaid cards can be purchased with cash. This is key to the anonymity we’re seeking. When purchased, these cards come preloaded with a value of either £10, £25, £50, £75 or £100, and they can’t be reloaded. One card is good only for the amount indicated on its packaging – which, for values £10-£75, will typically have a glittery design; these cards will be described as ‘gift cards’.
I prefer to purchase the standard £100 OneVanilla prepaid Mastercards. But don’t worry, essentially these options all offer the same benefits and can be activated and used in the same way. The only noticeable difference seems to be the marketing. For the purpose of this guide, we’ll assume you’ve gone with the £100 OneVanilla.
So you’re back home with your new card. But without being activated, this card is worth nothing.
In order to activate your card, you’ll need to go to the website indicated on the card’s packaging. Hopefully you’ll be using a trustworthy VPN, or Tor. If not, here is why you should be.
For OneVanilla cards, at the time of writing the site you’ll need to visit is myvanillagiftcard.com. But before you do this, ensure your connection is secure and your IP address is changed.
As well as providing the prepaid card number during the activation process, you’ll also be asked to provide personal details including your name and address (here you’ll want to choose a fake name, but make sure to choose a random (but real) UK postal address, which you’ll use as a billing address).
Before you submit all of the information you’ve provided in order to activate your new card, you must ensure you have a record of this information somewhere which is secure, and easily accessible whenever you’ll be wanting to make a payment.
I simply make a note of the name, address, memorable date etc. in my password manager, KeePassXC, which is secured with a Diceware master password and a 2FA key file on a USB stick.
With your new (fake) details now somewhere safe and secure, you’re set! There’s just one more thing to consider...
These prepaid cards are designed to be disposable. They have no chip and pin functionality, they’re not contactless, and I’m not even sure to what extent they can be used in the conventional way (the magnetic strip sliding along the side of a card reader).
OneVanilla cards will come to your rescue most of all when there’s something you want to purchase online and you want to do it anonymously. However, there is one catch to bear in mind when it comes to the delivery of purchased items – you’ll inevitably have to provide an address you actually have access to.
There seems to be no easy solution to this dilemma. Personally, I have items delivered to my work address, and my home as a last resort, ensuring I only provide my first and second initials. This is just a compromise I’ve had to make to ensure someone will know to accept the item if I’m not around.
I’ve outlined the steps involved in using a prepaid card, so now it’s up to you to give it a try.
Do some research and keep a look out in your own area for prepaid cards. Once you’ve found one, ensure you remember the following key steps in order to maximise the privacy of your payments:
- Purchase the card with cash
- Provide only fake personal information when activating
- Provide a random but real postal address for billing
- Activate the card over a trustworthy VPN, or Tor
- Store any information for the card in a safe place