Burner phones are typically prepaid mobile phones. There are now apps available to your smart phone that allow for multiple lines to be used. However, prepaid phones are more widely used for this application. Prepaid phones can be attractive to the general consumer because they rarely require a credit check or any commitment to the wireless company via contract. You can purchase a phone and load minutes by pre-paying cash.
The main feature of a prepaid cell phone is that there is absolutely no validation of one’s identity when one activates these phones via the internet. In fact, most carriers only require a name (of your choosing), zip code (of your choosing) and an active email account (you know how anonymous these can be!!).
You may see how this could be advantageous for a criminal. When one is using a phone number to conduct illegal activities and the line becomes high risk, it may be subject to being tapped by law enforcement or even competing criminals. A phone number that is threatened like this is considered to be “burned”, hence the term “burner phone.”
Not all burner phones are related to criminal activity. For instance, should you run an ad on Craigslist, EBAY, etc. and know that you will be accepting phone calls from buyers and strangers, a burner phone is a great option. Also, say you’re newly dating and not yet comfortable handing out your personal information, a burner phone is a safer option. Burner phones are perfectly useful for civilian applications, as outlined in the blog, “Burner Phones and the Art of Remaining Anonymous”.
Question is, how legal is all of this burner phone talk? Essentially, you could purchase a phone and line anonymously, represent yourself as whomever and conduct any number of activities, criminal or not under that pseudonym. Members of the US Congress find this problematic, especially in the case of terrorism. This anonymous loophole leaves too much of a gap between time and traceability and in turn can affect our safety. Even without the use of prepaid phone’s ability of anonymity and disposal, as stated at the beginning of this blog, developers are already creating apps that offer similar features. Making amendments to laws that are already in place regarding security and technology is a time consuming process. The result is that lawmakers are often not able to keep up with fast paced communication technologies. However, should they gain the footing to outlaw these disposable phones and applications to smart phones that allow for such anonymity, this legal loophole will be a thing of the past. Like it or not, burner phones leave something to consider when safely keeping your personal information undisclosed, or on the contrary, increasing the likelihood of dangerous situations, as criminals become more and more difficult to track.