Decades ago, people changed their phone numbers all the time—if you had to move to a new town, you didn't get to keep your number. Now, you can take your first cell phone number with you for life, even keeping the area code on a new continent if you're willing to pay for it. That has downsides. Having another number associated with you for life, much like your Social Security number or driver's license number, means it's another easy thing for bad actors and Big Brother to use for tracking you. Especially since your mobile phone number is likely associated with just about every digital account you have.
The way to get around that is to never hand out your personal phone number, except to friends and family. There are a lot of good reasons for this. Perhaps you buy or sell items on Facebook Marketplace, manage an Airbnb listing, are hunting for a job, have a career that requires lots of phone calls, or you're online dating. Give all of them a burner number.
Typically, a burner is a no-contract, prepaid mobile phone, usually an ultra-cheap handset you buy in a store (with cash, for privacy), activate with a call or online, use for a while, then discard. The throwing away is the "burning" part, but tossing the phone/number is optional, as the owner can "top off" the minutes on a prepaid phone and keep using it. With a burner, you don't have to block a person (or stalker, shady marketer, or robo-caller) from your permanent phone. Nor do you need to get a new number. But the option is there, while your original phone number is intact.
For a second number, you can always get a prepaid SIM card on a cheap carrier if you want to go that route. It might even be handy if you have an extra phone around. Many new unlocked phones support eSIM standards where the SIM card that identifies you with the carrier is fully integrated and only changeable via remote software. But eSIM isn't much of an option for a burner-style number. And swapping physical SIM cards to change phone numbers is a pain, at best.
You probably already have a iPhone or Android smartphone that can't handle two numbers, so you don't want another handset. Thankfully, there are still many ways to get an extra, (possibly) temporary phone number that works with your smartphone (or even on your tablet). The numbers can even be used to send and receive texts with photos.
This isn't like using *67 or #31# before a call, which shows you as Blocked or Unknown. The services below make a point of displaying a temporary number when you call, so return calls can happen—until you want them to stop. If you just want the numbers to take calls, all the burner services feature things like voicemail and call forwarding.
There are some drawbacks to these burner apps and services. The biggest is that you typically can't use them to call 911 for help. Some build that limit into their terms of service—they don't want to get sued. Second, the companies behind some of these solutions have a very limited number of phone numbers to use. Researchfrom 2014 found(Opens in a new window)that some companies recycle numbers quickly, meaning you could be on the receiving end of calls from people trying to reach someone who previously had your number.
If you can overlook all that and still need a secondary number, get ready to access some apps and services that will maintain your privacy by becoming the number you hand out when you aren't sure who to trust.
7-day trial with 20 minutes of talk and 60 texts.
Prepaid Burner numbers: $1.99 for 50 minutes of talk and 100 texts lasts 30 days, or extend with credits.
Unlimited texts, talk, and pictures: $4.99 per month or $47.88 per year.
Burner(Opens in a new window) grabbed the best name for this kind of product. Limited to US and Canadian numbers, the service offers limited-time access to certain digits. If your account or free trial lapses without an upgrade, so does the number. A premium subscription option provides up to three phone numbers with unlimited minutes and texts.
(It’s best to register a Burner subscription on the web(Opens in a new window) rather than the mobile apps, so Apple or Google don't become part of the transaction. Don't pay the Apple Tax(Opens in a new window).) It promises to be 100% ad-free, blocks spammers, and also supports picture messages.
When you make a call via Burner, it’s actually your smartphone calling Burner, which in turn places a relay call to the number you want to reach (so it is indeed eating into your talk plan minutes). The steps are spelled out as you go, so you're not confused. A PIN lock(Opens in a new window) keeps the app secure; it integrates with fingerprint or face scanners on your smartphone.
$1.99 for seven days prepaid, or $3.99 per month with unlimited calls/texts, with pay-as-you-go international plans starting at $4.99.
Lifetime second number is currently on sale for $25 in US, UK, or Canada.
Hushed(Opens in a new window) (available for iOS and Android) is a lot like Burner, but available in over 40 countries, and with a simplicity that makes it worth considering. Don't worry about the minutes left on your actual mobile phone contract, Hushed usesVoIP, so calls are made over Wi-Fi (or using your cellular data). No minutes on your phone voice plan get used (unless you set up something like Call Forwarding or Call Routing(Opens in a new window)). Subscribers can get up to three lines bundled. Text communications between Hushed app users are all free, and auto-delete after being read.
7-day free trial
$7.99 per month (or $79.99 per year) for each new phone number (up to five).
Want multiple numbers across multiple area codes? You can get up to five with different "locations" with Flyp(Opens in a new window) for iOS and Android. Each number has unlimited calling, texting, picture messaging, and voicemail. It's expensive but simple. One of the interesting extras is the ability to create a whitelist of who can contact each number.
The main purpose ofGoogle Voice(Opens in a new window)is to provide call routing using a single phone number, entirely free, that rings on all your numbers. That way, if an important call comes in, it can reach your cell, your home number, your office number, and others all at once—you pick up the one you want. (This is less and less an issue in the one-phone-per-person mobile world, but hey, at least you have a permanent second number that costs nothing.)
The Google Voice app also features a dialer so you can call or text out—the recipient will see your Google Voice number for caller ID and if they return the call, you'll receive it at the preset numbers (or get a voicemail with full-text transcription). It's entirely VoIP, so it can use Wi-Fi or your phone data plan, and it works via apps on iOS and Android or even on the web. If you have a personal Google account, you've already got a Google Voice account. So go get a number.
Starter plan is $15.99 per month ($164.99 annually)
Line2(Opens in a new window) is a second line for your phone, with an emphasis by the company (which is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag's parent company) on being a full-on, cloud-based business phone service for small teams. Each Line2 account has unlimited SMS and MMS messaging and virtual calling. Upgrade to get up to 99 extensions with each phone number. You can use the apps for iOS or Android, or try Line2 on your desktop with a web-based app.
Free for calls over Wi-Fi or data plan in the US and Canada; also free between Dingtone numbers
500 credits is $9.99; cost for international call from US is 0.9 credits per minute
Dingtone(Opens in a new window) promises free calls and unlimited texts to everyone, over Wi-Fi or your data plan, as long as you're only making calls in and to the US and Canada. You don't have to pay to reserve a number. Multiple numbers are allowed, and there are business features like voicemail, call forwarding, blocking, etc. If you want to call outside the country, you'll have to pay for some credits. Rates are different per country. The more you use or check in with Dingtone, the more credits you earn(Opens in a new window), so maybe you won't have to pay for them. The app is available for iOS or Android.
Basic use is free with ads
Pay $15.99 per month to go ad-free and get 2GB storage
With TextNow(Opens in a new window), you sign up for free to get a second phone number in your area code (or another), plus free calling and texting via the iOS and Android apps, as long as your device is on Wi-Fi. It also works on the desktop.
If you need to be more mobile, TextNow is also an MVNO. It has a $0.99 activation kit that gets you a SIM card for unlimited talk and text anywhere (using T-Mobile's network(Opens in a new window)) for free, with data add-ons. It offers international use in 230 countries.
$9.99 per month unlimited
$69.99 per year unlimited
Available in apps for iOS and Android, plus as a web-based app in your browser, Phoner (Opens in a new window)from Appsverse offers all you'd expect: private numbers, ability to hide/mask your caller ID, voicemail, call forwarding, reverse number lookup, and of course texting and calls. You can get started immediately when you grab a new, randomized number, though you can try to get a local number in about 30 countries, including the US. The app also makes it possible to record calls and send PDFs as a fax. The pricing on the site and the app stores is confusing, but the company tells PCMag it is switching to the above-mentioned unlimited monthly and yearly plans.
7-day free trial
$7.99 per month up to $99.99 per year
CoverMe(Opens in a new window) is best known as an app (for Android; the iOS version disappeared in early 2022) for providing secure or private communications over VoIP between users, both voice and text. It also offers extra phone numbers for US and Canadian users, which can be used to make and receive encrypted voice calls. It works over Wi-Fi or cellular data connections.
The app also features a vault for holding images and documents you don't otherwise want showing on your smartphone, which you protect with a PIN code.
The most basic mini-private call plan is $7.99 per month, but things like the vault cost extra. A truly unlimited package with texts and 3,000 voice minutes is $99.99 per year.
A Mashable notes(Opens in a new window), adding a second number may only be a bandage on a bigger problem if you've associated your main phone number with a bunch of accounts, from food orders to banking. The number could even be one of the ways you're expected to authenticate, or update credentials. But sometimes a bandage can start the healing, so put your burner number to good use.
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