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What are burner phone numbers and how to get one
You’ve no doubt heard of the burner phone before. They appear all the time in police procedurals, spy shows, and crime movies. Well, they are real things, and people can get them whenever they want. Of course, the method has changed somewhat. Back in the old days, you would just buy a cheap phone for cash, use it for whatever you wanted, and toss the phone. These days, there are apps and services that provide burner phone numbers that you can access with your normal, everyday phone. In this article, we’ll talk more about burner phone numbers, how effective they are, and how to get one.
Burner phone numbers are phone numbers you can attach to your primary phone as a secondary number. They are often disposable, so you can simply stop using it like you would a normal burner phone. There are several services, including Burner, that provide burner phone numbers.
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What is a burner phone number
The premise of a burner phone number is simple. It’s a disposable phone line that you can use for a little while, and then readily discard without any problems. Most people associate the phrase with cheap mobile phones that criminals or spies buy on TV shows that they use to avoid the authorities or enemies. You see them hang up the phone and immediately toss the phone in the trash before disappearing again.
A burner phone number is a number provided by a service that you can discard. This is different from a physical burner phone, which is a whole device you can buy and discard when needed.
A burner phone number is basically the same thing. You sign up with an app or service that provides a second phone number. You use it until you don’t need it anymore, and then you ditch the number. However, instead of throwing your phone away, you just tell the app to delete the number. It does so, and then you can get another one.
In short, it’s a burner phone without the hassle of finding and buying another physical smartphone. It works right on your primary device, and, if the company is reputable enough, it should be pretty difficult to trace that number back to you personally, just like a real, physical burner phone.
Why would I use a burner phone number
We’ll deftly skip passed the nefarious and illegal reasons why someone would want a second, more difficult-to-track phone number and get right to the brass tacks for normal consumers. There are several good reasons why you would want a burner phone number.
- Reduce robocalls — You can use them for online transactions to avoid being placed on spam caller lists, thereby reducing the number of spam calls you receive.
- One-off transactions — Single-use transactions are also excellent reasons for having a burner. Setting up transactions on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, Airbnb rentals, job hunting, giving out your number to people on dating websites, and other one-off interactions are examples of times when you might rather have a different phone number.
- Maintaining your privacy — Sometimes, you just don’t want to give your real number to another human being or company. There doesn’t need to be a quantifiable reason every single time.
- It’s cheaper than a normal phone — Burner numbers are often cheaper than regular cell phone plans. You could, in theory, get Wi-Fi at home, get a cheap smartphone, sign up for a burner number, and pay less than a normal phone plan. You just can’t use your phone number when not connected to Wi-Fi.
Now, in this context, we’re talking about a second phone number. There are additional reasons to own a physical burner phone. For example, the FCC mandates that all cell phones have to be able to dial 9-1-1, even if they’re not part of a carrier plan. So, you can use it as an emergency line if need be. However, if you just need a burner phone number on your primary phone, your primary phone can already do those things.
Can a burner phone number be traced
For the most part, yes, a burner phone number is traceable. All phone calls run through carrier towers, and carriers keep logs of that activity. Carriers, in general, track data usage, texts, and call logs. They can even track your location based on which towers your phone connects to. We recommend you not do anything illegal with your burner number because the police can still find you.
That said, it is more difficult to trace you with a burner number than your regular number. Some companies even use a middle-man, where they forward your call through a burner number that doesn’t show up in the same location you’re in. Once you burn the number, the company deletes your data, and it’s like you were never there except in the carrier’s phone logs. We’re not 100% sure how reliable that information is, but it is highly touted in marketing materials.
What are the drawbacks of a burner phone
Of course, there are some drawbacks to a burner phone number. We’ll briefly describe some of them, so you know the risks involved with using one.
- No emergency services — Many burner phone number companies don’t let you dial emergency services with a burner number.
- No 2FA — Many burner phone number companies don’t let you use the number for 2-factor authentication services.
- Numbers can be recycled — You may receive a call or text from someone who has the number from the number’s previous owner.
- It costs money — You do have to pay for a second phone line. It’s often cheaper than a primary phone line, but today’s phone plans aren’t exactly cheap, so the added cost is worth mentioning.
- It doesn’t work like on TV — There are more ways to tie you to a burner phone number than you think. Active numbers are fairly easily traceable to you through purchase history, location history, or because you had to use personally identifiable information to sign up for one. Once a debit card is involved, you can be found.
- Any VoIP restriction applies too — Most burner phone number services use VoIP, which has its own string of drawbacks. The lack of emergency services is one of them. You need a solid and stable Internet connection. Some services won’t let you use a VoIP number for some things.
There are other reasons as well, but we think the list above correctly identifies the most problematic issues.
How do I get a burner phone number
You’ve read everything to this point or just skipped here using the table of contents above. Let’s get you a burner phone number. Here is a list of companies that offer them. All the links go to each company’s plans page so you can check out costs.
- Burner — Burner is among the most popular in this group. It lets you burn numbers, claims to delete all data associated with that number to protect your privacy, and it’s relatively cheap. You can buy 50 minutes and 100 texts for $1.99, or subscribe for $4.99 per month, which provides unlimited text and talk and the ability to swap numbers on the fly.
- CoverMe — CoverMe is a privacy-focused service that offers a phone number and self-destructing text messages. It doesn’t let you burn numbers as Burner does, but the self-destructing messages are a nice feature. It offers plans starting at $7.99 per month.
- Google Voice — Google Voice lets you merge numbers into a single number that you can call or text from. It works as a sort of wall that keeps people away from your real number with a Google Voice number. The service is mostly free to use in the US and Canada.
- Hushed — Hushed is a second-number service provider. You can buy credits to make calls and texts, or subscribe to the $3.99 per month option for unlimited talk and text with up to three lines. It’s not quite as private as others, but it works great if you just need to forward some calls or keep spam callers away.
- MySudo — MySudo is an all-around privacy app that includes a burner number, burner email, online handles, a privacy browser, and even a virtual debit card to make purchases. Data is only retained for 24 hours and is destroyed after that. Plans range from $0.99 per month to $14.99 per month.
- Sideline — Sideline gives you a second number that you can use for whatever. It’s a bit more expensive than others, with plans starting at $14.99. However, the number works with your actual carrier, not VoIP, so it bypasses a lot of the downsides of VoIP numbers. It doesn’t market itself as a burner phone service, though, so it won’t be quite as private as something like Burner.
Of course, there are plenty of other services as well. Let us know in the comments if there is a service you prefer.
Up next: The best security apps for Android
Yes, when you purchase a physical burner phone, it comes with a number.