Who buys 50 cellphones at one time? This was a question asked by a suspicious citizen in Missouri after a group of men bought 50 cellphones at a Missouri Walmart. Then a few hours later 60 cellphones were bought at another Missouri Walmart about an hour away. Is someone planning to give everyone they know these burner cellphones for Christmas or is something sinister going on?
According to ABC Local on December 11, there have now been five suspicious incidents of a person or persons buying large quantities of cellphones at one time. This has occurred at five stores and at least three of the locations were a Walmart store. These purchases were all made in Missouri and the cities include, Ava, Columbia, Jefferson City, Macon and Lebanon. Employees of all five stores have contacted the FBI, but the FBI only confirms it is investigating cases in three Missouri Walmart stores in three different cities.
The first purchase of 50 cellphones was reported on Friday night in a Columbia, Missouri, Walmart at about 9:30 p.m. by a group of men who paid cash. Then about 4 a.m. on Saturday morning two men bought 60 cellphones about an hour away at a Lebanon Walmart. The employees at that Walmart called the police and the men were taken into custody, but later released because police said they had no legal reason to detain them, reports ABC News.
Now a third Walmart location, again in Missouri, reports a sizable quantity of cellphones were purchased. How many cellphones were bought in this third purchase is not known. Laclede County Sheriff Wayne Merritt said, “These people were, they were foreign-speaking.” He also urged the public if they see something to call the cops.
Merritt said “You need to take notice. You need to let us know about it, because it doesn’t hurt to check on it. You’re not being racist or anything like that. You’re just protecting yourself.”
On Wednesday the Macon County Sheriff’s Office posted the news on their Facebook page that they were investigating the third case of a multiple cellphone purchase. They did not give a count or a location where this third purchased occurred. There is no information released on the other two locations where these large cellphone purchases were made.
Paul Fennewald, who is the former Missouri Homeland Security Coordinator said, “If I had seen the same thing, I probably would have called somebody also.” ABC News reports that “the prepaid phones are used as a way for criminals to communicate without law enforcement tracking them. He said in many past terrorist attacks cell phones have been used to trigger an explosive device,” which is what Fennewald conveyed.
According to Fox News, it is not yet know if these cellphone purchases are related or not, but these locations are close enough together to get to within an hour or two of driving time. These cellphones are frequently referred to as “burner phones” because they are not traceable and they’ve been used in crimes for that reason. They are fairly inexpensive pre-paid phones to buy. You can get one for as low as $10 in some places and they usually come with only about 10 minutes of airtime, but you can purchase more.
The Urban Dictionary suggests that this definition of a burner phone best describes what it is: “A prepaid cellular phone, replaced frequently (weekly) (monthly) to avoid leaving a trail and getting caught up in illegal activities.”
It is only fair to say that some people use a burner phone as a source of a cheap emergency phone or to replace a lost phone until another one is purchased. Some families start their kids out with a burner phone because they are so inexpensive and they can monitor the minutes used, as they are prepaid.