How to buy and use a burner phone

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The person you’re calling also needs to be using burner phone.

I know this from extensive research watching NCIS.


I haven’t RTFA (I mean, where’s the fun in that?), but is this, like, difficult in the Colonies or what? Does it need a how-to? Cos here you just go to the corner shop, ask for a phone and some airtime, then hand over the cash.


I know this from extensive research watching NCIS Burn Notice.


That’s pretty much what they said, had you RTFA. But they were more entertaining than you.


They’d have to be, if that was the gist of it :wink:


You slip it into his pocket at Waterloo Station. I know this by watching Jason Bourne.


Or a trashcan dead drop! Cloak and Dagger is awesome. The movie, too.


I’m sure we’re all on some sort of gov list now from frequenting BB


You dont access BB only through an encrypted burner phone with a burner account using a TOR something, and store the phone in a Faraday lined pocket?

Maybe you are here only for the bananas?


For “I don’t want these people to have my number” this stuff is fine. Assuming you want a burner phone to defeat state-level agencies it’s a little more complex then that.

  1. Never user your burner at home, work or near your existing phone.
    We know that location traces are a thing. You have to assume that if you are buying a burner phone, a state-level agency (police department, FBI, DEA Etc) is already interested in surveilling you. If you are like most other people you already have a phone tied to your identity either by the method of payment, name on the account, address or other identifier. If you are like most other people, and you don’t want to increase suspicion, you don’t turn off your regular phone for long periods of time. If they are tracking your existing phone location (which does not require a warrant) and your Burner is active in the same location, your burner is now connected to your identity, and what ever you do with the burner is now compromised.

  2. Only use cash & be irregular when buying airtime.
    The airtime purchases are location and time stamped. if you always buy minutes from the same place or when you buy groceries, there is a point for surveillance to gather information and close the net. Be sure that the places you are buiyng minutes from are away from your home and/or workplace. Never, ever, ever use a card to buy minutes or the phone. If you are in an organization that is using burners (A medical marijuana dispensary that cares about privacy) different members can buy minutes cards and then trade them to confound location information even more.

  3. Activation.
    This might be a no-brainer but do not use your personal or work computer to activate the phone, or manage it in any way. Go to the library or other public computer.

  4. Misinformation
    Feature phones are still able to be pinpointed to 100’, There are really not any more secure then smartphones.

  5. Consider the cheap smartphone
    I’ve seen Moto E phones for less then $20, and they give you the advantage of being able to use TextSecure (which encrypts SMS end-to-end) and Tor for internet communications as well as Redphone for voice security. Personally I find the keyboard and other features faster and easier to use then a feature phone. Of course you need to be sure any accounts you link are pseudonymous and that no other features are tied to you.

  6. Remember to forget your phone.
    When using your burner, we mentioned that you don’t want to have your usual phone nearby. While you can turn one off and then turn the other on (hopefully after you’ve moved and are in a public space with other people), it is better to leave your usual phone on, at home or work. Maybe in the pocket of a friend who is going somewhere else.


difficult to track and trace

Why would a burner phone be any more difficult to track or trace than another phone?

Now, more difficult to positively associate with your identity - that’s a different matter.

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I think it was Burn Notice where I saw them switch sim cards between phones and called it a “burner”. Not that it ruined the show, but it was a pretty obvious technical error.


This comment has far more useful information than the video.


You also need to be sure to purchase them somewhere where there are no cameras, or other security features that may be able to identify you after the fact. And hope the guy who sold it to you doesn’t remember you or otherwise can’t identify or describe you. If anyone can identify the number or lay hands on the phone they can find out where it was sold and trace it back to you from there (this is why you use cash).

Which is the major thing with a burner. There is absolutely nothing more secure about them. It is a regular phone. While the simpler, cheaper, outdated phones may lack things like GPS that allow more accurate tracking those phones lack that if they are prepaid or not. I find it hard to believe anyone needs instructions on how to buy a cheap prepaid phone, or why an additional phone number would be useful. But a “burner” is not really the prepaid phone its the practices used with the prepaid phone to create a separation between trivial to obtain (by law enforcement or anyone else) phone records/data and the actual person using it.

Unless you really have good reason noone “needs” to be changing phones and numbers that frequently (sometimes down to after a single use). Criminal activity, intelligence/law enforcement work, avoiding dangerous exes or family members (victims of domestic abuse sometimes go this route), dodging creditors, or a desire to legitimately disappear. That sort of thing.


I got a “burner” one time because I didn’t have a work cell and certain colleagues needed to call me after my shift occasionally. And sometimes more than occasionally. :angry: So, I just bought it online using good ole trackable methods.

It didn’t entirely help because one of my colleagues with an epic disregard for my personal rules* about sharing third party phone numbers … shared it with the one person that I was most specifically concerned with having my personal phone number. I don’t even know how the sharer got it. Possibly someone I did trust about the sharing thing.

*The rule is simple: If I’d wanted them to have the number, they wouldn’t be asking you. Easy to remember and perfectly understandable.

I ended up having to change numbers for unrelated reasons. If I hadn’t changed when I did, though, that one person I was most concerned with would have started calling in a harassing fashion. They called everyone else. :frowning:

The moral of this story is that sometimes you have a reason for a burner phone that is completely legitimate and doesn’t require jumping through so many hoops. It did not feel super secret spy stuff.

Guess I didn’t appreciate the tone of the video that much. My burner was a desperate grasp at protecting my emotional safety. Not a half-hearted spy game.

If your reasons for needing one are similar to mine you may still want to physically go to the store. It’s a waste of trips and time to buy the minutes separately if you’re doing it for personal reasons. But I don’t recommend buying one much in advance (unless you may need it available at a moment’s notice). Good way to throw away money on minutes that still expire too quickly.

The claim in the video was that the phones were physically (or physics-ly?) more difficult to track because of not (something something) 3G/Internet. They were vague on that but I guess putting out less signal over all? And they also claimed that the NSA admitted to having trouble tracking burners. Although it’s likely the NSA meant what you suggested and not how they interpreted it as.

I don’t want to be overly skeptical but I didn’t get the impression that this was meant to be a wholly accurate and educational experience. xD


When I’ve been in Spain or France in the last few years, you couldn’t get a sim card without showing an ID, like your passport, which was recorded.


Really? Good lord.


I think that had more to do with their heavy product placement. IIRC they needed to show certain phones, cars, and other items in use (hence the montages of Audis with narration about how having the right car was important). Even the brand of yogurt used was dictated by product placement. Somewhat expensive show to shoot, with an equally somewhat low budget. Product placement was basically the major reason they stayed on the air.

Same in California. Vendors record your ID when selling you a prepaid phone or SIM card, or at least they’re supposed to. The way to get around that is to send in a lackey to make the purchase.

As for the NSA… It’s safe to assume that whenever they “admit” a vulnerability, they are lying about a honeypot.