It used to be easier for a woman to make a man disappear. If he asked for her number, she could scribble some fictional digits on a scrap of paper.

But today with cell phones, undesirable suitors can quickly detect false phone numbers by dialing them on the spot.

The solution: a short-lived phone number. That’s what Burner, an iPhone app developed by Will Carter and Greg Cohn, provides. The two co-founded Ad Hoc Labs Inc. in Silver Lake to market the product. It was one of the top 20 sellers in the iPhone app store the first week of its launch earlier this month.

Cohn and Carter met at a conference last year and started Ad Hoc in January. They plan for Burner to remain their sole product for the time being. The app was originally designed for people such as popular Twitter users. A famed tweeter could post a number that fans could call to talk for a limited time. The concept was simplified to what is now Burner, which can be used more generically.

For example, someone selling a couch on Craigslist might not want to give his business phone number to a stranger, so he could buy a temporary one from Burner.

The app costs $1.99 but customers can spend up to $11.99 to get more talk time or phone numbers.

Most U.S. and Canadian area codes are available and the company plans to sell in Europe, too. Also, an Android version is in the works.

Cohn and Carter started the venture with personal savings. They buy the phone numbers, sometimes at a discounted bulk rate, from telephone companies through a third-party broker. That is the company’s biggest outlay.

“Providing minutes and text messages for people is less expensive,” said Carter, who noted that the company is already profitable.

Earlier this year, Carter tested a preliminary version of the product himself and found a glitch:

He met a woman online and gave her a temporary number where she could reach him. When he decided he might want the relationship to continue, he realized he’d have to explain why he had given her a disposable number. The fling fizzled before he had to fess up, but he learned that Burner can’t solve all phone number problems.

– Bailey Brewer

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