The Burner App: When You Want to Keep Your Private Cellphone Number Truly Private

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — We have all been there. Maybe you are filling out an online form requesting price quotes from multiple car dealers. Perhaps you are selling your departed granny’s treasures on Craigslist. Or maybe you are signing up for a dating site and who knows about the people who may respond. All such moments involve a request for your phone number. What do you do?

Know this: increasingly today we are our phone number. In many contexts, it has become a powerful and unique form of identification. Banks send us SMS to confirm we in fact want to wire transfer $5,000 to Kiev and Google does likewise to confirm we are in fact attempting to log into Gmail with a new device. What's more, we get a stream of calls and SMS from vendors, utilities, credit card companies and insurers to confirm sundry details and transactions. Changing a phone number involves real pain.

Unless it is a Burner number. Meet the throwaway phone number, developed by the team at Burnerapp.com; the intent is to give users a cellphone number (good for voice and SMS) that let’s subscribers essentially add a second line to their phone. Even better: that number can be “burned” - wiped out - if you realize you have given your number to a psycho.

The cost? Get a second cellphone line, and your monthly charges will generally be upwards of $40. There’s also the cost of the phone - upwards of $100. 

With Burner, an unlimited package provides a number - along with unlimited voice and text for 30 days -- for $4.99. More frugal deals are on offer. As little as $1.99 per month can keep a Burner number alive. And, of course, there are no hardware costs, because the Burner number piggybacks on your present cell plan and phone. Want to change Burner numbers? Done. No extra costs involved.

Burner numbers are real numbers, incidentally. The company said that particularly prime area codes - think 212 in New York City or 310 in West Los Angeles - are tough, maybe impossible, to get. But the company indicated it had a wide choice of area codes, so a user can appear to be where he or she wants to be.

What’s the catch? There really does not appear to be one.

Understand, however, that what Burner does not support is illegal activity. Use a Burner number to harass somebody or to run an illegal business, and the company is explicit that it cooperates with law enforcement. It may even proactively report users to the law if it believes what they are doing is hinky. Says Burner in its terms of service: “Any suspected fraudulent, abusive or illegal activity that may be grounds for termination of your use of Service, may be referred to appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

What can you use Burner for? That is where it gets interesting. Users seem fertile about coming up with creative use cases.

In Los Angeles, independent band manager Sarah Abdel said she uses her Burner number with fans of the group she manages, especially in regard to special promotions, ticket giveaways and like activity.

“Before I had Burner I had issues with fans calling me at all hours," said Abdel. "Incessantly texting me. I can set it so I don’t get notifications.”  

“I'm an avid Burner app user and primarily find it advantageous for buying and selling," said Grayson De Ritis, of Northern Virginia. "My original interest in the app was for Craigslist. Often I don't want to reveal my true cell number for a one-time transaction and found Burner to be both affordable and effective. Being able to select the area code of the number is a nice bonus, to boot.”

In Oregon, John Cooper said he runs a seasonal Christmas tree business on a Burner number, and what he particularly likes about that is that when a call comes in on Burner, he knows it pertains to trees.

“When you receive an incoming call, you know it’s for the business," he said. "You know it’s a customer. And it’s a lot cheaper than a second phone number.”

But uses can get even more original. Users with a ten-year-old phone number - known to everybody from bill collectors to used car salesmen and an ex spouse - can give the Burner number to close friends and relatives. That way, the consumer can largely ignore the ringing on his principal phone. When the person sees it’s his Burner that is ringing, he picks up because the call is personal.

There's also an advantage for the serial online daters out there. If a user is particularly active, he can create a unique Burner number for each woman in his life. That way he can keep his stories straight.

Do the math. You can pay $40 for a second cellphone line - or $4.99 for a Burner line. It’s your call.

—Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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