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Disposable phone numbers could jeopardize safety of Craigslist sales

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Frank Yates does not have a problem posting ads with his phone numbers for potential buyers to text him. Frank Yates does not have a problem posting ads with his phone numbers for potential buyers to text him.
Thomas Bledsoe with iRepear in Bartlett demonstrated just how fast the app works. Thomas Bledsoe with iRepear in Bartlett demonstrated just how fast the app works.
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - Police say disposable phone numbers can be untraceable, making it hard for investigators and consumers to know who they are dealing with when it comes to caller ID.

After two Mid-South Craigslist customers were shot or robbed after setting up deals over the phone, the Action News 5 investigators did some texting.

Frank Yates does not have a problem posting ads with his phone numbers for potential buyers to text him. For the past three months, he has sold items on Craigslist from inside his Southaven garage.

"I've had no problems with Craigslist," Yates told the Action News 5 investigators during a sale.

But what he did not know is the person he communicated with to arrange a sale used a fake number to set up the deal. The Action News Five Investigators texted Yates through a smart phone app. The app will not allow the receiver to trace the call after a set amount of time.

Thomas Bledsoe with iRepear in Bartlett demonstrated just how fast the app works.

"It's a 24 hour number," said Bledsoe as he introduced the app called Burner.

In seconds, it generates a disposable number that disappears after 24 hours.

"Just a number out of thin air," said Bledsoe.

In the demo, Bledsoe's Memphis number showed up on caller ID as a Connecticut number. The number is also hard to trace if that number is used in a crime.

A Cordova man was shot six times outside a McDonald's after he agreed to meet a stranger off Craigslist to sell a phone. In another incident, a Memphis man was robbed at gun point after setting up his Internet encounter.

Both cases started with contact via cell phone and then a plan for strangers to meet in public.

There is no evidence to suggest either criminal incident occurred after suspects used the Burner app or any other disposable number app. Police say it is unclear whether the cell phone numbers actually belonged to the suspects, but they say both cases started with what appeared to be safe communication via cell phones. Efforts to trace those numbers ended before the suspects were captured. Detectives caution disposable number apps that can be used in cases like this for purposes other than the app's original intent.

"The criminal element is always gonna find an easy way to conduct their crimes," said Southaven police Lt. Mark Little.

Cops say this app just makes it easier for criminals to hide their identities.

"It's something that we could eventually find, but it's not gonna be an easy task," said Little.

Cops say disposable phone apps just make it easier for criminals to hide their identities.

As buying and selling online comes with much caution, Yates said the Burner app does not bother him.

"I have no problem with that. I mean you questioned me about meeting privately and in a public place. And I wasn't able to because I had multiple people coming," he said.

Yates did not hesitate to give out his number to the investigators who used the Burner app because he has an enhanced carry permit.

"Be aware that there can be problems, you gotta try to prepare for it, and just look at the information you've got," he said.

On the flip side, Burner can be used with good intentions.

Users can use it to protect their privacy, and that is what the app's manufacturer says is the intended use. Burner's website encourages users to use the app whenever they do not want to leave personal information.

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