In the movies, spies often use “burners”— disposable cell phones—to protect their identities and information. The same concept can help you avoid spam, junk calls and fraudulent charges.
By 2022, the average Internet user will have signed up for 300 online accounts, from delivery services to apps to shopping websites. Many websites sell your sign-up information to marketers or it gets leaked if their databases are hacked. These sites often allow you to opt out of having your data shared, but it’s easy to forget to choose that option.
Alternative: Maintain your current e-mail, phone and credit card numbers for only family, friends, coworkers and websites that you trust. For everything else, consider using burner tools.
Sign up for a temporary e-mail address that expires in a few minutes. 10MinuteMail.com generates an e-mail address for free that lasts only 10 minutes, then deletes all records of that e-mail address. It’s very useful when you want to get a discount code or read an article on a site that requires e-mail verification but that you may never visit again.
Create a free, permanent e-mail address at Gmail or Yahoo mail. You can generate multiple additional e-mail addresses. If you want anonymity, make sure your new username and address aren’t similar to ones you already have.
Check if your mobile phone service carrier offers a way to add a new number to your account. Verizon charges $15/ month/number for its My Numbers program and T-Mobile charges $10/month/ number for its DIGITS program.
Get Google Voice. If you have a Google account, you get one phone number via Google Voice, a voice-overthe- Internet phone service that works on smartphones and mobile devices and that allows you to place and receive free calls and texts within the US and Canada. The number comes with call-forwarding and a voicemail inbox. Sign up at Voice.Google.com.
Download the Burner app. This is best if you want a secondary phone number that connects to your real phone number and that can be replaced whenever you want. The app lets you control who can call you on your burner number. When you’re done with a number, just eliminate it at the press of a button. Caution: Phone calls and texts made through your burner number count as minutes and data on your regular mobile phone account. Cost: $4.99 per burner number per month.
CREDIT CARD NUMBERS
Ask your bank about virtual credit card numbers. These substitute a unique replacement number generated by software for your real credit card number.
Try a virtual credit card service. The Privacy app (Privacy.com) allows you to create up to 12 virtual credit cards per month for free. The virtual numbers are useless to scammers and hackers because you tie them to specific retailers, designate the numbers for onetime use or limit the amount that can be purchased.
Use popular mobile-pay and digital- wallet services such as PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay. These services create a random, temporary card number for every transaction, so retailers never get your real credit card number.