Keeping a burner phone on hand is always a good idea. It adheres to the old “be prepared” motto. You may need a burner during civil unrest, to provide an anonymous hot tip, or to remain anonymous during protests and rallies. But a burner phone only provides anonymity if it is purchased (using cash), activated (anonymously), and used in a safe manner.
Obtain cash for anonymous purchases
First, understand that your purchases will always be made with cash and that the act of purchasing will be recorded on a video device by the retailer. For this reason, take out cash quite some time before making the purchases we explain next.
Set up a “throwaway” email address
Go ahead and setup a disposable email address that you will use later to activate the phone. Use a laptop device, free WiFi, and stay in your car while connected to the network. Make sure your laptop connects over a VPN, then signup for a Gmail or Outlook throw-away email address. ProtonMail is a Swiss free-email service that does not log activities. Note: Do not use your personal cellphone to signup for the email account, even if connected via Wifi.
Purchase the burner phone device
When making the purchase, dress conspicuously and use a head covering if possible. A face mask, such as one worn during a pandemic, may not draw too much attention.
Some small, independent convenience stores do not save video recordings for more than a few days. If they sell pre-paid phones, make your purchase there.
Purchase a cheap cellphone that can be used with pre-paid monthly cards. Allow a few days after withdrawing cash from your bank account before purchasing the device. Choose a cellphone brand that fits your budget (they can be found for less than $50) and one that has pre-paid service cards for sale at convenient locations. Remember, pay for your purchase using cash only.
Purchase a pre-paid service card with sufficient minutes
A few days after purchasing the pre-paid phone, buy a pre-paid service card that matches the brand of phone you purchased. You can top these phones off over the Internet but the safest way to do this is to purchase the pre-paid service card at a retail outlet using cash. If possible, buy the pre-paid service card at a different location from the phone and several days after purchasing the pre-paid phone device. Again, make sure the pre-paid service card matches the brand of phone. A Straight Talk Phone will require a Straight Talk pre-paid service card. And pay only using cash. This is very important. Do not leave a credit card trail during this process.
Activate the device
A few days after purchasing the pre-paid service card, take the phone and card to a free WiFi hotspot. Again, stay in your car. Connect your phone to the WiFi hotspot (via a VPN) and set it up using the throwaway email address you acquired earlier.
Follow the devices steps to activate the pre-paid service card (this usually requires an Internet connection so do this at the same time you register the phone with your throwaway email address).
You are done. The burner cellphone is now ready for use.
Other tips for purchasing and using a burner phone
Do not add any accounts to the phone. Never connect to any of your social media accounts nor email accounts. If you accidentally do, throw the device away and start again.
Turn off everything – Bluetooth, GPS, etc. Turn off the phone’s Wifi. You never want to connect this phone to anything other than the cellphone service provider.
Do not let the phone data/minutes dry up. If you do, you have to use WiFi Internet to top it back off. If you purchase and activate prepaid minutes while you still have use of the burner phone, you can simply activate the additional minutes using the burner phone’s anonymous connection.
Never use the phone at a familiar location such as your home or place of work.
Finally, when not using the device turn it off and remove the battery.