A burner phone app allows you to purchase additional phone numbers that you can use to make and receive calls and texts from your primary device. Additional numbers are typically unlisted and can be used for short-term, temporary reasons or for longer term engagements (like a secondary business line). Many people use burner phones to keep their primary phone number private; for example, to protect themselves when dating or selling or purchasing from online marketplaces. Because you can often select new numbers from any area code of your choosing, these apps can also be useful to people who want to conduct business with a local number or are living abroad and want to keep a local number.
How Burner Phone Apps Work
There are two modes commonly used in burner apps:
All calls and texts made, sent and received with the app are over an encrypted internet connection. While texts and calls happen on your phone, the technology is similar to a Skype call or chat rather than a phone line.
When you want to make a call, the app calls your real number first. When you answer, the app calls the recipient with your burner number as caller ID. This means you are using your real number for the connection, but the recipient only sees your burner number.
How Burner Phone Apps Register Numbers
A burner phone app doesn’t typically register anything about its user with the provider. This is part of the service that the burner app provides to you: it gives the burner app’s name to the provider. All burner phone numbers revert back to the burner app, and the app routes your calls & texts. Information about who is assigned each number should only be stored in your burner app’s database.
If you look up the number itself (for example https://www.twilio.com/lookup), you only see the provider of record (ie.Twilio, Frontier Communications, T-Mobile).
Phone Number → Provider (i.e. Twilio) → App/Company (i.e. LineUp) → User
How Your Burner Number Stays Private (Or Not)
To figure out who owns a number, someone would need to compel everyone in the chain to reveal this information (who are not motivated to share it). Only law enforcement routinely uses this authority.
One exception is if a person using a burner number compromises their own security by forwarding calls from a burner number to a real phone. In that case, if you miss the call, it has the potential to hit your real phone’s voicemail.
If you are using a burner app in bridge dialing mode or for forwarding incoming calls to your real number, someone with access to your phone bill could also see that you are receiving calls. In these cases, the call record shows calls to/from your burner number, not who you actually dialed or received a call from.
If you use VoIP for incoming and outgoing calls and texts, then there’s no record on your phone bill (except data usage).
If you use burner app for texts, these all stay within the app so there’s no record elsewhere.
Burner phone apps can be a convenient way to protect your privacy while conducting the business of everyday life. Know the facts so you stay safe!