Thursday, 25 August 2011

Clarissa's Research: What is a burn phone?

I'm interrupting a series to post this little mystery tidbit. We often hear in tv shows or movies about criminals using burn phones. Well, here's what I found out. This is solely for mystery/crime writing research.

What is a burn phone?
Burn phones are prepaid cell phones. Also known as throwaway phones. They are used only for a limited time and can be thrown away. Sometimes they come with time on it or you have to buy minutes. You don't need a contract because you buy the phone outright.

Why do criminals like to use them?
These phones are inexpensive, simple cell phones that cannot be traced by a SIM card. These phones don't require a credit card to activate because you can purchase minutes on cards with cash. In part because you don't need to give any personal information, or show any identification to buy one of these devices.

Where can burn phones be bought?
Anywhere. Walmart. They are sold at large retailers like Walmart, drug stores, and even grocery stores.

Burner Phones and Crime Stories
The criminal complaint recently filed against the 10 Russian nationals on charges relating to espionage, for example include the fact that they all used prepaid cellphones, or "burn phones to communicate. These phones were used once maybe and then discarded.

For years organized crime and drug cartels have used prepaids to stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

If that wasn't bad enough cheap prepaid cellphones can be used to trigger an "improvised explosive devices" (IED's) remotely, as was the case with the recent Times Square bomb plot in New York. Police say terror suspect Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani American citizen use a prepaid cellphone to detonate the vehicle bomb.

Sources:
ehow
allvoices.com
ask.com

41 comments:

  1. Clarissa - Thanks for sharing this. It's funny how technology changes things. It used to be that criminals would use a pay phone, but now, it's even more likely that they'll use a burn phone. Much easier to "hide" oneself that way.

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  2. Oh great - more throwaway stuff for the rubbish mountains already polluting the planet!! Ahem.

    Ok, off I go to find some chocolate.

    Take care
    x

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  3. I'm with Old Kitty. Terrible for the environment. We're a throwaway world, and we'll pay.

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  4. I also have a prepaid number and don't have any contract with my mobile operator :)

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  5. See these all the time on crime shows!

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  6. Clarissa, hmmm, how can I work this into my novel? I've heard of these before - people with no credit use them, too; you don't have to get credit approval. Thanks for the low-down!

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  7. this concept is SO fascinating and such an awesome tool for creative types. Too bad for the destructive types, too... :p

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  8. Disposable phones?! Argh. I thought we were trying to move away from disposability. Sheesh.

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  9. I've heard throwaway phones mentioned from time to time, but I've not been certain enough about how they worked to use them in a story. Thanks for filling me in!

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  10. I'm with Theresa, Old Kitty and Suze. More rubbish for the planet!

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  11. Nice caveat that this post is purely for research purposes :).

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  12. Always nice to keep on top of little details like this when writing fiction. I may have to throw this term around to see if anyone else knows what a "burn phone" is and when they don't...I shall look amazing :)

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  13. yeah, these phones are problematic. I've been wondering how they will be regulated in the future...

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  14. Well, that was helpful. I always wondered why they were such a cornerstone in the intrigue in THE WIRE

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  15. I agree that it is useful for crime writers to know about these things, and while you have had to remember the traces the mobile phone leaves for some years, this new development makes it easier when you don´t want the police to find someone :)

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  16. hi miss clarissa! yikes! i got a burn phone! ack! ha ha. i didnt ever hear it called that before. my brother got me one and its mostly just only for a emergency. for sure im not gonna do criminal stuff so im not gonna need to toss it out. cool post. i like learning new stuff.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  17. Thanks for the info. I'm planning to write a suspense novel soon and I think burner phones will probably be very useful.

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  18. I had known they could be used for triggering IEDs . . . but I'd never heard the term "burn phone" before. I have one, actually. :P

    Thanks for the information!

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  19. thanks for sharing this with us
    very interesting
    great post :D

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  20. Ooh, coolness! This is neat info to know, thanks Clarissa!

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  21. Knew about the phone use as a throwaway to keep away from the cops but only heard the term 'burn' phone in the last year. I wonder if the cops finally just figured a cool name to call it.

    :) Tirz

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  22. cool. i think there was something like this in one of the bourne movies.

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  23. These phones are wonderful tools when you write mystery/suspense/thriller novels. Just sayin' :)

    Happy Weekend!

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  24. I've only recently heard them under the term *Burn* phone. Mostly, I've known of them as untraceable throwaways.

    Interesting article. I enjoy your tidbits. :-) Glad I had the chance to read it.

    Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

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  25. Surprised they haven't made those illegal.

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  26. I just hope they are easier to use than the smart ones or old criminals will never get the hang of it. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  27. Already was aware of this but was surprised more isn't being done to counter this.

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  28. Ha, things like this always make me think of the show Burn Notice. Anyway, I didn't know the details about burn phones, and this was really interesting. So thanks for sharing!

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  29. Thanks, Clarissa.
    Very interesting post.
    donna v

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  30. BUNNY Left you an award on my blog.

    :)

    Tirz

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  31. Clarissa, I hope you get this message! You signed up for my blogfest on my test blog (I was practising downloading the mister linky which I was having problems with - I'm such a dork with technology). Anyway, I deleted that blog - But I will personally notify you on 9/4, the day before the blogfest starts. Thank you so much for your interest, I really do appreciate it so much!

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  32. I've heard of these in tv shows and wondered about it. We don't really have those in Australia, you need to fill in paperwork even for a prepaid phone. Thanks for sharing.
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

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  33. I've never heard of burn phones, although now that you mention it, it makes sense!

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  34. You really know your stuff... Keep up the good work!

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  35. Not all of us who use burn phones are criminals :) I use one because I don't want or need a monthly contract bill. And there's no need to throw it away, you just buy more minutes, so it's not any worse for the environment than any phone.

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  36. I've been using a pre-paid phone for a few years now, because I don't do a lot of talking on the phone. Costs me about $15/month. But I guess I'm not using it as a "burn phone", since I keep buying more minutes for it! ;-)

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  37. Great post. Just about every single person I have ever prosecuted or defended has a "burner phone" and they also use the term.

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  38. Thanks for the info. But do these "burn phones" identify the caller?--as in leave a phone number on caller ID?

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  39. She's not saying that all that use burn phones are criminals. She's saying those are the phones criminals choose because they're not traceable. In fact, the criminals came up with that term (burn phone) but they are just pre-paid phones that you see in stores and pharmacies everywhere, but they don't have a SIM card which makes them completely untraceable and once the minutes are used up, you can dispose of the phone and purchase a new one with a completely new number.

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  40. She's not saying that all that use burn phones are criminals. She's saying those are the phones criminals choose because they're not traceable. In fact, the criminals came up with that term (burn phone) but they are just pre-paid phones that you see in stores and pharmacies everywhere, but they don't have a SIM card which makes them completely untraceable and once the minutes are used up, you can dispose of the phone and purchase a new one with a completely new number.

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