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 a reverse phone lookup service. HowStuffWorks

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

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


When to Use Reverse Phone Lookup

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 — no name, just the number. You know you wrote it down quickly while on the phone but you don't remember whose number it is. Save and add to your contact list, or just toss?
  • Your cell phone shows a missed call from an unknown caller. 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 forget about them, or are they in error?

A reverse phone number search can help with any of these situations.


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 business number or the landline number for a residence. Before the internet, phone companies published reverse phone directories, or reverse white pages, by specific towns or areas and made them available to the police, libraries and others.

These books listed businesses and residences but didn't include unlisted fax or cell phone numbers. The internet's speed and convenience ended paper directories and made reverse phone numbers lookup digital.


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

  • Google and other search engines index registered businesses' phone numbers, addresses and other contact data. Start your reverse lookup by typing the full phone number into the search bar. If that number belongs to a business, their up-to-date information should appear near the top of the page, including 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 results don't point you in the right direction, you may need a dedicated reverse lookup service.
  • 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 cell phone 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 unlimited reverse phone lookups.


Free Reverse Phone Lookups

reverse phone lookup is just one of several free phone number lookup sites HowStuffWorks

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

  1. This site receives over 30 million unique monthly visitors in North America and has access to phone and address data for over 250 million people in the United States. You can also search for international numbers. Besides name, address and map, the site provides the phone number owner's approximate age. It also offers similar information for neighbors. For a fee, you also can get background information on the phone owner.
  2. Operated by Intellius, AnyWho 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 e-mail address. receives an estimated 3 million U.S. unique monthly visitors.
  3. Spokeo provides its estimated 23 million monthly users with 12 billion records. You can enter a phone number to see details like a person’s address, e-mail address, family members, social media profiles, and, for an extra fee, historical and criminal records. In order to receive your results, you'll have to give Spokeo your e-mail address.

While these reverse phone lookup services can be helpful if you need to quickly verify a person's phone number, you can't use them in lieu of a consumer reporting agency for background checks if you're hiring an employee or choosing a new tenant, as per the Fair Credit Reporting Act.


Will Phone Lookup Services Help With Scam Calls?

If your problem is neighbor-spoofing robocalls, a reverse lookup service won't help. 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.

Spammers can 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 phone scams, many phone providers now offer methods to block incoming calls from suspected spammers automatically.


Reverse Phone Lookup FAQ

How can I look up a phone number for free?
There are a few ways to look up who a phone number belongs to, 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 typically free. is one of the most accurate options for landlines, but only some of the information is free. Go to to see your options for a reverse address search or reverse lookup on a phone number. and are 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, keep your expectations low. 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.