How Reverse Phone Lookup Works

By: Diane Dannenfeldt & Talon Homer  | 

reverse phone lookup
If a random number you don't know keeps blowing up your phone, try searching it via reverse phone lookup. HowStuffWorks

If you've ever looked at a phone number on caller ID and wondered whose number it is, you can try using reverse phone lookup to find out. There are a few free ways to go about this on the internet, and some options will provide you with the person's name and address.

While finding phone numbers via reverse lookup is easier — and cheaper — for landline numbers, you also can get information about cellphone numbers, as well.

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Consider a few likely scenarios:

  • When you check caller ID on your phone, you see you missed a call from John Rogers at 513-555-1771. Who is he, and where is the 513 area code?
  • You're cleaning off your desk and find a scrap of paper with a scrawled phone number on it — no name, just the number. You know you wrote it down quickly while you were on the phone, but you don't remember whose number it is. Save and add to your contact list, or just toss?
  • Your cellphone shows a call from a number you don't recognize. Should you call it back, or is it a wrong number or sales call?
  • Your primary physician refers you to a specialist and provides the doctor's name and a phone number to call. Where is the new doctor located, and how do you get there?
  • You see several calls on your phone bill to an unknown number. Did you make these calls and don't remember Have you forgotten making the calls, or are they in error?

These are just a few of the situations in which reverse phone lookup can help you.

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Free Reverse Phone Lookup

reverse phone lookup
There are lots of ways to look up a number online for free. HowStuffWorks

Reverse phone lookup works best if you start with a landline number for a business or residence. Before the internet, phone companies published reverse phone directories, or reverse white pages, by specific towns or area and made them available to the police, libraries and others. These books listed businesses and residences, but they didn't include unlisted, fax or cellphone numbers. The internet's speed and convenience brought an end to paper directories and made reverse phone number lookup digital.

Many options are available online for free reverse phone lookup of landline numbers. Here are two:

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  • Google and other search engines index the phone numbers of registered businesses, along with addresses and other contact info. Start your reverse lookup by typing the full phone number into the search field. If that number belongs to a business, it will probably be listed at the top of the page, with any corresponding map sheets and website links. If the number belongs to a residential address, however, then search engines aren't going to index it. If your search site doesn't point you on the right track, then a dedicated reverse lookup service will have to be used.
  • Type "reverse phone lookup" in the search field. Hit "enter," and you'll see listings for sites that provide reverse phone lookup. Go to the site, and type in the number. As with a search engine, you'll usually be given the person's name, street address and a link to a map for driving directions. You may see a "for more information" or "advanced search" function. These usually are paid functions that can provide unlisted and cellphone numbers for the person, as well as other personal information. If you want these services, you can pay for each search individually or pay an annual fee for an unlimited number of lookups.

Reverse Phone Lookup Sites

reverse phone lookup
Several websites exist for the sole purpose of providing you with people's phone numbers, including Spokeo.com. HowStuffWorks

These three popular reverse lookup sites will provide basic contact info for free:

  • WhitePages.com: This site receives more than 30 million unique monthly visitors in North America. At the start of 2008, WhitePages.com's database covered more than 180 million Americans, or more than 80 percent of U.S. adults. International numbers also can be searched. Besides name, address and map, the site provides the phone number owner's approximate age. It also provides similar information for neighbors. For a fee, you also can get background information on the phone owner.
  • AnyWho.com: Operated by Intellius, AnyWho.com works off a database of information from local phone companies. Unlisted numbers aren't available, but international numbers are. Searches provide names, addresses and maps, plus additional information for a fee. Accessing free info will also require an account sign-up with an email address. AnyWho.com receives an estimated 3.3 million U.S. unique monthly visitors.
  • Spokeo.com: Spokeo.com provides much of the same info as the previous two sites for free. For a small fee, users can get additional features like full names, address history, and public records, and monthly subscription plans also available.

If you're being inundated with many spam calls or rings from automated "robocallers," then a reverse lookup service probably won't help you to find the origin of that number. That's because spam callers often use a basic hacking technique called "spoofing," which replaces the original ID with a random residential number that belongs to someone else.

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Spammers can also choose to spoof a phone number in your area code, making it appear local, while the actual source could be anywhere in the world. While reverse lookup won't give much relief from these types of calls, many phone providers now offer methods to automatically block communication from suspected spammers.

The largest provider for reverse cellphone number lookup is Intelius Inc. Intelius calls its service "Cellphone Caller ID" and provides available information for each number that may include name and address, as well as unlisted, VoIP (voice over internet protocol) and business numbers for the phone user.

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Originally Published: Feb 7, 2008

Reverse Phone Lookup FAQ

How can I look up a phone number for free?
There are a few ways to look up a phone number, but whether it's free depends on how much information you want and whether it's a landline or cell phone number. Reverse cell phone lookup isn't free. Whitepages.com is one of the most accurate options for landlines, but not all the information is free. Go to www.whitepages.com to see your options for a reverse address search or reverse lookup on a phone number. Addresses.com and Anywho.com are two other sites that do free reverse phone number searches for landlines.
Can you Google search a phone number?
Using Google, type the phone number in the search field with the numbers separated by hyphens (for example, 012-555-6789). Hit enter and you'll see results showing the phone owner's name and address. However, don't have high expectations. Information may be outdated or incorrect and numbers that belong to a private household will likely not appear.
What is the most accurate reverse cell phone lookup?
The most accurate provider for reverse cell phone number lookup is Intelius Inc., which offers a service called "Cell Phone Caller ID". A lookup provides available information for each number that may include name and address, as well as unlisted, VoIP, and business numbers for the user. The service offers a 7-day free trial and then charges $29.95 per 30 days.

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