In the era of cell phones, automatic caller ID, and the ability to easily and automatically block unrecognized or restricted numbers, prank calls have largely gone the way of the dodo. Sure, you’ll still find some younger children or teenagers performing the classic prank call to their neighbor or the teacher at their school they don’t like. The prank is normally harmless, but thanks to advancements in technology, it’s all too easy to track a phone number back to the source. Plus, with more and more people slowly learning to simply ignore calls from unfamiliar numbers, sending them to voicemail to screen automatically, it’s essentially killed off prank calls for good.
But those same advancements in technology have also allowed people to have better access to services that spoof phone numbers, allowing you to disguise your actual phone number to show a full-on fake number. Sure, that allows your kid neighbor to call you in the middle of the night to ask if your fridge is running, but it also means that you can use number spoofing to contact services you’re unfamiliar with, whether it be unfamiliar business contacts that you don’t wish to have their proper number, or online services that require a number to signup, without you being sure where that number is going. In 2018, it’s more important than ever to practice safety when it comes to your personal identification. While it may be difficult to change your phone number on all services or registrations to a spoofed number, you can still protect your identity by making sure that your new number spreads to as many services as possible. This way, you receive any return calls on a number that can be easily disposed if anything were ever to go wrong with a contact.
Where do you start with number spoofing? Do you want a permanent, difficult-to-change number, or something with a little more flexibility and disposability? These are all important questions to ask yourself on the way to hiding your real number from unfamiliar and unfriendly contacts, and thankfully, there are options for every individual no matter what they want in a number service. Whether you’re looking to prank call your best friend, or simply looking to hide your number when signing up for an online account at a retailer you plan on shopping through once, we know how to spoof your number. Let’s dive in.
Is Spoofing Your Phone Number Legal?
At its core, there’s nothing questionably legal about using a phone number to forward your calls through. As Wikipedia states on the subject, “Caller ID spoofing is generally legal in the United States, unless done ‘with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.'” Plenty of people have multiple phone numbers that are linked to the same core account, and as we’ll see below, it’s pretty easy to do that just by using a utility from one of the world’s biggest companies. That said, if you’re worried about whether or not what you’re doing with that number is legal, you may want to reconsider. A typical prank call, for example, is harmless so long as you aren’t participating in bullying or harassment. Think Bart Simpson, not Nelson Muntz. Furthermore, it seems phone-based bullying is becoming more and more of a problem lately. The rise of ‘swatting,’ a technique where one person calls in a threat under the guise of another individual in order to lead a police force or SWAT team to surround and invade an innocent person’s house gained mainstream attention in December 2017 after a streamer was killed by officers after someone called in a threat in their name.
Same goes for if you’re looking to use your false number for other crimes, including, most notably, fraud. There’s a big difference between calling a number with your spoofed or secondary number to hide your identity for safety reasons, and calling someone under false circumstances in order to gain access to improper documents or to pretend to be someone you aren’t. It’s a grey area in many ways, but it comes down to this: the actual act of hiding your number behind a secondary number is legal. It’s what you do with that number that can get you into trouble. If you think carefully about what you’re doing before you do it, you’ll be fine.
Choosing a Type of Spoof Number
Let’s say you’re looking to buy concert tickets to your favorite band. You’ve been saving up all year for this, ever since the band announced their worldwide tour was going to touchdown in your city. The morning the concert tickets go on sale, you sit down to create an account to purchase tickets with through the approved site—let’s call it TicketSell Inc. You follow the instructions to create your account, entering your mailing address so your card can be charged and the tickets sent to your house. Your billing information is saved in the account as well, to ensure that you can quickly charge your account to score front row seats. At the bottom of the page, however, the account asks you for your phone number. Hesitation fills your mind. The last time you gave out your number when creating an online account, it took you three weeks to figure out how to disable the daily offer texts you started receiving. TicketSell Inc. has a poor reputation when it comes to holding back spam emails and messages. What do you do?
While the above might just be a metaphorical scenario, we all know someone (if it hasn’t been you) who has been affected by this. You give out your number to a corporation on the signup form, and before you know it, you’re being spammed by calls or texts with exclusive deals you want no part of. Worse yet, sometimes giving out your number through this services can cause your number to leak onto the list of numbers used by solicitors and spam callers, which can end up forwarding a whole load of unwanted calls right to your number. This is to say nothing of responsible corporations that can be hacked or store your personal data improperly, leading to a mess of issues when your number (along with your credit card information and address) leak onto the web. At this point, if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will.
You can’t personally stop the leaks from happening, but by using a spoof number with one of multiple services, you can make it a little easier to get a hold of you. Spoof numbers can come in two different varieties, depending on what you’re looking for from your number. Permanent numbers don’t change or recycle, and can be held by you for as long as you’ll end up requiring them. Disposable numbers, on the other hand, are designed to be cycled through, used for a certain amount duration before being tossed in the trash. Whether or not that’s something you’re looking to use is up to you, and really, the type of number you’ll be using really depends on the scenario you find yourself in. Still, we’ll cover both options below, with some great suggestions for both free and paid spoof numbers. Let’s dive into the world of spoofed numbers and their services, plus the apps on iOS and Android that allow you to do it.
Permanent Fake Numbers
The advantages to permanent fake numbers for your device are obvious. While you’ll still have to dedicate some time to managing your fake number as you would your real number, this also means that you’re secure if your false number ever leaks online, since these permanent services almost always offer some amount of call blocking and restricted features. Being able to ensure your number is always in your grasp means you can place your false number on more important documents, giving it out to your dentist or doctor for appointments or placing it on job applications to protect your standard account service. Permanent number services are also typically cheaper than their temporary counterparts, as we’ll see in the next segment below.
The first service you should take a look at for a secondary spoof number is, unsurprisingly, Google Voice. Voice is, in many ways, the perfect service for someone looking for a secondary, web-based number that doesn’t cost a cent for most features. Google offers a desktop and mobile web client, along with dedicated clients for both iOS and Android that are great looking and regularly updated following the Voice rebirth in early 2017. Voice allows you to use your assigned secondary number to forward calls to your primary number, all while making free phone calls from the assigned spoof number throughout the United States. Your assigned number is able to be customized as well, so you can select a specific area code throughout the US, or type a certain last-four digits to make it easy to remember. Your number can be contacted through phone calls and text messages alike, just like a standard cell phone, and your call log, texts, and voicemail can all be organized online through any computer. It’s a fantastic service, especially for free, and it comes as our top recommended service for anyone looking for a permanent spoof number.
If operating under Google isn’t your thing, or you’d rather not give their service more information on you, that’s totally cool. Though Voice is our favorite permanent secondary number service on the web today, it isn’t the only one. Like Google Voice, Talkatone is built around providing alternate numbers to call and text US-based users for free (and to call and text numbers outside the United States for small charges). As such, you gain an alternate phone number for calling and texting when you join the service, complete with a US or Canada-based area code. Talkatone even lets you change this number when you need to, a great feature that, as of writing, isn’t allowed or possible with Google Voice. This makes it a bit less permanent that Voice while simultaneously giving you some more flexibility should your number leak out online. The downside to Talkatone, unfortunately, is the inclusion of ads within the app. That said, if you’re mostly using the account as a way to give your secondary number out to other services, you can ignore the ads within the app when it’s running in the background on your phone.
Outside of Google Voice and Talkatone, there are a couple other choices you can grab. Textfree has been around for nearly a decade, and you can still grab a free number through their service by signing up through their website or their mobile application. Like Google Voice, you can choose your area code and memorable number patterns when signing up for a number, which makes it easy to remember the pattern you picked. You can save your number for as long as you want, though you’ll need to use it once every 30 days to place a call. Of course, this can also be a great way to cycle your number, so if you decide you aren’t a fan of the number you picked (or you’re receiving a lot of spam through that contact), you can let your number lapse to grab a new one. Flyp can give you multiple secondary numbers with support for both calling and texting, though you’ll need to pay an expensive $7.99 per month per number (or $79.99 annually per line), which makes it a lot less appealing when Voice, Talkatone, and Textfree all offer free or free-to-start plans. Hushed, which we’ll discuss a little more below, has a $29.99 annual plan for one secondary number, and though your voice minutes and texting time are fairly limited during that time, for writing down on an application or placing on your online accounts, it’ll work wonders. Finally, Sideline is another app that allows you to grab a second number. With apps on both iOS and Android, anyone can take advantage of their service. Unlike most of the apps on this list, sideline uses your normal minutes instead of using VoIP interfaces, saving you data when you’re not on WiFi. It’s a bit pricey at $9.99 per month, but it’s also one of the only secondary services that uses your actual phone number’s minutes as opposed to having to pay for a second set of talk time.
Disposable Fake Numbers
The permanent numbers are fun and all, and can be seriously useful if you’re trying to hand your number to important contacts without giving out your personal information. But sometimes, you only need a number for a single time before you want to start all over with a brand new number. The concept of disposable numbers are great; you can call a business or an individual, hang up the phone following your conversation, and toss the number away, leaving the person without a way to contact you again. This idea is often called “burner numbers,” named after the habit of purchasing prepaid phones in the 2000s and throwing them away to “delete” the number without a trace. Unfortunately, disposable numbers rarely come without a fee attached; unlike Voice and Talkatone, you’re going to be paying for these services.
First up, we have the aptly-named Burner. Taking its name directly from the concept described above, Burner is an app that automatically gives you a new number whenever you need one. Your number is real and can be used to call and text from within the app, and the caller ID displays your Burner info instead of your actual phone number. The app is smooth and responsive, and you get a free number for seven days upon installation. Of course, that’s potentially the catch: depending on how many numbers you need and how much you’ll be using the app, Burner can get really expensive, really fast, but if you see yourself using multiple phone numbers over short periods of time, it might be worth using Burner over something like Google Voice. Unsurprisingly, Burner is basically the perfect disposable fake number app, built around the idea of tossing away your numbers when you stop needing them.
We mentioned Flyp above, but its support for multiple secondary numbers makes it easy to cycle through plans. Of course, paying the $7.99 per number per month can get pretty expensive pretty quickly, so if you plan on holding on to multiple numbers all at once, this one might price most users out of the market pretty quickly. Still, the ability to mirror local area codes while placing a call is ideal for someone looking to spoof numbers with only one account, and with some solid audio quality when placing calls, Flyp definitely ranks near the top of the list of secondary number and spoofing apps you should pay attention towards.
Hushed is another fantastic option that, in addition to the permanent numbers we outlined above, also supports the ability to dispose of numbers at any time, so long as you’re paying and supporting the plan. One of the reasons we love Hushed so much is its end-to-end encryption when talking to other users. This makes it the most secure phone number app on this list, and that may be important if you’re trying to hide your identity. All numbers are disposable, there’s no credit card needed to sign up for an account, and calls can be sent and received from anywhere. That said, starter plans begin at $1.99 per month and run all the way up to $4.99 per month for unlimited calls and texts. There is a free trial, and if privacy is your main concern, this is a perfect app to start using spoof numbers if you need one very briefly. Hushed is also one of the more affordable paid plans on this list; definitely worth keeping in mind.
How to Call Using Your Spoofed Number
Once you have the app of your choice installed and set up on your iPhone or Android device, you’re pretty much all set to go. Each app has their own way of placing a call, so you’ll want to pay attention to how that specific app works in each case. If you decided to grab a secondary number through Google Voice, placing a call on Android will use your typical phone interface on your device, with the ability for the app to ask you which number you wish to use to place that call. On the other hand, if you’re using something like Burner, you’ll be using the calling interface within Burner to place your call from your selected disposable number. Each app uses its own interface, and there can be differences between the iOS and Android versions of the app depending on which phone you’re using, so make sure to pay attention to the instructions when placing a call through your new number.
Spoofing your number has all sorts of benefits in daily life. It can protect your identity, stopping your number from getting out into the world and also allowing you to have a bit of fun. There are dozens of reasons to spoof your number, including appearing to live in the area where you’re trying to look for work in order to have your application even looked at, or masking your identity when returning a call to an unknown number. It can be pretty risky on the web these days to have your number or identity leak out, especially since your phone number is so important to the things you do online. Two-factor authentication, for example, relies heavily on your telephone number, but were it to leak and, in turn, be stolen by someone online, they could potentially access your email, social networks, and even your bank account.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with spoofing numbers, whether you’re considering the idea of making a few prank calls to your friends or using the number to joke around with your neighbors. Still, it’s important to remember that spoofing has its place within security and safety as well. Keeping that secondary number on your public accounts will allow you to receive calls while also being safer than anyone who lists their actual number online. Practicing online safety is important, and using a spoofed number is by far the safest way to do it. So the next time you need to sign up for an account through a website you can’t quite trust, whether you’re shopping online or buying concert tickets for your favorite band, you’ll want to keep your secondary spoofed number handy.