If you have ever watched a movie or TV show that dealt with the underbelly of crime in modern society, then you’ve heard of a “burner” phone. While Hollywood might suggest that burner phones are only used by criminals and other shady characters, regular law-abiding folks can benefit from using them as well.
What Is a “Burner” Phone?
Burner phones are usually cheap, no-contract, prepaid phones that can be discarded when no longer needed. In shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire, burner phones are used when criminals want to avoid detection by the police. The term “burner” comes from the idea that when the phone is no longer needed, it can be “burned” along with all of the other evidence of the crime.
Burner phones are usually equated with so-called “dumb” phones. These are mobile phones that do not have all of the fancy features of the latest iOS or Android device. While you certainly won’t be able to do as much with a burner phone, eliminating features like Internet access and touch screens can significantly reduce the cost of the phone (not to mention increase the battery life). That being said, there are lower cost smartphones that can function as a burner phone – it all depends on what you need your burner phone to do.
As we mentioned earlier, while burner phones are synonymous with criminals, there are legitimate reasons why a law-abiding citizen may want to consider using a burner phone as well.
One of the most obvious uses for a burner phone is privacy. That is, after all, why so many TV criminals use them. However, everyone, criminal or not, can benefit from a bit of privacy nowadays. Procuring a cheap phone with a SIM card that isn’t linked to your identity can afford you some anonymity in today’s hyper-connected world. This can be useful in a number of different scenarios.
For example, if you use dating apps, you may not want to give out your main number – at least at first. Instead, give your match your burner phone number. This way, if things go south, you can simply get rid of the phone and say goodbye to that bad match forever. Another situation could be that you want to protect your real identity. This doesn’t have to be for nefarious reasons – you may want to phone in an anonymous tip or act as an informant.
In many countries around the world, dialing emergency services (like 911 in the U.S. or 000 in Australia) does not require an active service plan. This means you can use any phone, regardless of whether it has a SIM card or not, and still call for help. That being said, there needs to be network coverage in order for your call to go through.
In addition, you may want to keep a burner phone around in the case of a natural disaster. Extreme weather events like tornados, floods and wild fires can leave you without access to power for prolonged periods of time. Many modern smartphones struggle to get through the day on a single charge, which can leave you without a method of communication.
Due to the fact that many burner phones are “dumb” phones that omit many of the bells and whistles of today’s smartphones, their batteries boast significantly better battery life. Dumb phones can last for weeks on standby and offer hundreds of hours of talk time. Having one could be a lifesaver if your smartphone conks out on you. So grab a super cheap phone, charge it up and chuck it in your first aid kit.
Unsolicited calls and texts have been the source of many profanity-ridden tirades. With a secondary burner phone, you don’t have to worry about spam inundating your main phone. If you have to supply a phone number for a service, like house hunting, there’s a good chance your number will end up in the hands of unscrupulous marketers.
Or maybe you need to post your number to an online marketplace, like Craigslist, in order to facilitate a sale, but you don’t want just anyone to see your main number. In these situations, using a burner phone can insulate you from exposure to robocalls and other spam.
Alternatives to a Burner Phone
If you don’t want to buy another phone, you could just buy a secondary SIM card. Popping the second SIM into your main phone gives you an entirely new number. You could then use the “burner” SIM to avoid spam or persistent Tinder matches who can’t take a hint. Once the SIM has served its use, you can simply throw it away and replace it with your main SIM card.
Alternatively, you can also try an app like Burner. The app creates a secondary mobile number that you can give out. When calls or texts are sent to that number, the Burner app reroutes them to your main number. This protects your personal number and ensures that it stays private. If you are using an Android phone, check out these apps to get a virtual phone number.
Have you ever used a burner phone? What did you use it for? Let us know in the comments!