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5/26/15

How To: Burner Phone

Chances are, you've probably seen a TV or movie where a Jack Bauer-type character, on the run from big bad evil, uses cheap throw away phones to communicate unnoticed.

Commonly known as a burner phone, a backup, essentially disposable phone isn't only useful for secret agents and criminals. There are a long list of reasons why having a spare phone with a different phone number might come in handy -- lose/break your primary cell phone, selling something via Craig's List, traveling and don't want to risk your $900 smart phone, and so on.

Commo is your lifeline, so you want to do what you can to protect it.

So--how to set up a burner phone? It's actually very easy and 100% legitimate and legal.

Disclaimer: For lawful and responsible uses only While you can get a bit of anonymity and privacy with a 'burner' phone like this, don't do anything dumb, offensive or illegal.



You'll need two things:
  1. An unlocked GSM cell phone
  2. Ready SIM Card
The Cell Phone
The phone needs to be a GSM phone (AT&T and T-Mobile run GSM networks, Sprint and Verizon run CDMA and will not work), and it needs to be unlocked.

You can buy very basic, 100% unlocked and ready-to-go cell phones for around $20.


Shown here is a BLU Tank II, which I chose for a variety of reasons:
  • Big battery (30 day stand by) 
  • Charges via Micro-USB versus some lame proprietary cable
  • Supposedly more rugged build
  • Has an AM/FM radio built in...that actually works!
  • Unlocked out of the box - not locked to any carrier
  • It cost 20 friggin' dollars for a functional cell phone
Yep, this phone is pretty bare bones...like stepping back a decade in cell phone technology. But, it makes phone calls and actually has surprisingly good voice quality. BLU has a bunch of other cell phones in the budget price range if you'd like a different flavor.

You may have an old phone lying around that you want to use for this purpose. You'll need to make sure that it's unlocked, which can often be a frustrating process...Google up your carrier and the phone model for instructions. Note that if you're concerned about Big Brother privacy, your old phone is likely "dirty" and could be traced back to you.

For me, dropping $20 for a fresh phone and zero headaches was more than worth it.

The Ready SIM Card
Now, if you only want to be able to call 911, you do not need a SIM card. If you do want to be able to make phone calls, you'll need a SIM card. There are lots of pre-paid phone plans on the market, but the vast majority of them make you register with the carrier, use a credit card, and otherwise associate your name and personal info all over the number.

Ready SIM doesn't make you go through all that hassle. They come in a credit card sized card with a pop-out SIM card.


Remove the SIM from the card. Pop it into your phone.


The Tank II has dual SIM capability, which means it can use two SIM cards at the same time. You can see the SIM card here - it's the white thing just above the phone's battery.

Now you're ready to activate the SIM card. Text your zip code to 7850. A few minutes later, you get a text message back.


This gives you your new local phone number - you are ready to go with unlimited voice and texts. You can set up voice mail and many plans come with data, too - if you want that.


That's it. No hassle. Your privacy is kept intact and you've got yourself a local phone number. In this day and age, where it seems like you've got to give out your social if you want to buy a pair of socks, it's weirdly simple.

After I activated my SIM card, the phone found the T-Mobile network without issue. Ready SIM buys / piggybacks bandwidth on other carriers networks--most likely AT&T or T-Mobile. The few test calls that I made were flawless.

Pretty cool.

There are different time allotments of cards available - from 3 days to 30 days. For a cheap throwaway phone and number, the 3 day or 7 day are probably your best bet--$15 and $20 respectively.

As far as I can tell, there's no expiration for the SIM card until you activate it--so you can stash it away in your bag for a year or two until it's needed. Once activated, you have the allotted time period to use it up.

If you are using a more recent phone, you may need to cut down the SIM card to a smaller (mini or micro-SIM) size. There are inexpensive cutting tools for doing exactly this.

You also don't need to use a Ready SIM with a throwaway backup phone. You can use it in your every day phone, swapping out your regular SIM card if you want to avoid using your regular cell number to call up for a Craig's List ad or something.

Recap
  • Cheap phone - $20
  • Ready SIM 3-day card - $15
  • Total: $35
Pretty affordable way to have a back up phone with an anonymous phone number. 

Charge up the battery, take some measures to protect the phone - plastic bag it and the battery separately - and store with the Ready SIM. Memorize some important phone numbers. Done. 

Weight is negligible, utility is exceptional.

32 comments :

  1. Where do you buy the Ready Sim card at? Amazon? Or have you found a place locally that you can buy with cash?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are links in the post to Amazon listings for Ready Sim cards. You can often find them for sale locally, too - look up for local dealers at: https://www.readysim.com/where-to-buy

      Delete
  2. AnonymousMay 26, 2015

    Thank you for this!! I have been working on this half ass for a while and always get stuck at a provider.

    ReplyDelete
  3. AnonymousMay 27, 2015

    Great idea.

    ReplyDelete
  4. KingHojuMay 27, 2015

    I think it's a good idea to get one of these, even without the sim card, to use just as a backup emergency phone. If your phone breaks or goes dead for some reason you could just pull out your sim and put it in your backup phone. Would be a life saver in a myriad of circumstances. Chuck it in your glove box, forget about it, and you'd be pretty glad to have it if you ever ended up needing it. A pretty good prep for $20.

    ReplyDelete
  5. riverriderMay 28, 2015

    if you go thru amazon, doesn't that leave a trail too?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies

    1. Depends. If you pissed the .Gov off with the phone #, they could likely eventually trace it back to an Amazon account. They could then get Amazon to turnover the account info.

      So...don't do stuff to piss off the government to that magnitude. See the note r.e. not doing dumb/illegal stuff.

      Delete
    2. Yes, if you buy on Amazon it can be traced to you. If you buy with a credit card it can be traced to you. If you use an old GSM unlocked phone you used before, it can be traced to you. Easily.

      Only way to avoid that is to use cash for both the SIM and unlocked GSM phone and purchase locally.

      Delete
  6. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

    KingHoju:

    There's action at the FCC under active consideration to eliminate the ability of "dead" phones to call 911. 911 centers have been plagued with prank calls from such phones and the public safety community wants it stopped. Likely NLT end of 2015 for what you suggest not working anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  7. FYI:

    https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/10/fingerprinting_5.html

    At the very least, I would avoid having the battery in the burner any time I’m near

    a. my own regular phone
    b. places I’m known to frequent
    c. my associates.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

      Let us hypothesize that the USA has descended into a tyrannical state and is actively hunting down and killing Americans who object to it. I know this will be hard so take your time and concentrate.

      937:

      You'd better add a sealable RF signal proof bag and a foam lined pelican or other sound deadening type box to store it in too. The reasons are:

      1. Some phones have more than one battery. Their may be a small non-removable rechargeable cell inside that can power the phone. If your phone has been compromised with bugging software which the P.T.B. can install over the air within seconds you are toast. But why the foam box you might ask? Simple. The software used to turn the phone into a bug can and will cease transmitting and go into record only mode when it loses connection to the cell network/wifi. When it gets a signal again it will upload the recorded data to the Beast for analysis and dissemination. Let them analyze silence or if you are cruel a looped recording of a baby crying.

      2. Even with the battery out your phone can still act like a big freaking RFID tag. There is equipment out there that will ping your unpowered phone at a specific frequency and power level that will induce a tiny amount of electrical activity in the phone's circuits and cause it to emit a very weak return signal that is unique to each handset. This signal is then detected and tracked by the big time Alphabet Agency that is interested in arranging a private fireworks display event for you and your homies. This technology and even more advanced magic boxes is currently integrated into multiple aerial, ground, and other platforms. Do you still wonder why the P.T.B. are so damn hyper paranoid about releasing any information about "Stingrays"?

      If this country descends into open uncivil hostilities your best bet to remain among the living is to never ever activate your burner phone anywhere near (i.e. on the same cell tower) your home area or your regular phone. Everything you do on a cell network will be logged. Give them the least amount of data to analyze by NEVER EVER reusing the same device ever again. Keep in mind that if you speak on the phone that they will have a voice print sample to compare against all the other samples in their gigantic data centers.

      When you do use the burner do so quickly and then dispose of it quickly and completely. Do so in a manner that will leave no physical evidence leading back to you. The P.T.B. can often times pull DNA from a single fingerprint. They perfected the technology in the hunt for IED makers overseas. Bleach does not destroy DNA. Fire does. Water washes it away as well.

      Delete
    2. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

      Too many spy novels....

      Delete
    3. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

      Try open source info and listening to people who do interesting things for a living in meatspace.

      You are completely free to believe what you wish. The Russians did not believe that the C.I.A. could retrieve a submarine two miles under the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

      Delete
  8. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

    Once you activate the SIM, if it says 15 days, how long is that . If you use it to make one call for 30 seconds, is that "one day" or can you or is it by time, i.e. 15 days X 1440 minutes in a day = 21600 "air time minutes?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's calendar days. Unlimited talk and text during that time.

      Delete
  9. Mark MatisMay 28, 2015

    You say:
    "Now you're ready to activate the SIM card. Text your zip code to 7850. A few minutes later, you get a text message back."

    If you text that from a cell phone which is currently associated with you, and if you are of any interest to the ALL SEEING EYES, those same people get your new number, do they not?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

      I believe he's talking about texting that from the new charged & SIM'd up phone.

      Delete
  10. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

    If your budget extends to it, you might consider a basic smartphone from about $100, combine with a 3G chip, normally with a month usage for ~$20 or so. Then download the App 'Wickr' which is end to end encrypted and as far as can be told, not yet deciphered by the spooks.

    Happy hunting :-)

    ReplyDelete
  11. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

    Why not just steal someone elses phone, use it once and toss it on the back of a long haul semi truck?

    ReplyDelete
  12. AnonymousMay 28, 2015

    I think this will work to shield the phone. I'd be interested to hear if I'm mistaken.
    You need 2 baggies, a metal quart paint can and a metal gallon paint can.
    Sand any coating from the lids of the paint cans, and from the "lip" of the cans themselves, so the tops fits with a good 360-degree metal-to-metal contact onto the cans.
    Put the phone into a plastic (or other non-conductive) bag.
    Put the bagged phone into the metal quart paint can and close the can.
    Put the quart can into a plastic bag.
    Put the bagged quart can into the metal gallon paint can and close the can.
    You now have a double-thickness metal Faraday cage around your phone, and this cage should block any electronic shenanigans.
    Of course, all bets are off when you remove the phone to use it, but this should keep the phone undetectable until then.

    ReplyDelete
  13. If you buy this from Amazon it's a virtual certainty that Big Brother will know you purchased it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cash purchase would be preferable for anonymity purposes, but the .Gov is not the all seeing eye of Mordor and monitoring everyone's Amazon accounts for every purchase. It's a legitimate product...if you use it for illegitimate purposes and draw the ire of the .Gov, you deserve whatever wrath you bring down on yourself.

      Delete
    2. I've driven past the NSA's new facility in Utah. They do indeed have the capability of accessing every transaction (yes, I realize it is probably in the billions per year) through Amazon and every other on-line entity. As far as the companies which claim they "know" they have no backdoor into their system, when the information enters the 'Net, it is accessible.

      No, NSA will not examine everyone's Amazon purchases routinely, but if and when they decide it is desirable, they will certainly be able to pull up, search, and examine those records. Like if/when resistance goes active.

      Hitler had access to many records via IBM, even though it was back in the punchcard days (my first - and only - programming course in college was on IBM punchcard equipment). If he had had the IT capability available today, I doubt if more than a handful of Jews or other "enemies of the State" would have survived.

      In our time, it will be possible to become anonymous, but so easy to screw up and get caught that only the truly paranoid will be able to remain at large. And quite frankly, beyond remaining off of .gov's screen, I really can't see any strong reason to seek this level of anonymity. (Even if it isn't polite to mention.)

      Delete
    3. AnonymousJune 14, 2015

      * dons tinfoil hat*

      Delete
  14. AnonymousMay 29, 2015

    I've heard both good and bad about the BLU company's products. Has the author actually been using this phone, and these sim cards? And, I mean more than just as a test. Or, anyone else? I'm just thinking about putting one or two in my BOB, and if it's not going to last long-term, I'd like to know before spending money. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't used the phone long term, nor would I recommend anyone replace their current phone with one. This is intended to be a cheap backup phone, and for $20 it does that job well. As far as durability, I have dropped the phone from a variety of heights, including over my head, onto hard floors. No permanent damage, which isn't something I would try with an $800 iPhone.

      It should survive fine in a bag in your closet or trunk. I would keep it in a waterproof bag/container to protect it from water, and a hard Pelican style case if you are going to be exceptionally rough with the bag.

      Delete
    2. AnonymousJune 03, 2015

      Thanks for the update. Good to know.

      Delete
  15. Why not just buy a Tracphone ($5 for a flip phone) and a 120 minute card ($30) with cash at Best Buy? Wouldn't that accomplish the same thing in fewer steps and with no pings to Mordor (if you're worried about that kind of thing)? Or am I missing something?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have to register/activate the trac phone (I believe), and the minutes expire quickly after purchase. It's not a good solution for stashing away in a bag, drawer or "cache" for a rainy day. This is.

      Delete
    2. I'm going to look into it some more. I think you can wait to activate the card/minutes until you need it.

      Delete
  16. AnonymousMay 31, 2015

    Any source for a phone/sim also usable in Canada & Mexico?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The phone is a quad band gsm, so should work anywhere around the world with the right sim. You will need to source sims locally - most countries actually have a lot more customer friendly cell industry than in the US, too.

      Delete