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What Is a Burner Phone, and When Should You Use One?

A “burner SIM” is a similar word that refers to a low-cost, prepaid SIM card that may be inserted into another phone. You may intend to use the SIM card for a limited time and not attach it to your real identity.

What Is a Burner?

A burner phone is a low-cost, prepaid mobile phone that the owner does not intend to keep for long. Traditionally, these phones have been purchased with cash to avoid any form of paper trail that might link the phone number to an individual.

The term gained popularity after appearing in the hit 2002 HBO series The Wire, when “burners” were employed to avoid discovery by authorities. When a number was suspected of being tampered with, the device was discarded or “burned” to end the trace.

Since the introduction of iPhones and Android devices, burners have been referred to as “feature phones” or “dumb phones,” as smartphones did not exist in the early 2000s. While the term “burner phone” is still widely used, SIM cards can also be used in this fashion.

A burner SIM can be used in a smartphone to switch between numbers instead of purchasing an altogether new device. Some smartphones can even handle multiple SIM cards at once for this purpose.

Keeping this in mind, some burner phone programs rely only on having a second dedicated device to utilize.

Why Would You Use a Burner?

To safeguard your identity, you might use a burner phone or a SIM card. You can use the number without fear of being identified if you can obtain a handset or SIM card that is not tied to your real-world identity.

Someone may choose to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you’re calling in an anonymous tip to a potential employer. Perhaps you want to utilize an encrypted messaging service like Signal or Telegram without revealing your primary phone number.

Perhaps you’re attempting to avoid providing your primary phone number to marketers who would almost certainly send you follow-up messages, such as when perusing a real estate ad or looking for insurance quotes.

Because burner phones are feature phones, their capabilities are severely limited. Most lack cameras or access to modern browsers, limiting them to phone conversations and text messaging. Because they are small and lightweight, they have a long battery life.

Many of these gadgets will survive for days on a single charge, and in some cases months if used sparingly. As a result, burner phones are suitable for usage in an emergency. They are frequently included in emergency survival kits since they may be charged and turned off until needed. What’s not to like about a burner phone? It’s a spare phone with a long battery life that doesn’t require an expensive mobile phone plan—what’s not to like?

Keeping this in mind, some burner phone programs rely only on having a second dedicated device to utilize.

A Burner Doesn’t Guarantee Anonymity

If you’re considering purchasing a burner phone for reasons other than sending anonymous Signal messages or avoiding spam, keep in mind that no cell phone gives genuine anonymity.

It all comes down to your “threat model”—which risks are you attempting to defend your privacy from?

Consider the procedure of purchasing a burner phone from a retailer. Assume you drive to a store, pay for the burner phone with a credit card, then drive home and turn it on.

If you brought your regular phone with you, your cellular carrier will be aware that you were in the store at the time the phone was purchased. On-road license plate cameras may have captured your license plate and documented your movements. A retail camera may have captured you purchasing the phone. You will have a record of purchasing the phone with your credit card company. When you turn on your phone at home, the cellular carrier that your phone is connected to will have a pretty good notion of your home address.

And if you carry both your burner phone and your regular phone at the same time, and both are turned on, anyone looking at cellular phone records can pretty much tell that those phones are owned by the same person.

Yes, there are numerous ways for an adversary with significant resources to track you down. If you’re actually attempting to avoid government officials, good luck. You’ll require it.

If all you want is a new phone number that isn’t directly and easily linked to your identity by the companies you deal with and the people you call, that’ll enough.

And if you don’t need privacy and just want a backup phone with a long battery life for emergencies, none of this matters.

Where to Get a Burner Phone or SIM

Prepaid SIM cards and burner phones will be sold in convenience stores and electronic retailers. Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and other comparable stores will have a nice range of low-cost handsets or SIM-only plans that simply allow you to call and text. Prepaid SIM cards are frequently available at convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and drugstores such as Rite Aid.

A cheap burner should cost between $10 to $50, depending on the features you require. Plans start around $10, however the price ultimately depends on your intended consumption. Most burners are just used for texting and calling, and any other capabilities (touchscreens, cameras, etc.) may be unnecessary and a waste of battery life.

The Tracfone TCL Flip 2 is a simple flip phone with 4G LTE and Android 11 that provides up to 6.8 hours of talk time on a single charge for just $20. It even has a camera. AT&T’s version of the Flip 2 is significantly more expensive at $86. Tracfone also offers a similar $20 flip phone, the Nokia 2760.

Tracfone also offers the Nokia C100, a more traditional 4G LTE smartphone with a larger screen, 32GB of storage, and Android 12 for $50. You can buy them online or find Tracfone phones in stores near you.

If you’re really looking for anonymity, how far you want to go in anonymizing your purchase is up to you. You could ask someone else to buy it for you, or ask them to purchase you a gift card, which you then might use to buy the phone. You could also use cash in person. For the sake of anonymity, you probably want to avoid using your credit or debit card, so purchasing from an online retailer is probably not the best idea.

If you’re only purchasing a burner to throw into a survival kit or to keep in the car for emergencies, you can comb the web for the best deals without worrying about privacy implications. Amazon, eBay, or your preferred local service provider are great places to start.

What About Google Voice and Other Services?

If you’re merely searching for a second number that you can use to phone and text from a computer, or to use with a service like Signal or Telegram, investigate VoIP services. Google Voice, Skype, and other internet telephony providers can supply you with a phone number for basic texting and phoning.

Google Voice is only available in the United States, but it is free and simple to set up. You can create a new Google Account to use with your new phone number and take safeguards such as utilizing a VPN to hide your IP address. Other providers exist, however you will most likely be charged for a number. (and that may require linking your card).

Google Voice

Burn After Reading

If you’re using a burner for privacy reasons, take the necessary steps to separate your identity from your transaction. If you’re only interested in a burner for emergency or backup purposes, make sure to charge the phone before storing it. (and consider an AA battery charger).

Do you want to charge your burner while you’re not near a power outlet? Learn how to charge your phone while you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Consider viewing The Wire if you’re curious about how cops have dealt with this phenomena in the past.




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