Why Do You Need A Burner Phone?
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Last Updated on July 14, 2021 by Gabriel Goddy
The popular belief is that burner phones are used by criminals, but that’s not true. Burner phones can be used by anyone. In this guide, we’ll tell you why it is important to use a burner phone, even as a non-criminal.
What Is A Burner Phone?
A “burner phone” is a cheap, prepaid mobile phone that you can destroy or discard when you no longer need it. In popular media, criminals often use burner phones to evade detection by authorities. You might use a burner phone for privacy reasons, as a last resort, or during an emergency.
What Is a Burner?
A burner phone is a cheap, prepaid mobile phone that the owner generally doesn’t intend to use long term. These phones have traditionally been purchased with cash to avoid any kind of paper trail that would tie the phone number to an individual.
The term was popularized in the hit 2002 HBO series The Wire, where “burners” were used to avoid detection by authorities. Once a number was suspected of being compromised, the device was discarded or “burned” so that the trail would go cold.
Since the rise of iPhones and Android devices, burners are more commonly referred to as “feature phones” or “dumb phones,” since the smartphones of today didn’t exist in the early 2000s. While the term “burner phone” is still common, SIM cards could also be used in such a manner.
Instead of purchasing an entirely new device, a burner SIM can be used in a smartphone to switch between numbers for a variety of reasons. Some smartphones can even accommodate more than one SIM at a time for this purpose.
With that in mind, some of the applications of a burner phone rely solely on having a second dedicated device you can use.
Why Would You Use a Burner?
You might use a burner phone or a SIM to protect your identity. If you can manage to procure a handset or SIM card that isn’t linked to your real-world identity, you can use the number without the risk of being identified.
There are all sorts of reasons that someone might want to remain anonymous. Maybe you’re phoning in an anonymous tip to an employer. Maybe you would like to use a secure messaging service like Signal or Telegram without disclosing your primary phone number.
Maybe you’re trying to avoid giving your main phone number to marketers who will likely send you follow-up messages—like when you’re viewing a real estate listing or looking for insurance quotes.
Since burner phones are feature phones, they are severely limited in their abilities. Most lack cameras or access to a modern browser, and are instead limited to phone calls and text messaging. Since they are relatively lightweight devices, they have excellent battery life, too.
Many such devices will last for days on a single charge, and sometimes even months if you use the battery sparingly. This makes burner phones ideal for use in an emergency. They are often found in emergency survival kits since they can be charged and turned off until they are required. A burner phone is a spare phone with a long battery life that doesn’t need an expensive cell phone plan—what’s not to like? Other advantages include:
- Redirect Spam Messages Away From Your Main Phone
If you’re a long-time owner of a smartphone, you’ll know how annoying spam is. Once marketers have your phone number in their database, they begin sending barrages of unwanted texts and robot calls to encourage you to buy everything from new windows to injury compensation.
Fortunately, a burner phone gets around this problem. When you need to supply your phone number to sign up for a service, you can give them your burner phone number. Then, when your burner phone begins ringing off the hook, you can either swap out the SIM card, turn it off until you need it next, or get a new one.
This is also useful if you want people to call you when you’re selling something. For instance, if you’re selling a car or a house, you can give out a burner phone number and get rid of it once the sale is made.
- Visit Another Country Without Roaming Charges
When you go abroad, it’s a good idea to have a cellphone on you in case of an emergency. Unfortunately, some SIM carriers don’t play ball with other countries, offering either a very high roaming charge or no data whatsoever.
However, you can avoid these problems using a burner phone. Before you travel, grab a cheap phone and load it with a SIM card compatible with a carrier at your destination. You can then use this phone to call businesses and taxi services within the country without racking up a huge bill.
- Back-up phone:
While some burner phones have some advanced features, most are barebones devices used for calls or texts only. Because most of these devices don’t have big screens and advanced radios like 4G/LTE and GPS, they likely boast much longer battery life than a premium smartphone. This could be ideal for travelers, perhaps, or at least as a backup phone if your main device’s battery peters out.
- Take Your Phone to Dangerous Places
Does the concept of hiking up a mountain with an expensive iPhone or Samsung in your pocket make you feel uneasy? Do you want a phone on your person during your boating trip, but hate to imagine what would happen if you capsized?
Leave your expensive phone at home and grab a cheap burner phone that you can bring along on your adventures. That way, if it does fall into a ravine or end up submerged, you can replace it without denting your bank account.
- Protect Your Main Phone From Theft or Seizure
A burner phone is a great idea if you think someone might steal, break, or go through your phone. That way, if someone does seize your phone, all you lose is a cheap phone with no information on it.
For example, if you’re planning to go somewhere a little rough, you could use a burner phone. It makes your phone less appealing to steal, and if someone does take it, you lose very little.
Similarly, if you plan to go to a protest, you can never be sure how violent things will get. In the past, protesters have lost phones while trying to record events, either from disapproving members of the public or the police.
The police may also seize the phone to go through its data. If you’re on your burner phone, however, you can happily surrender your phone without worrying about your privacy.
- Stop Dating Creeps From Contacting You Further
You found someone you like the look of and you want to go a step further, but you’re worried about giving over your phone number. After all, what if this person turns out to be toxic and uses your number to stalk or harass you?
A Burner Doesn’t Guarantee Anonymity
If you’re buying a burner phone for privacy reasons that extend beyond simply using the number to send anonymous Signal messages or avoiding spam, be aware that no cell phone provides you with true anonymity.
It’s all about your “threat model”—what threats are you trying to protect your privacy from?
Just think about the process of getting a burner phone from the store. Let’s say that you drive to a store, buy the burner phone with a credit card, drive home, and turn it on.
In the process of this: If you took your normal phone with you, your cellular carrier will know that you were at the store at the time the phone was purchased. License plate cameras on the route may have captured your license plate and recorded your movements.
Let’s Also Consider The Cons Of Using A Burner Phone:
- 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 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!