June 21, 2024


Sapiens Digital

Burner Accounts 101: How to Get Extra Numbers for a Smartphone

6 min read

The obligatory way to explain the “burner” phone is by mentioning The Wire, one of the greatest television shows of all time that almost no one watched. The show is streaming on HBO and Amazon Video, so catch up when you can. For the uninitiated, 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 it is optional, since these days you can “top off” the minutes on a prepaid phone and keep using it.

There are a lot of good reasons to not hand out your personal phone number. Perhaps you’re buying or selling items on Craigslist, managing an Airbnb listing, job hunting, have a job with lots of phone use, or online dating. With a burner, you don’t have to block a person from your permanent phone—or get a new number—later.

All of which is great, but when you pay big bucks for a smartphone with expensive monthly carrier fees, you may not want another handset. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to get an extra, temporary phone number that works with your iPhone or Android smartphone (or even on your tablet, since most use some kind of Voice over IP system). You can use burner accounts to make calls or send texts (even with photos) and get messages back in return.

This isn’t like using *67 or #31# before a call, which shows you as Blocked or Unknown. Using those tricks, people can’t easily call you back, not even with *69 (look it up, kids). The services below make a point of showing a temporary number when you call, so communication can happen—until you want it to stop (or run out the clock on a number). And if you just want the numbers to take calls, they all feature things like voicemail and call forwarding.

Note that there are some drawbacks with these services. The biggest is that you typically can’t use them to call 911 for help. Some services 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. Old research from 2014 found that some companies recycle numbers quickly, meaning you could be on the receiving end of calls you don’t want, from those trying to reach someone who previously had your number.

Now, if you’ve finished watching The Wire (seriously, season 4 in particular is amazing), get ready to access some apps and services that will maintain your privacy.


Seven-day trial with 20 minutes of talk and 60 texts; unlimited texts, minutes, and pictures requires $4.99/month Premium subscription.

Burner grabbed the best name in this area and lives up to it. Limited to US and Canadian numbers, the service has numbers that expire after a certain time period, if you don’t extend the time. If they lapse, they’re burned, or you can get rid of a number whenever you want. The premium subscription option can provides up to three permanent phone numbers with unlimited minutes and texts. (It’s best to register a Burner subscription on the web rather than the mobile apps so Apple or Google don’t become part of the transaction, but you can only make calls from the mobile apps.)

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. The steps are spelled out as you go, so you’re not confused. But that can eat up minutes on your phone plan. The app locks out users without a PIN code for security.

Burner can directly integrate with apps like Dropbox, Evernote, Slack, and SoundCloud to help you with sharing or storing items online. For example, make sure all voicemails left on Burner by certain contacts get stored in Evernote.


Three-day trial, then $1.99 for seven days or $3.99 per month with unlimited calling/texts, or pay-as-you-go international plans starting at $4.99.

Hushed (available for iOS and Android) is a lot like Burner, but available in over 40 countries, and with simplicity that makes it worth considering. If you’re worried about the minutes left on your actual mobile phone contract, Hushed goes for VoIP, meaning it requires calls be made over Wi-Fi rather than your cellular data network. No minutes on the phone plan get used. Text communications between Hushed users is all free, and they auto-delete after being read.


7-day free trial, then plans starts at $7.99 per month.


Best known as an app (iOS and Android) for providing secure/private communications over VoIP between users, both voice and text, CoverMe also offers extra phone numbers for US and Canadian users, which can be used to make and receive encrypted voice calls. If you have access to Wi-Fi, it won’t eat your phone data plan, but it works over cellular connections too.

CoverMe has lots of tools for privacy beyond calling and texting. It also features a vault for holding images and documents you don’t otherwise want seen on your smartphone, which you protect with a PIN code.

It’s not cheap. The most basic mini-private call plan is $7.99 per month, and things like the vault also cost extra. A truly unlimited package with texts and 3,000 voice minutes is $99.99 per year. But that’s the price of caution.


7-day 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 for iOS and Android. Each number has unlimited calling, texting (and picture messaging), and voicemail. It’s expensive but simple. One of the few extras is the ability to create a whitelist of who can contact each number.

Google Voice


Google Voice on Android screenshots(Image: Google)

The main purpose of Google Voice is to provide you with a single phone number, entirely free, that rings on all your numbers. That way, if an important call comes in, it can ring 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.)

However, the Google Voice apps also feature dialers so you can call or text out with your Google Voice number—the recipient will see it and if they return the call, you’ll receive it at the preset numbers (or get a voicemail with full-text transcription). Its entirely VoIP but can use Wi-Fi or your phone data plan, and it works via apps on iOS and Android or on the web. If you have a Google account, you’ve already got a Google Voice account.


Seven-day trial, then $9.99 per month or $100 per year.

Sideline is simple and straightforward, with all the usual features like calling, texting and picture messaging, voicemail with transcription, caller ID, the option to use VoIP or minutes, group messaging, etc., but it’s marketed as a business-oriented second phone line. It even lets you create vanity numbers, where available, and set up automated message replies for customers.  It’s for US customers only on iOS and Android. If you need something (somewhat) free for some inbound calls and texting, the company behind Sideline also makes TextFree.


Standard plan is $9.95 per month or $99.60 per year (free to call other Line2 users).

Line2 is a second line for your phone, with an emphasis by the company (which is owned by J2 Global, which owns PCMag’s publisher Ziff Davis) on being a full-on cloud-based business phone service. 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 even on your desktop with a web-based app. Read our full review.

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