Burn numbers: are they really anonymous? - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Burn numbers: are they really anonymous?

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Some call it love at first swipe. 

Whether it's through dating apps or online ads, many are learning the hard way that people aren't always who they say they are. 

"You always have to be careful because you don't know who it is on the other side," said Boardman Township Police Detective Glenn Patton.

The same technology telemarketers use to fake a local number is now in the hands of anyone with a smartphone. 

Burn number apps are making it simple for anyone to generate a fake phone number and identity in seconds. 

"Just because it says it's a Youngstown number, doesn't mean the person on the other end is here," said Patton.

We tried it on the app.

For two bucks a month, it gave WFMJ Today anchor Christa Lamendola a fake phone number that filtered through her real phone. 

The app lets you customize the phone number; choosing the area code and the option to make a separate voicemail for the fake number. 

Lamendola put up a Craigslist ad to test it out. Several folks texted Lamendola through the fake number, and when she made a call the caller ID spit out the phony number too. 

From the other end, the number seems legit, but unlike a landline or a normal cell, the app says it can't be traced back to the person. Just like a piece of paper, if you burn it, it's gone. 

Sound too good to be true? It is.

Police say when it comes to crime, an app won't stop them from figuring out who you are.

"They think they're smart by using the app to try to disguise who they are, but usually there's some sort of a footprint left behind," said Patton. 

Detective Patton says when it comes to crime, burn number apps are commonly used for harassment, kids calling in bomb threats, even sex ads. 

But while you can delete the number, you can't burn your history. 

Lamendola asked, "Are they anonymous?"

"No, what're you're doing is delaying the inevitable," said Patton.

Many apps keep track of your info, including texts and pictures from the burn number. And that anonymous number can be traced back to you with a simple search warrant. 

It's possible your burn number may have been used by someone else in the past. 

Patton says burn number companies will buy chunks of numbers from a provider, then recycle the number once you burn it. 

Unlike many burn phones available for purchase at stores, a burn number app will not allow you to call 911.

That's a feature police say is valuable in eliminating swatting calls, or fake 911 calls.  But Patton admits, burner apps take more time to hunt down than someone with a landline. 
 
As for spotting a burn number yourself, a Google search may show the number is used for scams. 

If you're being catfished or harassed, get a copy of your cell phone bill and bring it to police.They'll be able to jump through the legal hoops to investigate identity fraud or harassment claims.

But if you're still not sure and want to play it safe when using a dating app or a Craigslist ad, meet at a safe spot.

Many police stations including Boardman Township have internet purchase and exchange locations monitored by cameras.

Police add, there are many benefits to downloading the burner apps yourself.

A fake number can protect you when meeting new people through online dating and internet ads. It also serves as a cheap business line alternative. 

But police warn that when it comes to using the burner app for crime, if you play with fire you may get burned. 

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