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Source: PERSONAL FINANCE CHOICES
Anonymity has been a vital issue since the very emergence of the Internet. Though anonymity is not something that was invented with the Internet.
People always resort to it in order to achieve various goals, such as to hide their real names, obtain a more unbiased evaluation of their messages or creations, protect the privacy of people in scientific studies, etc. This issue has gained more attention due to a spread of social networks and online services, which has prompted governments in many countries to adopt laws that both protect anonymity in certain circumstances and require disclosure of personal information, while explicitly forbidding anonymity in other situations.
In general, anonymity can be used for both good and bad purposes. In many cases, anonymity can be desirable for one person and undesirable (and even illegal) for another person. In recent years, governments have taken the approach of adopting legal frameworks that protect personal information and, at the same time, leaving room for the disclosure of virtually all information about users, if required (for example, as part of counter-terrorism measures or to prevent money laundering, bribery, online fraud, and other illegal practices).
The Internet has increased the ease through which people can distribute anonymous messages or conduct anonymous operations, but, as online providers have to observe the law in respective jurisdictions, anonymity on the Internet is almost never 100% and, in many cases, it is not even possible under the existing regulations. As a result, there is almost always the possibility of finding a perpetrator if needed, tracking, for example, the user’s IP address, etc.
However, many like the very idea of anonymity and resort to it in various situations, such as to create anonymous email accounts or fake profiles on social networks or to obtain virtual payment cards.
A virtual payment card is an interesting payment vehicle, as it does not require the user to enter their real card details, but, at the same time, it can be used for online transactions (though not always, as discussed below).
The goal of this article is to check whether it is possible to use virtual credit cards to register for a trial period in Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Service (AWS).
Many users like the idea of using virtual cards to protect their anonymity and money and there are many services that allow them to register a virtual card (see some examples below):
Such services allow for various levels of anonymity and, for the purposes of testing, we have decided to register a QIWI test account, which does not require confirmation of identity, and put $5 in the account. Registering for a QIWI account is very simple and does not require additional identification, unlike YandexMoney and WebMoney. In general, only a mobile phone number is required, and, after several minutes, you will be able to replenish the balance (you must submit a request for card details, which will be sent in a text message to the provided phone number).
In order to register a cloud account, you need a phone number, an email account, and a bank card (the generated virtual card was used). The registration process is very simple: visit the portal azure.microsoft.com, click the green button “Start for free”, click “Create Microsoft account”, and select the option “Get a new email address”. You must then fill-in the registration form and accept the Microsoft Online Subscription agreement. The 3rd step is to provide the method of payment details, which is where virtual cards fail, as Microsoft does not accept prepaid virtual cards, as is explicitly stated on their website here:
After an attempt to use the same phone number and a virtual bank card for online payments, the registration was completed successfully, but the trial subscription was not activated and returned an unknown error. As was later discovered, this happened because the phone number had already been linked to another account.
In order to register an account, you need a phone number, an email account and a bank card (the generated QIWI card was used). Visit the website https://cloud.google.com/, where you will click the button “TRY IT FREE” and then select “More Options > Create Account”.
We encountered the same situation after we tried to use the same phone number with a different payment method: the Google Cloud Platform did not verify a new account with this number, as it had already been linked to another account in the previous attempt.
Registering for Amazon Web Sevice is different from other cloud providers, as you must pick up the phone and enter the PIN, instead of a text message.
In order to create an account, you must visit the website www.amazon.com, open the login page, and select the option “I am a new user”. Using the QIWI virtual card, fill in the required personal details and launch the verification process by picking up the phone and entering the provided PIN (see the screenshot below). Please note that the phone number must be in an international format, despite the preselected country code in the field to the left.
The registration is now complete and you may open the console. It must be noted that the AWS registration process is prone to errors and, if you are not lucky, registration may be delayed for some days, as the number of attempts is limited and a PIN is not always recognized.
There are many ways to register a virtual card on the Internet, but it does not contribute to your anonymity in any way because it requires either identity verification or a phone number, which effectively discloses your whereabouts and call-history, which effectively eliminates your complete anonymity.
Cloud providers treat virtual cards differently, depending on their internal policies and the legal jurisdictions in which they operate. Microsoft Azure does not support prepaid virtual cards, as (?) a special signed agreement is required for some countries, while Google Cloud Platform allows registration, but requires identity verification. Amazon Web Service allows registration, as well, but the whole process is cumbersome, and a request for identity verification will likely arrive, sooner or later, after the system detects the use of a virtual card.
Please note that, even if the registration fails, the provided phone number becomes linked to an unverified account and you will not be able to use it again to register other accounts, so you should be very careful when choosing a payment method for your cloud account, as the whole registration process may get stuck after the virtual card is detected. This most likely happens because virtual card issuers do not provide the required data about the owner during the card-verification transaction and it is recognized as a potential online fraud in the billing system.
So, if you are afraid that your card details will be stolen, the best way is to generate a virtual card for online payments in your bank. This way, you will be able to control its balance and, even in the unlikely event that the card details are stolen, only a small fraction of your balance will be compromised.
Please note again that, even if you use a generated virtual card, your anonymity is compromised in any case, as you either verify your identity or provide your phone number and your IP number is certainly registered on the server. Therefore, in the case of online fraud, a virtual card holder will be prosecuted, unless some sophisticated anonymization mechanisms are implemented, which is beyond the scope of this article and not necessary for most Internet users.
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