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disposable phone number

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A disposable phone number is a virtual phone number that is usable temporarily.

The temporary number is purchased from a service provider. Calls to that number are forwarded to the user’s existing phone. This is usually accomplished through a smartphone app or through an online call forwarding service. The number is usually functional until a specified date, although the customer has the option of disabling it earlier.

People use disposable phone numbers for situations in which they don’t want to give out their permanent numbers. For example, a disposable number allows a seller on Craigslist to stop service to a phone number once the item that was advertised has been purchased. For online dating and other situations in which people are contacting strangers, disposable numbers can help maintain mobile privacy and security.

Mobile number privacy has become increasingly important as smartphones and the systems they interact with, such as mobile apps, have proliferated. Cellphone numbers are increasingly being used as unique identifiers, connecting user data across multiple databases, which also contain other user data. People's cellphone numbers are used similarly to social security numbers but are not subject to the same legal requirements for privacy. The use of disposable phone numbers is one way to protect your primary cellphone number from unwanted access.

Disposable phone numbers can be thought of as a digital version of the burner phone; the service is sometimes referred to as a burner phone account.

Watch a demo of a disposable phone number app:

This was last updated in December 2016

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