How to Know Whose Phone Number Is Calling You

Reverse phone lookup explained

We are used to searching for phone numbers via names and addresses, but at times it is so important to know who is the owner of a particular phone number. You come across numbers so often and want to know who the owners are: the number of a private caller who made a missed call, or a number you noted somewhere but forgot whose it is. Searching for the owner of a phone number is known as reverse phone lookup.

Since each number must be assigned to a person or a company, you should technically be able to retrace the number to that entity, but you don't always get satisfactory results. Actually, there is no sure and reliable system to look up a number. It does not work like the phone directory where everything is systematic, endorsed and complete.

Most people want to keep their numbers private, and it is incumbent upon the phone service provider to make sure it stays this way. So you will not be getting satisfactory services of the like from telcos unless it is only for landline numbers. But a lot of people do reverse phone lookup for mobile and VoIP numbers, which makes it even more difficult. Some services make you pay for looking up mobile phone numbers but, as the communication industry matures, free services are becoming more common and quite effective. 

How Reverse Phone Lookup Works

Illustration showing reverse phone number lookup for number 555-7982

When it comes to landline numbers, you get them from the phone service providers, which is present in their directory. But mobile phone numbers tend to belong to different and often competing mobile operators. Reverse phone lookup engines have to work as gatherers and crawlers to feed their databases. In fact, behind each reverse lookup app or site, there is an engine that captures any phone number that comes within its reach, along with any information accompanying it about its owner – a name, an address, a country, and even pictures.

Some apps even extract information out of the contact lists of their users and feed their databases from them. They also explore the communication networks and links of their users and intelligently extract meaningful information to substantiate data around phone numbers. So, if you are looking for a reliable reverse phone lookup app or service, look for one with the biggest database of numbers. 

So, it is not necessary that each and every phone number out there has a record for it in one of the reverse phone lookup databases, and those that do have a record do not necessarily have meaningful data about their owners. Actually, most phone numbers (especially mobile) are not present in those databases. This is why you will not always get satisfactory results. But this is about to change, with the intrusive nature of the crawlers working behind the reverse lookup apps, and with the rate at which third-country markets are upgrading. 

The results you will surely get, but not always what you want. For example, it is easy for the apps to deduce which country a number is from, and which operator runs it. For example, you can see a result of something like "Manhattan, Sprint". No name. While to some it may be useful, it is not what people want from reverse phone lookup.

Another problem you can come across with reverse phone lookup is obsolete information. The lookup service may have gathered the information of a previous owner of a number in the directory. When you search, you miss the new owner and get the old one. 

On the other hand, we have to note that some apps give a huge number of hits. So much so that many of them offer paid service for reverse phone lookup, and refund in case the results are not to expectations. For instance, TrueCaller boasts of having more than two billion numbers in its database and, more interestingly, it is free. However, you may be asked to throw in something instead of the money. For instance, you may be asked to sign in using your Facebook or Google account to enjoy the free service. 

The Price of Reverse Phone Number Lookup

Screenshot of the website showing their fee for reverse phone lookups.

Reverse phone lookup is both free and paid. Normally, it is free for landline phone numbers, but if you want to search for the owner of a mobile number, you have to pay. I'd say you 'had' to pay because so many apps have cropped up that offer this service for free. An interesting number of websites and apps for Android and iOS exist that have rather huge databases of mobile and landline numbers, and offer reverse phone lookup for free, without any limitation. 

You should not consider the cost of reverse phone lookup to be solely in terms of money. You need to be aware that you pay with your privacy as well. By installing and using a reverse phone lookup app on your smartphone, you are giving the service behind all rights to use your number and whatever information they can gather about you along with it to feed their database so that other people can find you when they search for your number. 

The app also does some mining in your contact list and gathers a lot of information about your contacts to feed their database. For us the equation is clear; if you want to get the most of free reverse phone number lookup apps, you must be ready to forget about the privacy of your phone number and that of the numbers in your contact list. 

As mentioned above, some free services request you to sign in your Facebook or Google account before being able to use the service for free. Most people are already signed up with their browsers on these services so they are not prompted. Now guess why they want to service you inside your personal social network account? So they can extract a maximum of information from your account full of links to other people, and full of biodata about these people. This is how they build their database. 

When testing a reverse number lookup app, one of the mobile numbers tested brought back the wrongly-written name and a picture that which was obviously taken without knowledge. We inferred that the app crawled and dug that name and picture from the contact list of one of the acquaintances who saved that number on their smartphone with the mobile number's owner's name wrongly written and a picture they took.

Now, the dreadful thing is that even if you try to stay away from these privacy-busters, chances are that your data are already in their database. What can you do about it? Not much, save that you can request that they remove your phone number, and subsequently all the data that goes with it from the list. We know TrueCaller offers this. But each app is different.

Reverse Phone Lookup Services for Landlines 

Here go some of the websites where you can search for a number without having to install an app on your smartphone. Note that these sites are northern American, which means that your chances of obtaining numbers belonging to other parts of the world or even of the continent are quite lean. 


Screenshot of the WhitePages website with a reverse phone number lookup result showing. is probably the most common in North America. It offers a very simple but nice interface, with four interesting options.

First, you can search for people, like by a name. Reverse phone search comes on the second tab. Make sure you click there before entering the number.

The third option is a reverse address search – you enter someone's address to the best accuracy you can. You may not be able to search for mobile numbers on that. Finally, the fourth option allows you to search for public numbers.

The service has a premium offer, as well as an app, but is not directly linked to reverse phone lookup. has more than 200 million entries and is restricted to the United States. You can also use the Android app as a Caller ID app. 


Screenshot of the AnyWho reverse phone number lookup website. 

Along with its white pages service as an online electronic phone directory, AnyWho offers reverse lookup. But here cell phone numbers are not available. You get numbers only in the US. So you are pretty much limited. The plus is only the algorithm that allows you to search the directory in the reverse. 

Reverse Phone Lookup For Mobile Numbers 

Getting information on cell phone numbers is more challenging, but as mentioned above, many solutions exist. There is TrueCaller, which has a directory of around 2 billion numbers, based mainly in India and Asia.

There are also many apps of the like that you can install on your smartphone for the lookup. Other candidates are Hiya (formerly known as the WhitePages app), Mr. Number, Call Control and Should I answer, to name but a few. 

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