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Phone numbers are a little like fingerprints; they can reveal a lot about a person, for example, their name or where they live. If you received a call from a number you don’t recognize, the following resources can help you identify the caller before you ring them back.
The Limits of an Online Phone Number Search
Several online tools let you reverse lookup and possibly identify who a phone number is registered to.
Unfortunately, you will run into several limitations with any phone number identification:
- If someone added their number to the National Do Not Call Registry or had it removed from a site like WhitePages, it will be difficult to trace that phone number.
- It’s almost impossible to find out the identity of the person behind a mobile phone number for free. Though with North American numbers, you can at least find where the number was registered.
- Moreover, many “free” services will try to sell you their service, even if it is possible to find the information for free elsewhere.
- Some countries, including the UK and Australia, have restricted the reverse lookup of phone numbers. So if you’re trying to find a number from these countries, you’re out of luck.
- Phone numbers can go out of service or change owners. Since it can take some time for a service to catch up on these changes, you can never fully rely on the information you find online.
With those restrictions in mind, let’s look at the best strategies to check for the origin or owner of a phone number.
Top Sites to Find a Phone Number
This is the brute force method of identifying a phone number, but it’s quick, easy, and completely free. If the call is from an official or otherwise public source, a search engine like Google or DuckDuckGo might come up with every last detail about the location and owner of the phone number.
The screenshot below, for example, shows the Google result when searching for the number of the National Do Not Call Registry.
Your Google search did not amount to much, so what next?
Bonus: Find Out Where the Phone Number Is From
Before you can choose the best service to identify the owner of a phone number, let’s narrow it down to a specific location first. You can skip this step if you recognize the country and area code. For automatic location lookup, you can also skip ahead and try the first online tool listed below.
Generally, a North American phone number consists of 10 digits. The first three digits represent the area code, meaning you can use these numbers to narrow down the location of the number. An easy way to do this is to type the three digits followed by the phrase “area code” into a Google search.
It’s a little more complicated if you’ve received a call from an international number. You should see a much longer number, including a country code, which can be anywhere from one (e.g. +1 for USA and Canada) to three (e.g. +506 for Costa Rica) digits long. Just as outlined above, head over to Google, type in the number with the phrase “country code”, and you’ll get an instant answer.
To find out more about the number’s location within a country, you’ll need to learn more about how their phone numbers work. For example, area codes in Germany generally start with a zero and can be three to five digits long, such as 030 for Berlin or 0711 for Stuttgart. In a long distance call from Germany (country code +49), however, the number should show up as +49-711-xxxxxx, i.e. omitting the zero from the area code.
Now that you have a better idea of where the phone number is from, choose a service that covers this location.
Location: North America
Whitepages is one of the most established online services to find people and phone numbers in the US. Use this website to do a reverse lookup for North American landline and mobile numbers. Just enter the number in the Phone search field and hit Enter.
If Whitepages does not have an entry, it will give you some basic details about the number, such as its location and spam or fraud risk.
Note: Whitepages offers monthly subscription packages for users located in the United States. Premium users will gain access to additional information, like mobile phone numbers and full address history. This is one of the more trustworthy services you’ll encounter when trying to look up a phone number online.
Location: International, but primarily North America
Do you suspect that you’re receiving unsolicited calls from a scammer, telemarketer, or a pollster? Then this is the service you should try. Enter the number in the search field and hit Search.
WhoCallsMe will tell you everything it knows about this number, including its location and any reports it has collected from other users. Once you’ve entered a number, you can contribute to the service’s database by leaving your own notes about the caller.
A similar page is Who Called Us.
Location: North America
This tool can quickly help you look up the location of North American phone numbers. Just type in the phone number, hit Search, and wait for Searchbug’s data on this number.
If they can’t find a public record for this number, you’ll at least learn whether this is a toll-free, landline, or mobile number and possibly where the caller is located.
Note: Searchbug will try to charge you for additional information, like the full name of the owner of the phone number, though you might be able to find it for free online.
This site is similar to Searchbug, but it works with international numbers, too. It appears to offer more information for free, including current and past addresses associated with a phone number; I suspect it pulls this data from Whitepages. I also had the impression it was more up-to-date than its competitors, such as ReversePhoneLookup or SpyDialer.
Note: NumberVille will log and publicly display your IP address, so you better use a VPN if you want to stay anonymous.
Did You Manage to Identify the Phone Number?
It’s not easy to find the owner of a phone number, including their name and location. But hopefully, you have a better idea of who’s given you an unsolicited call.
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