What Is ‘Anonymous Texting’ and How to use It

A young woman sending a text

Jiangang Wang / Getty Images

Sometimes, we need to text someone but would prefer they don't know our phone number. Whether it's to tease a friend or meet somebody you don't know well, here's how to protect your privacy, from keeping people to a certain email address to anonymous texting.

Only send an anonymous text when you're absolutely sure it will be well-received.

Send an Anonymous Text With SMS Gateways

The simplest way to text anonymously is to use SMS gateways, which only requires an email address. All major carriers offer a service where your phone number also serves as an email address, and any emails sent to that address are delivered to your phone as a text.

For example, if your friend's number is 555-867-5309, and they're on Sprint, you can send an email from your email address to 5558675309@messaging.sprintpcs.com. Even better, they can reply to you via text and you'll get the response in your email, allowing you to treat your email account as a sort of texting machine. This is particularly useful if you've been emailing someone you don't know well, or can't remember their email address.

However, there are two disadvantages:

  • Message lengths: Due to the design of the SMS gateway protocol, messages longer than 160 characters are broken up; longer messages may be sent out of order, or some in the series may not be sent at all.
  • Fees: Text messaging fees will apply to the person receiving your message, so be polite with how you use it.

With text-to-email, your email address will appear as the “sender” of the text message. To make this more anonymous, you can create a “burner” email address, which is an email account with no ties to your identity.

Consider writing out these email addresses and saving them in your address book for close friends and family. It's a useful way to text them without needing to switch to your phone.

Here are the major carriers and their email formats. Just substitute their ten-digit number in place of [NUMBER]:

  • AT&T: SMS: [NUMBER]@txt.att.net; MMS: [NUMBER]@mms.att.net
  • Sprint: SMS: [NUMBER]@messaging.sprintpcs.com; MMS: [NUMBER]@pm.sprint.com
  • T-Mobile: SMS/MMS: [NUMBER]@tmomail.net
  • Verizon Wireless: SMS: [NUMBER]@vtext.com; MMS: [NUMBER]@vzwpix.com

Remember, if you want to send a picture or video, use an MMS (multimedia messaging service) address. For just text, use an SMS address.

Send an Anonymous Text via Instant Messenger Apps

You may remember chat programs like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) or iChat on older Macs. These also support sending messages directly to phones. There are several modern services that will let you send messages to phone numbers, usually by typing the number into the “send” field. Depending on the app you use, this will also offer features like end-to-end encryption and self-destructing messages.

To preserve your privacy, you'll need to create a new account with no ties to your identity, and possibly a new email account. You should also check the rules of the app, which may limit certain features such as sending pictures.  

How to Block Your Number When Texting

Another technique is to set your phone to withhold your number. This is best if you want to keep your number as private as possible and don't want it shared with strangers. However, this won't disable functions like calling back a number that sent a text, and depending on the phone and carrier, it may disrupt other functions on your phone. Generally, you'll receive an alert on which functions are impacted when you select this option.

Be sure to let people know your number is withheld, and expect a few of your first texts to go unanswered. Many people still associate withheld numbers with scam calls.

Withhold Number on Android

  1. Open your phone app and go to the keypad.

  2. Tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner, then tap Settings.

  3. Based on your phone, tap either Call Settings or Phone Settings.

  4. Tap Caller ID > Hide caller. If you don't see Caller ID, look for and tap either Advanced Settings or Additional Settings.

Withhold Number on iOS

  1. Open Settings.

  2. Tap Phone > Show My Caller ID.

  3. Tap the Show My Caller ID toggle to disable the feature.

Use a “Burner” Number for Anonymous Texting

You can also use a disposable phone number, generally called a “burner,” to send text messages without identifying yourself. They're very useful for people who don't want to give out their phone number or would prefer to keep communication one-way.

Burner numbers can also be kept and used for other purposes, such as a number used to fill out contest entry forms or to redirect unwanted calls to a voicemail box you can check later.

There are several ways to secure a second phone number that's functionally anonymous, but the simplest is to sign up for a Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, number. VoIP services include Google Voice and Skype and will issue you a phone number at your request. Some will require you to “buy” a number, like Skype, while others, like Google Voice, will simply give it to you for free as part of your Gmail account.

Before you sign up for the number, carefully read the fine print. Google Voice, for example, will issue you a free number tied to your Gmail account, and will even allow free calling and texting, but only to numbers in the U.S. or Canada. If you want to correspond anonymously with someone in other areas, you'll need to figure out the overall cost.