Web Culture

Sick of the NSA Tracking You? Burn Them with a Burner Phone

Kannon Yamada 22-10-2013

Sick of the NSA tracking you using your phone’s positioning coordinates? Or do you just want an anonymous phone to conduct personal affairs? Either way, prepaid little phones known colloquially as “burners” can provide you with partial privacy. Even the NSA can’t track them with accuracy.


The secret lies within how prepaid carriers, also known as MVNOs, identify their users – they don’t. Signing up for an MVNO doesn’t require any identifying information whatsoever. Simply buy a phone and airtime from an MVNO and activate it.

Burners make excellent temporary and permanent-use mobile devices What's a Burner Phone and How Do They Work? You've seen burner phones on TV, but where do you buy a burner phone and how do they work? Should you use a burner phone? Read More , coming in all shapes and sizes. There’s even portable WiFi hotspot burners 3 Foolproof Ways to Create Your Own Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot for Tethering in North America Do you want to give multiple wireless gadgets on-the-go internet access? Are you sick of getting ripped off by wireless hotspot tethering? There’s a variety of technologies that can help you – the two most... Read More , which I’ve written about before. Android is currently the dominant operating system on prepaid smartphones (be wary of smartphones, though), but the market includes all manner of software. Some even use the open source Firefox OS. But how does one begin using a burner?

This article discusses what a prepaid phone, or burner, can do for you and how to get started with one.

android burner

Burners and Privacy

Prepaid phones provide better privacy than phones from carriers. In comparison, a burner provides superior privacy. However, in light of recent leaks on the US government’s domestic spying program, it appears that burners can be legally traced. It’s just a lot more difficult.


How Burners Protect Privacy

Prepaid carriers can’t share your personal information because it’s not collected from its users, unless you voluntarily submit it. You can give any name, or no name at all. Like all mobile devices, you can be tracked while using the device. The problem for law enforcement, or organizations that track phones illegally, is that the user can discard the phone whenever they please. By changing devices and making cash-only transactions, it’s possible to avoid detection.

How Burners Don’t Fully Protect Privacy

Another government leak recently demonstrated that while the NSA doesn’t possess the ability to fully monitor prepaid phones, they can monitor devices given certain conditions. One of those conditions: Long-term use of the same device. Once they ascertain a phone’s number, they can track it indefinitely. However, many prepaid phone companies sell what’s referred to as burners – disposable cell phones.

Another method of identifying a cellular device is through its MAC address IP and MAC Address: What Are They Good For? The internet isn't so different from the regular postal service. Instead of a home address, we have IP addresses. Instead of names, we have MAC addresses. Together, they get the data to your door. Here's... Read More . Tablets and smartphones come equipped with a WiFi chip. This chip include a unique identifier number known as a MAC address. Whenever your device connects to the internet over a wireless network, the MAC address is reported and recorded.

Third parties can still geolocate burner users by accessing a phone’s GPS and WiFi. Prepaid phones can also be tracked using the traditional, albeit less-accurate, method of cellular triangulation. However, even with such features enabled, locating a prepaid phone’s user remains difficult. Even the NSA has issues immediately locating and identifying prepaid burner users.


Ars Technica covered how the NSA seeks to thwart the anonymity offered by prepaid phones. Fortunately, the NSA’s methods aren’t 100% effective in identifying their users; prepaid burners still give users a means of sidestepping surveillance.

theyre watching

How do I Get Started with a Burner?

Getting started requires knowing what kind of phone to buy, how you can use it and the first steps of setting it up.

Kinds of Burners

Two primary kinds of prepaid cell phones exist. Those that come locked to a particular MVNO, such as Virgin Mobile and Tracfone, and those that sell SIM cards that can insert into an unlocked device. While not entirely true, CDMA carriers tend to sell phones and GSM tend to sell SIM cards. Technically speaking, however, these boundaries break down upon closer scrutiny, as Straight Talk sells CDMA SIM cards and all GSM carriers sell phones.


The actual phone number for a GSM mobile device is attached to the SIM card. For the CDMA standard, the phone number remains with the phone itself. By changing either the SIM card (for GSM) or the phone itself (for CDMA), you may anonymously change the phone number.

In short, you can buy either the SIM card or the phone itself.

What Are Burners Used For?

Burners can operate in a variety of roles. In the HBO series “The Wire“, burners functioned as an anonymous means to traffic drugs between gang members – the drug trade remains their most notorious application. Philandering spouses also use prepaid phones to communicate with their lovers, concealing contact numbers and bills from spouses. There are a lot of good uses for these as well.

Prepaid phones provide both internet access and a means of communication to the homeless, or those with bad credit, who oftentimes experience difficulties communicating with employers. Burners make this possible by not requiring a social security number or legal name. For these reasons, prepaid phones remain popular for both legal and illegal reasons.



Getting Started With a Burner Phone

Burners require a small amount of setup before using them. Buying a phone, as opposed to a SIM card, is the easiest method, although it costs slightly more. Most major retail outlets carry prepaid phones and SIM cards. For example, Amazon, Walmart and Target sell prepaid phones and SIM cards. Getting started just takes three steps:

  1. Buy a prepaid phone;
  2. Buy an airtime card;
  3. Activate the phone and add your airtime to your account.

It’s extremely easy. You can add airtime directly to the phone using a “pin” number. The exact process differs from carrier to carrier, though. You need to read the instructions on your airtime card.


Prepaid phones, colloquially known as “burners”, offer low cost and privacy. While you can still be monitored and tracked, burners make it more difficult for you to be illegally surveilled, particularly if you change phones or SIM cards frequently. Switching over to a burner can also save you a great deal of money on your cellular bill How To Save Hundreds On Your Mobile Phone Bill In 3 Easy Steps Cutting your mobile phone bill in half takes only three simple steps - first, find a carrier that offers discounted plans, such as an MVNO. Second, get an unlocked phone. Third, and optionally, you can... Read More .

We’ve covered the best flip phones The 7 Best Flip Phones for Ending Distractions Want the best flip phone? We cover the best flip phones available from T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, plus unlocked flip phones. Read More  and best overall dumb phones The 5 Best Dumb Phones Is a smartphone too much for you? Check out the best dumb phones for texting, minimalism, style, and more. Read More if you’re interested in buying one, or if you want to keep using your phone, you could consider a burner app for your smartphone instead. And check out the best unlimited phone plans The 8 Cheapest Phone Plans With Unlimited Everything Looking for the cheapest phone plans with unlimited everything? Here are your options and which one's the best value for you. Read More to power your burner.

Image Credits: Nokia via MorgueFile; Security Camera by Janis Tobias Werner via ShutterStock; Crime via MorgueFile

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Joe
    January 1, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    Do not use a credit card to purchase said phone, as that leaves a trail back to the buyer.

  2. Nemo
    November 17, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    These types of articles are worthless without a date.

  3. Dr. David Edmund Sutton
    August 23, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    A very measured and informative exposition on the merits and values of 'burner' phone usage. I'm new to this technology (a generational defect!) but I value my privacy - ergo I rather like the idea of what you describe as a - 'burner' phone. Snooping and over-bearing surveillance, which seems to be accepted as 'de rigeur' these days, is detestable to me! The free individual should not have to live, automatically, as powerless under the heel of 'The Authorities' of the State. We, the populace, constitute 'The State', NOT those who assume and insidiously draw unto themselves, bit by surreptitious bit, the strands of power and control in the commonwealth.

  4. john
    April 17, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    After reading through the whole article, I have a question that I didn't see an answer to. Anyone know if these burner phone numbers are virtual numbers? These days virtual numbers are being black-listed by companies such as Google, Twitter, and recently, the Telegram Messenger, so that one can't really sign up accounts using them.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 18, 2018 at 5:14 pm

      They are virtual numbers.

    • TC
      May 28, 2020 at 4:31 pm

      The moment you log into twitter, google, instagram etc, you defeat the purpose of it being a burner phone.

  5. Anonymous
    March 21, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Its a damn shame that we have to even have this discussion. Anyti.e any company or organization should be able to record your data or conversations or anything they should be required by law to get a warrant. When are people in this country gonna get enough of Big Brother AND all his little sisters!! ( All these huge companies working with big brother for their own intrests)

  6. A.Garrison
    March 21, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    I was so glad to find this article. A free country doesn't or shouldn't involve tracking your citizens phones and persons. There should be laws set up already to prevent these huge conglomeration from doing this to any citizen without a search warrant from a judge. I can hardly believe our congressmen and lawmakers allow such things to go on. I will gladly be one of the law abiding citizen who doesn't feel as if I have to look over my shoulder and watch every little thing I so. Thank you for the information.

  7. I. B. Halliwell
    April 11, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    I'm strong considering the phones at: http://x-cellular.com/

    They come designed to NOT allow anyone to track them.

    FACT: Cell phones can be 100% stealth! FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, and other agents get phones one can't track or even triangulate on a regular basis.

    OPINION: You too should be able to have the same protection, if you want it.

    I don't work for or am even a customer of X-Cellular. I'm just considering the phone.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 22, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      No phone can be untraceable. I would be very suspicious of anyone selling these kinds of devices.

    • anonymous user
      November 3, 2017 at 9:24 pm

      Only if you are willing to ditch your other regular phone. Otherwise bigbrother can still profile you by seeing the two phones always traveling together.

      • Luxa
        June 29, 2018 at 2:00 am

        I hate to say it, but, "duh".

  8. Laura
    November 14, 2016 at 12:54 am

    I used to use prepaid cell phones and when you purchase them, at the register they ask for your name for "911" purposes and other info. So how do you remain anonymous?

    • Kannon Yamada
      November 14, 2016 at 12:56 am

      Different states have different policies regarding burners. I'm unaware of any federal legislation that might require identification, but I'm sure something is coming down the pipes, if it doesn't already exist.

      Some small shops might not require ID or a name.

    • I. B. Halliwell
      April 11, 2017 at 11:43 pm

      Did they check your ID?

      In the end, though, many places just sell you the phone and never ask.

      • Kannon Yamada
        April 11, 2017 at 11:59 pm

        I prefer buying the SIM apart from the phone. SIM cards can be found almost anywhere for practically free. And unlocked smartphones are easy to pick up through online exchanges.

    • DeeCupps
      March 30, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      boost mobile, metro pcs, verizon, t mobile, at&t, cricket wireless, link, Alcatel, all are or have or did hace prepaid phone options not once in 15 years have I been asked my make for the e911 "charge" now the big companies offer u the ability to register what information would appear if any during an attempt.or call to911

  9. clare
    October 9, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Can a prepaid tracfone be remotely tracked and information read by a controlling spouse? I have zero privacy and would like to text or use whatsapp without him being able to use remote spyware to read everything I write.

    • Kannon Y
      October 10, 2016 at 1:45 am

      It depends on the device. Android devices basically allow someone -- whom has access to your unlocked phone -- to install tracking applications which are hidden from the app drawer. You can find these apps from within Settings --> Apps. An easier method is to simply perform a factory reset on the phone. That nukes 90% of the tracking apps out there.

      If you want to avoid someone from installing tracking apps, you need to lock the device.

  10. Personal gal
    October 4, 2016 at 9:31 am

    This makes no sense, this crazy abusive guy I dated is able to track me through social media, he shows up where I'm at cause I forget to turn off my location sometimes. getting to know people on my friends list just to see my accounts. I'm tired of running, hiding, moving, or having to stop my life cause he is out there somewhere waiting to get me. All this new app shit want evey piece of information your first born child, your mother's maiden name, your blood type, the color of your dogs piss... I think it's fair to want to have a life that's private even if it is social media... so ironic that even to make this post had to personal information this shit sucks

    • Kannon Y
      October 4, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      This might not help, but I believe Facebook lets users select WHO they share information with. You can choose to share things like location or you can choose groups to share things with. You can also choose to turn location sharing off entirely. All of that is either in the settings menu for the app or on Facebook's website. Here's a link to get you started:


      You could also have malicious software installed on your phone. If your ex ever had access to the phone for just a few minutes, he could have installed a location tracking app. You can find and remove these apps from the Settings --> Apps menu, but the easiest way to eliminate them is to do a factory reset. Factory resets remove most kinds of tracking apps.

      • CopsBlow
        October 10, 2016 at 5:40 pm

        Facebook is nothing but a government spyware and tracking program. You take pictures and post them. They take those pictures, run facial recognition software on them to identify everyone and use the metadata to pinpoint the location. When you post pictures taken in public you are helping track yourself and anyone in the background. Anyone using Facebook for anything other than trolling idiots is an idiot. Don't want tracked, quit using garbage social media because not even private messages are private.

        • Kannon Yamada
          October 10, 2016 at 5:42 pm

          Realistically, few people are going to quit Facebook because of privacy concerns. For a lot of folks, Facebook IS their social life. But even if you completely give in, there are still options on how much information you share with friends.

        • CowsComeHome
          November 22, 2019 at 3:31 am

          That's why I don't have my picture on my Facebook profile. It's my car instead. Makes it easy to identify scammers just as soon as they say that I look beautiful. lol

  11. michael
    August 11, 2016 at 5:39 am

    I want to buy a burner phone (Nokia brand without bluetooth & gprs) from a person and pay cash. i also want to buy a

    prepaid SIM (ISP: MTN) registered with fake details. I want to make use of the phone for just 6 months (180 days) selling

    illigal stuff online on my website.The phone will be ON from 6:am to 6:pm daily then i will switch-off & remove the battery

    & SIM card from the phone and goto a new location and sleep because where i leave will be differnt from the location i will

    be receiving phone calls.

    The next day by 6:am i will insert the SIM & battery again. when its 7:pm i will switch off and remove sim & battery from

    phone again and go to a new location and sleep.

    I will be in a differnt location each day (i will be using 180 differnt location, that is i will be in a differnt location

    each day receiving phone calls).

    i know that law enforcement cant still track my location but what must i do so that law enforcement will not be able to

    pinpoint my exact location or what must i do so that it will be difficult to track me accurately?

    pls help

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 11, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      Please don't ask for help if you're doing something illegal.

      • michael
        August 12, 2016 at 6:40 am

        i just want to have more knowledge about phone number & phone tracking. my country is new to tracking that is why i use myself as if i am doing something illegal.

        • Kannon Yamada
          August 13, 2016 at 10:15 pm

          As a matter of our company's ethics policies, we can't provide help in this sort of situation -- other than advising you to avoid anything that could get you in trouble.

        • Kyle
          January 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

          The Police will stalk you regardless of whether you're doing something illegal with a 'burner' or not. Some PDs get a report of burner activity, and I have personally witnessed a patrol car being dispatched to check out the location of a burner phone that was being activated. Some departments get alerts from the carriers, and others have technology known as "Stingray" to track and eavesdrop on cell phones. Either method is capable of red-flagging burner phone use.

          Sadly, most people believe that if you don't want corporations of law enforcement stalking your every move, you must have something to hide. Welcome to Orwell's 1984! Please check in with the Ministry Of Truth.

  12. Anonymous
    July 5, 2016 at 2:40 pm


    Nokia 5000-D2

    Untraceable gsm mobile phone with sms encryption It warns you about any intrusion attempt.

    For the security of your phone conversations, the Stealth Phone allows you to achieve a high level of protection against the risks of interceptions, now more and more common when you use an unprotected mobile phone. Unlike a cell phone that operates on the encrypted data item, codifying and making them unintelligible to any outside listener, the Stealth Phone protects the call itself, making the phone untraceable, and impossible life for those who want to listen to it.

    • Kannon Yamada
      July 11, 2016 at 11:39 pm

      I've never heard of this and am skeptical of it.

  13. ginger
    July 2, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    I activated my tracfone using my cellular phone..it was a 1-800 number to activate. I gave no personal information when I activated. Will I be able to be traced since I activated with my mobile?

    • Kannon Yamada
      July 11, 2016 at 11:38 pm

      Without question, that phone is traceable if you activated it using your personal phone line.

  14. Jack
    May 21, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    Ha but if I don't wanna be tracked for a given time, can I pull the sim out, and it can't be tracked without the SIM right???

    • Kannon Yamada
      May 21, 2016 at 10:11 pm

      It should still be able to track individuals with any kind of cellular radio. The SIM card just permits a connection to a carrier's network. Even without the SIM card attached it still connects to different towers -- that's why you can dial emergency services without an inserted SIM card IIRC. There are apps that detect Stingrays but there aren't any apps that can dump a connection to a Stingray.

  15. Jack
    May 21, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I am being spied on with a stingray/imsi-catcher, if I change my sim, how long would it take for the attacker to get hooked back on to my phone?

    • Kannon Yamada
      May 21, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      It's anyone's guess. There's very little information on the technology out there other than what's publicly available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingray_phone_tracker

      They're used to target physical locations, so changing a SIM card won't help. The best option is to contact the EFF and seek a legal remedy. Although truthfully there isn't really anything that can be done other than to let the legal process take course.

  16. Amy
    May 9, 2016 at 1:55 am

    Ridiculous to say that the only reason you would use a "burner" phone is for illegal activity. I'm 62 years old and I only need a phone to make and receive calls. I do not need or want all the bells and whistles. My cheap little Tracfone serves it's purpose. Pay as I go ... no complications. If I lose it or it gets broken, BFD. I get a new one.

    And btw, when did personal privacy fly out the window? When did it become a BAD thing? Sorry, but I think "Dave" is a jerk.

    • Kannon Yamada
      May 11, 2016 at 12:35 am

      That's exactly how I feel about burners. They're really good deals and totally disposable. Thanks for the comment Amy!

  17. Gus
    January 19, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Whoa, I didn't copyedit that. Geesh. .

    Dave is probably a cop, gov't employee or closely affiliated with one... affiliated.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 20, 2016 at 12:01 am

      Thanks for the comment. And I can erase your last comment, if you'd like.

      It's uncomfortable how privacy rights suddenly became an all or nothing political beach ball at the presidential debates. Both front-runners for the Republican and Democratic parties have virtually committed to the security state, thus ensuring that no privacy oriented legislation will get passed (without a veto) within the next five years. Our future looks really bleak without some serious reform.

  18. Gus
    January 19, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Dave is probably an cop, or gov't employee or closely afflicted with one or some.

    EVERYONE needs to be concerned with be hacked, tracked and monitored. EVERYONE.

    Dave, I know what you are.

  19. jon
    November 15, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    I have a burner because I use a work phone but can't use it for personal outgoing calls. Also, what is Dave talking about, sort of right wing crap that excuses invasive surveillance suggesting only people who commit crime are against being spied on, such a vacuous but often repeated piece of nonsense.

  20. dave
    April 28, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Lets be honest here the only use for a burner phone is for illegal activity .If you are not a criminal there is no reason any agency would be interested in you nor is there any reason for you to care .
    If you want to hide an affair as was suggested in the article pay your bill in cash and have the bills sent to a private mail box .
    A bit funny how an article about privacy requires my email address to post a comment .

    • Kannon Y
      April 28, 2015 at 11:04 pm

      There have been whistleblowers who used burners. Of course Stingray devices make burners a lot less useful. Which is why there's continued, illegal use of them.

      They basically break laws to catch people who may or may not be breaking the law. It's hypocritical.

    • Anonymous
      November 6, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      "A bit funny how an article about privacy requires my email address to post a comment ."

      You could use a disposable email address...

      This is a great example of legitimate uses of burners. I use them when selling items online or when having to provide phone numbers for online transactions. When the item is sold, the phone is gone. This applies mostly to Craigslist, where the Nigerian scammers have set up shop.

    • Phuk Yu
      January 28, 2016 at 3:50 am

      I just bought a burner tonight because the police are harassing me, and I'm afraid of them. I HAVE to hide from my government because they have become PREDATORY.

      • Kannon Yamada
        January 28, 2016 at 4:13 pm

        You should probably contact a lawyer if you feel your civil liberties have been violated. In the United States we have a robust legal system and the right attorney can ensure that your rights are respected.

        • Juan Masah
          May 13, 2016 at 7:15 pm

          in reply to kannon yamada you are so very nieve.

      • Juan Masah
        May 13, 2016 at 6:56 pm


        • Juan Masah
          May 13, 2016 at 7:12 pm

          AMEN!!! to Phuk Yu who said the police and government have become predatory. And not only have they become predatory, but many use there positions of power to exact vengeance or merely punish whom ever they dislike not even caring whether or if their reasoning is faulty or wrong and they usually are! People who operate from pride are usually wrong because they are blind to the truth and if you don't think this is scary you must be one of them and i'm not saying you shouldn't be scared, you are just incapable of realizing it!

        • Alien MidKnight
          October 16, 2016 at 11:42 am

          Being 56 and have an Air Force Dad of 25 years, so I lived till I was 20 in the Air Force system. What I have learned through the media about all this police violence and police overkill. Since the police are becoming army like, they should all have to live like Air Force, meaning moving every 3 to 4 years, so no gang like mentality can get implanted, no cops with a gear to grind mentality. This would end all this police violence. Imagine a cop who works in a community for 30 years, can you just imagine if this person had a gear to grind with our young men, they could make this persons' life a living hell by constantly harassing them with tickets or by bad talking to the brotherhood about a person. I don't think anybody has seen my way of eliminating police violence towards US, Yous want to be an army, well then yous must act like an army. Moving every 3 to 5 years. When was the last time you heard of a killing of a civilian from the hands of the Armed Forces in North America. When was the last time you heard of a policeman killing a civilian for a burnt out back light.

    • Juan Masah
      May 13, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      your premise is that the government can be trusted and as most people know that is absolutely not true! i've known many morally good people that would never intentionally hurt anyone that have sadly come to that very same conclusion. and we all have known about many other good people who's lives have been cut short by these governments for merely trying to do something good for humanity simply because it treathened their pocket books!

  21. me
    April 8, 2015 at 4:36 am

    So no cell service, a texting app with fake registration, uses nearby wifi....seems it can't get more secure than that. ...how is wifi calling going to get traced?

    • Kannon Y
      April 9, 2015 at 4:45 am

      Security researchers found that most routers had backdoors that were possibly being exploited (but no one knew for sure). When researchers pointed out that the backdoors existed, router companies disguised the backdoor but left it there. When researchers pointed out that the routers hadn't been fixed, manufacturers just kept quiet about it. To my knowledge, the security vulnerability still exists.


      More or less, if you connect to any router (particularly a public router), it exposes your device's unique ID. If those IDs are somehow being vacuumed up, then you've been identified.

      For political activists and those needing privacy, that's terrible.

  22. me
    April 3, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    I mean using wifi with a free texting app...no protection?

    • Kannon Y
      April 9, 2015 at 4:46 am

      Unless that texting app uses end-to-end encryption (there's several out there), then you have no protection. That stuff gets sucked up and stored.

  23. me
    April 3, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    So using your cell exclusively on your home wifi with an app doesn't help right? And if you use a burner at your home next to the wifi that's no good either right?

    • Kannon Y
      April 9, 2015 at 4:47 am

      Unless you're using an app like Red Phone (and some dispute Red Phone's effectiveness), then there's no protection.

  24. Anon
    February 25, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    With this being said I'm curious how the Black Phone stacks up against a 'Burner'

    • Kannon Y
      February 26, 2015 at 4:19 am

      A Blackphone beats the crap out of a burner. I'm told there's still a lot of issues with Blackphones, but they're a step up from burners. But the cost is out of this world.

  25. JJ
    February 15, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    The Burner App obfuscates a smart phone number by setting up a new number and forwarding calls and texts from the new number to the smart phone. There is no real privacy other than having a different number which is enough for most people, but I would not be surprised if all phone and texting content was recorded and stored.

    • Kannon Y
      February 17, 2015 at 5:26 am

      I was a little turned off by Burner's monetization scheme, but overall it's an impressive app. I hope to see more like it.

      Thanks for sharing!

  26. Andy D
    January 30, 2015 at 12:10 am

    I don't know about it's effectiveness when it comes to hiding from the NSA, but for regular day-to-day use cases of needing a second number, I found Burner the app to be really useful. Much quicker than going to a store or ordering something online.

  27. nurse bishop
    January 1, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Lets just go back to carrier pigeons.

    • Bishop`s Patient
      February 2, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      Hi Ms Pigeon, President Putin ,in the recent past,ordered his spy-agency to revert back to typewriters! Seriously, no-kidding! Hope your patients do-not contract Asian pigeon-flue! Regards, a concerned patient.

  28. jenna
    December 16, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    If you have a personal phone and a burner phone. When you use your burner phone and don't want to be tracked, turn off the gps or take the battery out of your personal phone. They can tell both cell phone signals are coming from the same place. This is how they caught the craigslist killer

  29. Random Conway
    April 7, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    You failed to mention that the federal courts have ruled that when using a prepaid cell phone, users have NO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY. This means that anyone, government or not, can legally fully record and log every single thing the phone ever does. You have absolutely zero protection of wiretap laws.

    It would be fantastic for the NSA if people switched to phones they can wiretap continuously and fully with zero danger of getting called on it.

    • Kannon Y
      April 8, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      That's a good concern, thanks for bringing it up. I believe you're referring to the case where a man was illegally tracked by cell phone while buying a prepaid burner, which he obtained in order to commit a crime. I reference that story either in the article or in the comments, IIRC.

      What happened was simple - he carried his cell phone with him when he purchased the burner. This allowed the government to identify the burner because it was physically located next to his GPS enabled cellphone. When he committed the crimes, he carried his regular cell phone on his person, which further allowed identification of the burner, since it was carried in close proximity to the cell phone in question. The courts have consistently ruled that you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when using any mobile technology - however, if you use a burner and observe some basic rules you get better protection from illegal surveillance than if you didn't use a burner.

  30. Dave
    February 25, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    You suggest using Amazon or another online retailer as a source for purchasing a phone or sim? That links the purchase of that phone to you since you'll need to provide name, address and payment to the vendor. It's best to buy in person and pay cash.

    • Kannon Y
      February 25, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      I shouldn't have used the Amazon link. Thanks for pointing that out.

  31. Up the RA
    December 7, 2013 at 6:43 am

    This is why I only use stolen cell phones.

    • burnerguy
      January 25, 2015 at 2:38 pm

      Junkies sell em for 10 bucks lol

  32. Ted
    October 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Very good idea. For those in Europe this method would not work though. All cell phone numbers (prepaid or on a monthly plan) must be legally registered with a real identity and address.

    If one doesn't want to be tracked by the NSA or any other government agency the best thing to do is to not use a (personal) phone at all.

    • Jason Bourne
      October 25, 2013 at 2:47 am

      Then how do you think I evaded the authorities for so long?

    • android underground
      October 25, 2013 at 7:48 pm

      Not true, Ted. In almost all european countries anyone can buy a phone without registering anything, and add airtime with scratch cards bought with cash.

  33. Jack
    October 23, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Phone metadata from burner is relatively easy to get, it only requires a simple subpoena. Voice DNA'ing is a little more complicated, before anyone's actually hearing your voice, they would need to be listening to your call, which has a strict standard of judicial oversight and requires a search warrant with probable cause. Tracking a burner is a mixed bag. In an exigent situation, Burner Carriers have the ability to provide official agencies with the the Cell Tower location information. And in a fugitive situation, Agencies like the US Marshals have the technology to pinpoint a burner location. Google "stingrays". Phone companies are uniformly required to have the capability to respond to law enforcement under the 1994 CALEA law. It applies pretty comprehensively, even to the phone companies you've never heard of that provide back end support to Voice Over IP's, like Google Voice or Pinger.

    • Kannon Y
      October 23, 2013 at 10:02 pm

      Great comment!

      They don't bother with subpoenas at the extra-legal level anymore, which is a large part of the controversy. Officially the NSA follows its own internal legal system, which includes provision for warrants. However, earlier and later leaks revealed that they illegally acquire the individuals' information before any internal legal mechanism is applied and then hand the information over to the appropriate law enforcement agency. At which point the agency in question artificially constructs a scenario in which the data could feasibly be recovered legally. But the fact is this is also being applied to political activists as rigorously as it would be to any criminal.

      Burners are best used temporarily, with frequent switching of numbers - in this regard I'm only suggesting that burners be used for legitimate purposes of a political nature. In the example cited, a murderer was identified because he carried his own cell phone around, which provided a continuous GPS signal, despite being turned off. Officials were able to correlate the GPS signal on the switched off phone to the burner.

  34. bleep
    October 23, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Who you going to call? They track number connections. So if you call anyone you have ever called on your old phone they got you. They also voice DNA'd your voice with your old phone so they can track you on voice alone with NO need of your phone or number.

    • Kannon Y
      October 23, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      That's how they track people - through contacts and buddy lists.

      However, there's a large variety of encryption apps and voice change apps available. But then that forces you to use a smartphone, which comes with its own tracking information. There's also a unique identifying number that's associated with the smartphone operating system. This can be altered and spoofed, though.

    • Secretone
      December 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      Calls made to other burn phones are probably pretty safe, right? So if you're conducting some sort of sensitive enterprise, you ought to make sure you utilize untraceable tools throughout the organization. Using a burn repeatedly while also using some other personal device that carries your ID from the same places is dumb. When it becomes unavoidable to use a burn phone to call an associate that can be linked to you you you clean the phone and dispose of it. These are all basic principles of maintaining a higher level of privacy in the cell phone airwaves. This is hardly the comprehensive list. Always carry a backup that is ready to operate but unused. Simply put, if you're not thinking about all the ways you might screw yourself, you'll get screwed.

  35. Dan
    October 23, 2013 at 1:59 am

    It would be best to use a dumbphone for a burner, preferably one that does not have Wifi or 3G connection, unless you need internet connectivity.

    • motoguy
      January 25, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      I agree...what's the point of using a burner if it has internet access

    • burnerguy
      January 25, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      I've been using burners since before they were even called burners..lol. This is what I know and I'll leak these secrets since they're not really secrets anymore. The BEST burner phone to get is a TracFone ,the Lil ones that flip and run about 14.95. TracFone although not impossible, is EXTREMELY difficult to be eavesdropped on. 2nd best is a pre-pay Blackberry. The BBM feature is VERY VERY encrypted ..The president of the USA used to use BB for this very reason and many world leaders still do. Only keep your burner for 2 months MAX or until the card runs out. If your using a burner you can afford this. Then simply chuck them in a lake far away from home and buy a new one. Don't keep any contacts in it,text messages or other personal info. Also if possible keep them powered OFF w the batt out as much as possible.

      • Diane
        January 27, 2016 at 1:40 pm

        Burnerguy you are so right, but do sent BB have Internet access

        • Diane
          January 27, 2016 at 1:44 pm

          Also...where did my profile picture come from