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Reverse phone number lookup services can be good. They might not be able to find unlisted numbers and should offer a refund.

There are two cell phone numbers that I seriously need to trace to determine the owners of those numbers. Are any of the companies on the web able to perform this service? I tried one site and after paying their fee for a one-time lookup, they did not provide the owner's name. They said it was unlisted. So they took my money and provided no service in return.

In this excerpt from Answercast #44, I look at the effectiveness of reverse phone number lookup services.

Unlisted cell phone numbers

You're very right to question these services. Many of them are simply repackaging public data and charging you access to things that, if you were able to dig a little deeper, you would be able to find somewhere for free.

The problem is this unlisted number scenario. If a number is unlisted, it's not going to be available through most of those services even though they promise that it will be.

There are, sometimes, other ways to associate a phone number with a user name or with the name of the person that owns it. They're fairly complex. They involve doing added data analysis of a lot of different data sources around the internet and collating all of that to see if you can come up with some kind of a relationship.

But in general, the answer is: not every phone number can be traced. It sounds like the phone numbers you're dealing with can't be.

Legitimate reverse phone number lookup

Now, are there legitimate services?

There are, and I would throw them into two buckets:

  • Those that offer to refund your money if you don't get the information you're looking for.

I'd say those are legitimate. You're only paying if they give you the information you want.

  • On the other hand, if they take your money regardless of the results, those are the ones I would suggest staying away from.

Now, what do you do if you run across a number that none of these services can find? Well, I don't think you really have a lot of options.

Legal options

If there's a legal issue involved...

  • In other words, if it's the kind of a thing that involves some kind of law-breaking activity or illegal activity that law enforcement would be interested in and might get involved in,

  • I would suggest getting in touch with law enforcement.

  • They have resources that are not available to the general public that would allow them to track back the phone number to its actual owner.

But that's the level of expertise that it takes. That's the level of cause that it takes to be able to get the actual owner of an arbitrary phone number that's not publicly available.

Article C5703 - August 16, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
August 17, 2012 3:04 PM

you may want to address "spoofing" telephone numbers. I am a victim for 3 years of someone who is harassing me by using spoofing. One cannot find out the originating number because they are making up different numbers to send to your phone.

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