> TEOTWAWKI Blog: How To: Burner Phone



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.

  • 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.