Burner phones are disposable mobile phones that provide additional security and anonymity. You’ve likely become familiar with them being utilized in any number of Hollywood films where nefarious individuals participating in organized crime found them to be quite useful.
We don’t support acts of organized crime, because 1), you shouldn’t be a jerk, and 2), it’s illegal. But we do support the use of burner phones for a range of other use cases, none of which involve crime or anything particularly “shady”.
Let’s dig in, shall we?…
BURNER PHONES: WHAT KIND OF PHONE IS THIS?
A burner phone can be either an app or a standalone phone that allows you to create a temporary, or unidentifiable phone number that can’t easily be traced back to you as a person.
These phones keep can help your identity anonymous and your privacy intact for a very affordable price. For the stand-alone option, prepaid phones eliminate the hassle of dealing with an extra phone bill while keeping your privacy completely secure. Burner apps, such as Hushed (https://hushed.com/), are even more convenient, allowing you to enjoy all of the benefits of a “throwaway” phone without having to even buy one. Simply install the app on your existing smartphone and you’re off to the races so to speak.
Burner phones protect your identity from even the most powerful government groups; even the NSA doesn’t have the ability to track you.
But, how does that even work? Well, the secret to how burner phones work merely lies in how a user (individual making the call) is identified. Which is to say, they are not identified.
Your identity remains largely “off the grid” and away from prying eyes. Burner phone carriers do not know who is using their phone/app, and for those that do, this is in no way disclosed publicly or through any means of Caller ID or the like. That said, if ultimate privacy is your core goal, you’ll want to check with the specific Terms of Service with the particular app or phone carrier to better understand what data they do have or keep on you, and to whom (or what government agencies) it may be disclosed and under what circumstances.
Now that you have a general idea of what burner phones are, let’s explore the two main types…
PHYSICAL BURNER PHONES AND PREPAID PHONES
What kind of phone is this? Well, it’s a standalone burner. Physical burner phones are the exact opposite of any existing smartphone that most people have today. In fact, they look very similar to those old school flip phones that people used to use when they had long, irrational arguments with their boyfriend or girlfriend, specifically so they could slam the phone shut as hard as they possibly could. Burner phones give you the same phone slamming ability as a regular flip phone, although it is not recommended that you do so.
Burner phones are great because they are extremely lightweight and small, so you’ll never feel like you’re actually carrying around two phones, despite that you are technically carrying around two phones. Because they’re compact, your wallet will still be able to fit gracefully into your pocket with room to spare.
When you purchase a burner phone, you will have the option of multiple per-minute calling plans or calling cards with a certain number of texts and minutes of your choice that lasts for a certain amount of time.
They work on almost every carrier by default, and there is no contract that locks you into keeping the phone. It is quite possibly the cheapest version of a cell phone that you can rightfully own. The best part about it is that, when you run out of time or minutes, you can either purchase more, or you can simply throw the phone away along with the disposable phone number.
BURNER PHONE APPS
Another option is to use the Burner app. These apps can take your contact information and redirects it to a completely unique and temporary phone number. This phone number generally does not have the ability to access any information other than what you choose to allow it to access.
Even if you choose to connect your phone app to a third party app such as Dropbox, Slack, or Evernote, your personal information still remains completely secure and private. Connecting to a third party app may allow you to automatically archive and texts and pictures that would otherwise get wiped out as soon as you delete your temporary number.
BURNER PHONE BENEFITS
As mentioned before, burner phones can be a very beneficial addition to your personal or business technology stack, so let’s review what the benefits actually are.
Anonymity and Privacy
Your personal data and information are generally safe and protected (in many cases not even logged at all). Nobody will be able to access your personal phone number nor will any other information stored on your device be revealed.
Temporary and Convenient
There are no contracts that come with burner phones, so you can choose to use a temporary phone number for as little or as long as you need. Temporary phone numbers are also disposable, so not only is your personal information untraceable but so is the temporary phone number after you are finished using it. Likewise, most apps don’t have “service” contracts in the same way that phone plans do, and you can generally cancel or opt out from the service at any time without notice.
Pay for Only What You Need
Since contracts don’t exist, there are no plans that you need to sign up for; in other words, there are no bills or hidden fees. This means that you have the freedom to choose your own pricing based on your personal needs. You get exactly what you pay for. Nothing more, nothing less.
Cell phone carriers have the ability to collect user data and information which they use for their own benefit. For example, the data that ISPs and carriers collect is generally used for ads, and analyzing people’s interests and cell phone habits. Burner phones, on the other hand, do not have this ability, therefore your data remains safe. Unlike carriers, they have no interest in collecting your data for any reason whatsoever. And even in cases where metadata might be collected (read the services TOS for particulars), this data is not usually tied to you or your name.
THE PURPOSE OF BURNER PHONES
So, why would someone want to remain anonymous if they’re not actually in the mafia? Or planning a bank robbery? Or trying to hide any other illegal activity? Well, there are tons of (completely legal) reasons why burner phones are extremely useful!
Below are some of the most common uses for burner phones that won’t land you in jail.
DATING AND ONLINE DATING
How many times have you given out your phone number to someone you just met and, as it turns out that they are creepy, or annoying, or both. The last thing you want is a stalker who just won’t leave you alone, so giving out a temporary phone number is a lot safer than giving some random stranger your number who seemed to be nice, but is now stalking you on every social media platform you have. Burner phones or apps give you the ability to choose when you fully trust someone, without giving them the chance to look up your information.
It is required by law that every phone has the ability to call 911 in an emergency, even if that phone is not connected to a carrier. So, just by having access to one of these phones, you will still be able to call for help whether or not your phone has minutes. Eventually, we all run into situations where our phone is dead, our charger is broken, or we just blew out a tire by running over that pothole that never seems to be fixed. And, you’re alone on a highway. At 3 in the morning. In emergency situations like that, you’ll be thankful that you decided to purchase an extra emergency burner phone just in case you ever need to use it.
ELIMINATE JUNK TEXTS
We’ve all filled out enough forms (both on and offline) to know that companies requiring that we provide them with our phone number often end up sending us unwanted spam texts on the regular. Those spam texts can get annoying, and fast.
A temporary number is the perfect solution in order to combat the barrage of unwanted solicitations, call, and text messages. Furthermore, it blocks your other apps from collecting that data and using it against you by trying to sell you something. For example, Facebook ads. Don’t let them know what you do, otherwise, all you’ll see is a never-ending stream of ads in your newsfeed.
Temporary numbers can help to keep your business life separate from your personal one. Especially for contracted work or a job that only lasts for so long, a burner phone with a temporary number will keep your main phone uncluttered and organized.
BUYING OR SELLING ONLINE
When it comes to buying or selling products online, there is a good chance that the person you are buying from or selling to is someone you don’t want to have your personal phone number.
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and meet a new friend, but other times you’ll find yourself applying for a restraining order due to unjustified harassment. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of “crazy” out there in the world, and you need to take precautions, especially when dealing with strangers and money.
And because our personal phone numbers are attached to almost every app and social media platform, a disposable phone number eliminates any chance of them finding out more information than you expected them to. When it comes down to it, if it involves the internet, never give out your personal and permanent information.
AUTO REPLY BOT
Burner phones are great for more than just protecting your personal information but they can also be useful tools for setting up auto-reply bots. If you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur, automated messages are extremely popular and help to keep that connection going by auto-replying to customers. But, using your personal phone number can get overwhelming, cluttering up your phone and intermingling with personal conversations.
When you connect your burner number to a storage app like Dropbox, it will actually allow you to set up a feed where multiple people can contribute to the conversation. This usage is great for events like parties and weddings where people can use that number to automatically upload photos to a Dropbox folder instead of constantly harassing your friends to send you pictures.
CONS OF USING A BURNER PHONE OR APP
There are always a few downsides to a good thing. Fortunately, the downsides to using a burner phone aren’t life-threatening but, here are some possible flaws:
USE IT OR LOSE IT
Your prepaid minutes do, in fact, expire. So, if you don’t use them within a certain period of time, they are gone forever. Luckily, buying minutes doesn’t exactly break the bank, but losing minutes can be irritating.
FEATURES ARE (IN SOME CASES) LIMITED
Burner phones are not smartphones; they don’t have internet access, you can’t go on Facebook, they don’t have a camera, and a lot of them don’t even connect to wifi. But, then again, that’s what your smartphone is for.
NUMBERS DO NOT NORMALLY TRANSFER
If you switch carriers or the phone is deactivated, your temporary phone number cannot be transferred to a new device. This could pose as a potential problem if you happen to use your burner number for business, but keep in mind that these numbers are not actually meant to be transferable. If they were, then they wouldn’t be temporary.
All in all, you can’t really go wrong with a temporary number and, more importantly, burner phones are a cheap safety net in times of an emergency. So, the next time you give out your number to someone you just met, think twice about what could go wrong, and then remind yourself that temporary numbers do exist. And then get a burner phone!