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Definition

burner phone

What is a burner phone?

A burner phone, or burner, is an inexpensive mobile phone designed for temporary, sometimes anonymous, use, after which it may be discarded. Burners are purchased with prepaid minutes and without a formal contract with a communications provider. While some users may buy burner phones for cash to avoid the financial commitment of a contract, some others use their phones for illicit purposes, such as criminal conspiracies and fraud.

Even though, by definition, burner phones can be thrown away, most typical consumers keep them and eventually buy more minutes for continued use.

Only people with extreme needs for privacy or a desire to evade law enforcement are likely to use burners as a disposable device, sometimes after only a single call.

Reasons someone might use a burner phone

In many instances, people turn to a burner phone because they don't want to use their primary cell phone numbers, which are increasingly being used as a unique identifier.

Phone numbers aren't subject to privacy requirements in the same way as Social Security and credit card numbers, so phone numbers can be shared fairly readily. As a result, mobile number privacy is a growing security issue. So, use of a burner phone is one defense against loss of private data.

Other reasons for using a burner phone can vary from wanting to keep business and personal calls separate to avoiding telemarketers and former spouses.

Burner phones can also be useful when traveling because users can avoid huge international roaming charges by using a local SIM card.

How to get a burner phone

Burner phones commonly are available for purchase at convenience stores, big box retailers and online. Users also can download a free burner app to give their existing smartphones the privacy capabilities of a physical burner phone.

Burner phone vs. smartphone

A burner phone is essentially a feature phone that has been stripped down to the bare essentials, which may mean capabilities such as internet access, apps and camera. It typically is used for only voice calls and texts.

A smartphone is a full-fledged mobile device that offers all the bells and whistles, including an internet connection, apps and more.

Alternatives for securing a smartphone

If security is a priority but a customer doesn't want to purchase a burner phone, there are other options available.

Burner apps

One simple method of increasing mobile security is the use of a burner phone app or service (rather than an actual device), which provides a temporary phone number that can be utilized instead of the user's actual cell number.

This number can be used for making and receiving calls and texts, as well as for creating a temporary voicemail. Once the user is finished with the service, the number is discarded and cannot be used again.

Two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security that requires not only a password but also a code that is sent to the user's phone to log in. This makes it more difficult for someone to hack into an account.

Remote wiping

Remote wiping is a feature that allows a customer to remotely erase all the data on their phone if it is lost or stolen. This can help to protect the customer's sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

Learn about disposable phone numbers and check out the ultimate guide to mobile device security in the workplace.

This was last updated in October 2022

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