Burner Numbers: What You Should Know

by Dan Forster - , Last Updated on December 15, 2016, App Guides

We’re hoping that you’re not a criminal mastermind (and if you are, this article isn’t going to help you too much), but the regular user can also benefit from using a burner number occasionally. What’s a burner number? Why would you want one? Is it even legal? Read on to find out everything you need to know about using burner numbers.

What is a Burner Number?

Let’s start with the very basics. When mobile phones first came out, some people (okay, okay, mostly criminals) had something called a “burner phone.” You’ve probably seen them on Breaking Bad or in the movies. These were cheap phones that were used only for certain calls, and they could, if necessary, be quickly thrown away. In many cases these were used for drug deals. Wait, don’t get freaked out yet, bear with us…

These days we’re a little more technologically advanced, and rather than needing a whole burner phone, you can instead get a burner number. This basically entails downloading an app that will produce a burner number for you. That way when you need to give your number to someone, then you can give them the burner number rather than your real number (though when they call it’ll still be your phone that rings). Alternatively, when you make a call, it will be the burner number that shows up on the other person’s phone, instead of your real number. In essence, a burner number app will help hide your real phone number, and once you no longer want that burner number to work, you simply cancel it, and anyone who tries to call it will get a disconnected signal. Easy.

And Why Would I Want One?

As we’ve mentioned, traditionally a burner phone/number was pretty much a bad guy thing, however, there are some solid reasons why a legitimate user such as yourself might want a burner number. Essentially, you want a burner number because it means you can keep your real number secret, and because it’s disposable, once you’re done using it you can receive no more calls from the person in question. That’s all very well and good, but it doesn’t explain why.

Think of this: you’re selling something on CraigsList or Gumtree and you want to give out your phone number for easy contact, but you don’t want your real digits on the web or in the hands of strangers. Easy solution: burner number. The same goes for online dating, where you might want to give a potential date a number just in case he/she needs to contact you, but since you don’t know each other too well you don’t want to give your real number. Maybe you don’t want your calls to be monitored by an abusive partner. Maybe you’re currently applying for jobs, meaning you’ll get lots of calls from unknown numbers. Putting a burner number on your applications means that any time you get a call from to number you’ll know it’s job related (and can put on your best professional voice).

There are all kinds of solid reasons why you might want to temporarily use a burner number, none of which are crime related. In fact, a burner number can be pretty useful from time to time…

Er, Are They Legal?

Straight up: yes, burner numbers are legal. There are a few cautions though. Whilst it’s perfectly legal in the UK to use a burner number, you might want to avoid giving one to the police, for example, or as a contact number for a government office. Not that you’ll end up in prison or anything, but it’s probably best to avoid difficult questions in these scenarios.

More important, however, is the fact that burner number apps aren’t infallible. They do not perfectly secure your messages or calls (so if the NSA is listening, they’re still listening…). Your mobile service is still coming to you through your own mobile operator, so calls are still logged as coming into your phone. Long story short: if you ARE a criminal mastermind, these apps aren’t going to protect you for long, so don’t bother. For the everyday Joe though, a burner number should be just fine for a little personal privacy.

And How Do I Get One?

Getting a burner number is as simple as downloading an app, and there are plenty to choose from. You’ll need to be a little careful in choosing though, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many apps are US only (including Burner, which tends to be the top search result you get when looking for these apps). So you’ll need to make sure that you’re getting an app that supports UK numbers. Secondly, there’s the question of cost. In general, these apps aren’t free (though a few offer a free trial period of a couple of days), so you will be paying to get your privacy. It’s up to you to weigh up the costs and benefits in this scenario and decide whether or not an app is worth paying for.

You’ll also need to consider your mobile data allowance. Many, but not all, burner number apps use VOIP, which is basically internet calling. This means that if you’re not on WiFi, then the app might use up your mobile data when you make or receive calls.

That being said, we can recommend a few apps for you to check out if you’re interested. Swytch is a UK based app, so is probably going to be the best and safest choice for UK users. However, you might want to also consider CoverMe, which offers “military grade” encryption on calls as well as a burner number, or Hushed, which is pricey but gives a day or so of free trial. Sideline is a free app, but pretty limited (and to be honest, slightly confusing to use), though it could be a good choice if you’re looking for something more long term.

And there you have it, everything you need to know about burner numbers. No, they’re not illegal, and they can be very useful in certain circumstances, and you can at least pretend to be a criminal mastermind for the length of your call…