Follow TV Tropes


Playing With / Burner Phones

Go To

Basic Trope: A throwaway cell phone or VoIP number used by someone engaged in illegal activities (drug dealing, prostitution, illegal computer hacking, terrorism, etc.)

  • Straight: Alice, a prostitute, uses a prepaid cell phone to set up meetings with clients. It can easily be disposed of and replaced if necessary.
  • Exaggerated:
    • Alice uses a throwaway VoIP number, which she changes daily.
    • Alice has engineered her phone to explode as soon as she's done with it. Since she meets with several clients per day, she has multiples of these phones.
  • Downplayed:
    • Alice gives a fake number to Bob at the bar, because she's not interested.
    • Alice provides a fake number on her social media page and uses a VPN to hide her IP address, so that if she incurs the wrath of Twitter or Tumblr and gets doxxed one day, people won't easily find her.
  • Justified:
    • Prostitution is illegal where Alice lives; giving out a phone number tied to her name and address makes it easier for law enforcement to find her.
    • The Oldest Profession is a dangerous one; giving out a phone number tied to her name and address puts her in danger of stalking, harassment, or worse.
  • Inverted:
    • Alice gives out a landline phone billed to her home address to set up meetings with clients.
    • Alice is not engaged in illegal activities, but gives away a throwaway Skype number for some other reason (preventing harassment, a preference for Skype over a regular phone, etc.)
  • Subverted:
    • Alice has two cell phones: one for work, and one for personal use.
    • Alice gives out the number of a local Pay Phone.
    • Alice sets up an appointment on her own phone.
  • Double Subverted:
    • The work she does is escort work, and she uses a throwaway prepaid phone for setting up meetings with clients.
    • The phone has been "hacked" somehow to ring her phone at home.
    • She's using an app that generates a fake number, separate from her personal phone number. The fake number can be changed easily, or is different every time by default.
  • Parodied: Bob The Aggressive Drug Dealer 's phone rings, and it's his mother. Who is calling to ask if he's wearing clean underwear and eating properly, or if he's seeing anyone, or to talk about her problems...and to buy some ecstasy.
    Bob: "Mom, I told you not to call me on this number!"
  • Zig Zagged: ???
  • Averted:
    • Alice is not engaged in any illegal activities.
    • Alice does not have a phone.
    • Alice has only her cell phone, with just one number.
    • Alice has only her home phone, with just one number. (It might even be in the phone book!)
    • Alice has only her Skype account, with just one number or username.
  • Enforced: The show is based on an earlier book series 'Burning The Trace' - all about people who evade surveillance and monitoring in various ways. Not having them would be Adaptation Defilement.
  • Lampshaded: "Alice, what's with the prepaid phone? I thought you had a smartphone."
    Alice: "Oh, yeah. That's my, phone."
  • Invoked: Alice wants to be able to set up meetings with clients more easily, and knows she shouldn't use her personal phone(s) to do that.
  • Exploited: ???
  • Defied: Cellphone registration laws crack down on burner phones and make any sold useless. Cellphone companies can't register sim cards without verifying them and any stolen phones wind up invalidated quickly.
  • Discussed: ???
  • Conversed: ???

Back to Burner Phones

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: