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What is a burn phone?

Updated July 19, 2017

Burn phones are prepaid cell phones typically used for organising illegal activity. Also known as throwaway phones, these phones are inexpensive, simple cell phones that cannot be traced by a SIM card.

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For anyone who is looking for a simple, temporary cell phone, burn phones provide the basic features of a normal cell phone without the additional accessories. Along with making traditional phone calls, users can create personalised phone books to keep track of their contacts.


Burn phones typically cost between £9 and £19 (as of 2010). Once the initial purchased minutes run out, users can purchase more minutes whenever they like. Many street vendors in urban areas sell burn phones, as do online retailers.

Famous Ties

The general public was introduced to burn phones in the popular HBO series, "The Wire." In the show, agent Jimmy McNulty and his team attempt to attach several wiretaps on dozens of Baltimore drug dealers. When the dealers start using burn phones rather than public phones, the team must reassess their wiretapping methods.

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About the Author

Jeff VanVickle

Oregon native Jeff VanVickle has been writing professionally since 2009. He worked as the arts and entertainment editor and as a contributing writer for Eastern Oregon University's student newspaper, "The Voice." VanVickle graduated from Eastern Oregon University with a Bachelor of Science in theater arts.

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