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Readers frequently ask us this question, so we thought it important to set the record straight. For starters, it’s important to note that a prepaid card isn’t a type of credit card. Prepaid cards are actually more akin to gift cards and debit cards than anything, and you can read more about them in our latest Prepaid Card Report.

But to address the original question, you can technically get a prepaid card without providing any personal information, but it won’t do much for you. Prepaid cards are available online and at retail locations, and buying one is anonymous when you go the latter route. However, while you’ll be able to load funds to a prepaid card obtained in store at the time you get it, you won’t be able to anonymously reload it for recurring use.

In other words, an anonymous prepaid card is basically a fancy gift card. And if you want a gift card, you should just get a gift card – not a prepaid card. Not all gift cards restrict use to a single retail chain, after all. VisaMasterCardDiscover, and American Express offer gift cards that can be used anywhere those card networks are accepted. In addition, prepaid cards tend to have more fees associated with them, so getting one as a present or for short-term use would likely be a waste of money.

In order to reload a prepaid card and use it as an alternative checking account, a replacement check cashing tool, or a means of distributing monthly allowances to your kids – the three most common roles that prepaid cards play – you need to “activate” it with the issuer. That, of course, entails providing a certain amount of personal information, including your name, contact information, and Social Security Number (SSN).

At the end of the day you therefore need to consider why it is you want a prepaid card or an anonymous spending vehicle to begin with:

If you’re seeking a means to make purchases that you don’t want others to know about, then you’re options are essentially to use cash or a gift card or to accept the fact that financial institutions carefully safeguard the personal information that you provide when applying for their electronic payment products.

If you want to take advantage of the many perks of using a prepaid card or a credit card, then you’ll just have to reveal your identity. Unfortunately, there are no creative workarounds or silver bullets here.