Your mobile phone and number give away so much of your information. Since your smartphone is always with you, a disposable phone number or temporary number app can reduce how easily you can be tracked. But, can a burner phone number be traced?
Yes. A burner phone number can be traced. All mobile phones (including prepaid ones) and burner apps go through a cellular carrier or virtual number operator. Your identity can be tracked through call logs, data usage, approximate location, and text messages. Law enforcement can compel companies to provide this information.
The average customer might want a burner phone number to add a simple layer of privacy. For example, disposable numbers are useful when using online dating services or selling personal property when it’s not necessary to be completely untraceable.
How Can a Burner Phone Number Be Traced
Whether you’re adding a level of personal privacy or tracking down someone using a burner phone number, there are several ways that tracing is possible.
Through Your Carelessness
The average consumer has access to virtual burner phone numbers through a smartphone app and physical cell phones purchased at a store.
With a disposable virtual phone number, subscribers signing up with non-pseudonymous information can potentially reveal their identity.
A physical burner phone used at home or work exposes your identity. Even making a voice call can lend a clear enough sample for voice matching software to recognize you. It’s also possible to establish your identity by tracing other phones that move between cellular towers simultaneously. For example, do you commute with a friend or carry two personal phones with you?
Through the Service Provider
Since the cellular service provider is involved in every phone call, text, and data link, unsecured call logs and account information can reveal subscriber identities. Whether it’s through a data breach or the provider’s marketing/advertising decisions, you give up rights to the data collected on you when you activate any service.
Adding a burner phone number service adds another party to the communication chain. Sometimes this adds a hurdle to tracing while other times, it’s a risk to your identification.
You can mitigate some of these risks by changing providers and randomizing your usage habits regularly. But for the extreme use case, you may want to avoid the use of modern mobile communication devices and services entirely.
Through Law Enforcement
The average citizen cannot trace the call details of other citizens. Only law enforcement may compel a service provider to report on subscribers and their activities.
The process by which policing officials may obtain customer records from telecommunication providers varies based on the company policy and its operating jurisdiction.
Citizen privacy depends significantly on the laws of the municipality, state, province, and country. Choosing service providers in jurisdictions that support privacy is often a better choice.
Before subscribing to any service, review the terms of service and privacy policies provided by the company. This details the process by which the company complies with law enforcement requests. It can also point to the amount, type, and expiration of data collected. Select a teleco that matches your level of privacy requirements.
How do you get an untraceable phone number? It is not possible to get an entirely untraceable phone number for average citizens. Virtual phone number services provide some anonymity, but carefully review the company’s terms of service. A second physical cell phone and number are better for privacy.
⚠️ Important Note: Apps like Burner, Phoner, and Hushed and similar virtual phone number operators are not untraceable nor anonymous. Each company’s terms of service linked above describe the collection and release of call detail records and logs. At their discretion, each may provide third parties and law enforcement with logs and identifiable information to comply with their respective legal requirements.
Buying a secondary phone and using it correctly compartmentalizes your private and not-so-private communications. Remember that disposable phone numbers do not always go hand in hand with illegal activities. Privacy is and should always be a human right.
How To Get and Use a Burner Phone CORRECTLY
The following guidelines provide an average level of privacy for getting and using a burner phone and number. You’re free to increase or decrease your operational hygiene.
For example, you can be more cautious by having a friend buy a phone and disposing of it by leaving it active on public transit. For less sensitive situations, you might decide it’s okay to buy a temporary phone with a credit card and later recycle it. You choose.
- Go to a mobile phone or convenience store instead of a “big box” electronics or grocery store.
- Buy a new device with as many voice minutes, texts, and data as you’ll need in one purchase.
- Choose a dumb phone over Android or iPhone smartphones.
- Prepaid phone plans only. We do not want a phone bill.
- Choose an area code nearby, hopefully in a large city.
- Use cash and refuse/do not touch a receipt.
ℹ️Refilling or topping up prepaid minutes on a burner phone is a perfect situation for cryptocurrency. It’s #3 on this list of real-world problems that crypto solves. Several services like Bitrefill accept cryptocurrency.
- Consider your obligations to provide completely accurate information at the time of purchase if your locale requires it.
- Act casually, wear average clothing, look like every other customer.
- Activate the phone and SIM card after 1-2 days in a residential area away from your own, preferably near an apartment or crowded neighborhood.
- Leave the default, generic, outbound voicemail greeting. Don’t change or customize it.
We previously showed you that your phone’s location is constantly being tracked. Here’s how to use a burner phone more securely.
- Answer phone calls away from your residence and workplace and only if necessary. It’s better to…
- Return calls from random locations and varying callback times and lengths.
- Avoid carrying your backup and personal phones at the same time.
- Make additional, random, unrelated calls of varying lengths to businesses and persons in and outside your area code.
- Send a few text messages to numbers in and out of your area, whether you know the recipient or not.
- Severely limit providing this secondary phone number online, if at all.
- Use this temporary phone and SIM for as short a period as feasible.
- Never send standard texts with real or private information.
Oh. On #8 above, if you need to send texts, use our guide on how to send disappearing messages that self-destruct or expire.
Disposing of It
- Remove and dispose of the SIM chip separately when an eSIM is not in use.
- Rough up the phone’s edges and casing or break the screen. Water damage is a good option.
- Remove the battery if possible or wrap the phone in aluminum foil.
- Place it in a fast-food bag and crumple it.
- Throw the bag into a public trash can that many people use and is changed often.
Again, consider this a baseline protocol that can be built upon or loosened depending on your personal situation.
Depending on your needs, it might make sense to employ a disposable burner phone number service outside the Five Eyes countries. If you can register and pay for the service anonymously or pseudonymously, you might forward the calls and texts to a properly-used temporary phone, as described in the previous section.
Similar to how the Tor or onion network works, involving multiple service providers with different technologies and legal jurisdictions can complicate tracing call origins and destinations.
Keep in mind that the more companies or individuals you engage in your practice, the larger the threat surface, which begins to degrade privacy’s primary goal. There’s a balance to achieve.
Remember, all mobile phones are traceable to varying degrees. The most accessible way to increase privacy is to use a burner phone number.
The only other option to continuously replacing a burner phone is to create a secondary smartphone that is hardened against tracking. The Hated One YouTube channel describes GrapheneOS (a derivative of Android) in this video (6m16s@2x) and why you should consider it.