Well many people make use of VPNs for more general purposes, for many anonymity is the key word; more and more people are subscribing to these services to increase it their invisibility. However, while the most experienced users know about the importance of choosing the correct payment method, VPN newcomers are often in doubt when it comes to this particular stage as they fear that their level of anonymity may decrease depending on the form that they choose.
They are absolutely correct, however, some methods do leave a trace that can lead back to a specific user. But does it really matter that much?
Credit Cards and IP Addresses
The most common methods that people usually choose to pay for a VPN are credit cards and PayPal, but both leave a trace that allow VPN companies to personally identify the person on the other side of the transaction. Because of the anti-fraud measures put in place for online credit card transactions, the user will be required to prove that they are the owner of that card, which means providing a full name and billing address. This information is not stored by the VPN itself but by the payment processing company instead. However, to permit automatic renewals it still has to be linked to a specific VPN account, which allows the company to trace the details back to a specific customer.
Likewise, those paying with PayPal also need to provide their email address and link it to the VPN account for future payments.
But this is not the biggest personally identifiable method that companies can use to trace someone. The biggest giveaway is your IP address which, unless you’re always connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots with the VPN, means your real-world location is at risk. In normal circumstances users will mostly use a VPN at home, so the company will be able to see the same IP address repeatedly connecting to their service and therefore allow them to identify someone without much effort if they really want to.
Cryptocurrency and Gift Cards
Other than credit cards and PayPal, most VPNs nowadays also accept some sort of alternative payment methods, including cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin or similar. These are the preferred choices for anyone looking for complete anonymity as such payments processes are encrypted and for each new transaction the VPN company creates a one-time-only wallet to which the bitcoins are transferred. On the other hand, the disadvantage of this is that whenever a payment is due it’s impossible for them to automatically bill their customers in Bitcoin, so each payment is done individually. Also, getting into cryptocurrency can be tough – especially for beginners – so there’s that to take into account as well.
Gift cards are a viable alternative as well, provided that your VPN of choice does accept this kind of payment as they’re not as popular as Bitcoin. These cards can be bought physically with cash at Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy and many other places, or even online to save time for those that live far away from such stores. The downside with this is the same as cryptocurrencies, though with the added disadvantage of fixed exchange rates, which results in less money than the actual value transferred from the gift card. This happens because VPN companies convert the cards to cash, which in other words means selling it at a discount.
The Importance of Anonymous Purchases
Is it really that important to choose anonymous payment methods? The truth is that it depends on the situation. Ordinary everyday users don’t need to be anonymous when purchasing a VPN, actually, because no one really cares. It’s true that establishments monitor people online, but it’s not illegal to purchase a VPN nor to use it. Also, most VPN providers adhere to trustworthy no-log policies, which means it’s impossible to attribute specific actions to specific users anyway and therefore it really doesn’t matter whether the buyer is known or not.
Torrenting aficionados often hide under a VPN connection to a country where it is permitted. But even when they use these anonymous payment methods it doesn’t really matter that much. Past cases have seen people caught using VPNs to torrent due to poor log protection, and never because they used personally identifiable payment methods.
However, when it comes to journalists reporting on sensitive cases involving repressive governments, whistleblowers, free speech advocates and the like, these anonymous methods are truly important for hiding their real identity.
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