Those born after a certain point have the pleasure of not being familiar with terms like “caller ID,” “speed dial,” and “star-69.” No longer are these features counted among selling points for phone service as they once were. Call screening used to be something you’d take extra steps for; it was something not everyone had access to. It became a premium extra that one could add to their monthly phone service. For a time, it was even something that had its own device, separate from the phone itself!
The very notion of “call screening” went from being something individuals opted to do out of personal preference to something built into our everyday technology. In the modern age, we can successfully see the number of an incoming call on cell phones, all but immediately. So that means annoying and unwanted calls aren’t an issue anymore, right? Unfortunately not.
The problem of spam calls and unwanted texts and phone calls grows consistently worse each year. For every legitimate attempt to reach a person via phone, there are multiple people willing to go the despicable route of spamming every cell phone number they can get their hands on. And in the days when data privacy is big business, your phone number is a commodity because it means a company (or scammer) can have a direct avenue through which to reach you. Since we keep our cell phones with us (and turned on!) almost 24/7, this means robocalls and robotexts aren’t going away anytime soon.
So with all of the ways shady marketers and scammers are trying to get at you, how can you know whether to answer a phone call you’ve received?
Thankfully, we’ve got your back! What follows are our picks for the three best reverse phone lookup services. Each can help you avoid spammers, scammers, and unwanted correspondence while also giving you the ability to find out more about who is contacting you.
Top 3 Reverse Phone Lookup Services
How We Chose Top Reverse Phone Lookup Service Providers
Our review team evaluated the top brands on this list on a range of factors. Paramount for consideration was phone number search effectiveness, but if we judged on this alone, we would not be able to delineate between three brands who are each expert at this part! Therefore we evaluated brands on this list by each of the following, with the effectiveness of search weighted highest:
- Phone number search effectiveness
- Amount of data available via reverse phone number search
- Pricing options
- Opt-out policy
- Mission / charter
The brands that made this reverse lookup comparative list are the best in their field and are our recommendations for the best reverse phone lookup services.
Note: the review team for this article was particularly motivated by the subject matter, as they all dislike robocalls and spam very much! The good news is that this sentiment means the team put a lot of extra work into this list out of concern for the issue.
Reviews: Top Reverse Phone Number Lookup Services
1. Intelius – Editor’s Choice
- Unlimited search capacity
- Trial options available for new customers
- Access to billions of records
- Complete and assured anonymity
- Reports cannot be downloaded
Established in 2003, Intelius has amassed one of the most extensive databases of any reverse phone lookup site. By entering the phone number, customers gain access to a wealth of information in minutes, including:
- The phone number owner’s name
- Addresses related to the number
- Social media profiles linked to the number
With a research database containing over 20 billion records, it is improbable that any number will slip through Intelius’ net.
Customers often wouldn’t like the subject of their search to know that they are being investigated. Thankfully, all of Intelius’ reverse phone number lookups are entirely anonymous. The information will go to only the customer, and while customers cannot download reports, the data can be saved to view later.
Intelius recognizes that nuisance phone calls have grown over time. As a result, Intelius offers customers unlimited search options and free trials for new customers seeking peace of mind to combat this.
2. PeopleFinders – Most Experienced
- 22 years in business, est. 1999 (website est 2002)
- 4.7-star rating on TrustPilot
- Excellent website content
- Transparency: employees listed by name on the website
- The opt-out process includes a link to further “removal services” on a partner site, which could be viewed as an upsell to some
PeopleFinders stand head and shoulders above the competition in the depth of their years of experience. Founded in 1999, it is hard to argue with a whopping 22 years of business!
During their more than two decades, PeopleFinders amassed nearly 10,000 social media followers. The number of social media followers alone does not necessarily indicate business performance, but it is surprisingly high for such a specific service. Further, it speaks to an effort to become embedded and established as a brand.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, the minds behind PeopleFinders appear to be quite tech-forward. The company offers a variety of developer APIs. For us mere mortals, that means PeopleFinders provides code that other developers can integrate into their own apps and services. Such integrations mean PeopleFinders is in touch with the multifaceted value of its product and sheds light on the company’s farsighted business model.
Perhaps even more impressive is that, after more than two decades, PeopleFinders remains incredibly highly rated. On TrustPilot alone, PeopleFinders has an average 4.7 rating out of 5. This is impressively high for a company that has been around this long.
The PeopleFinders website is rife with interesting, engaging content. We would rate them well on this point if we were judging on directly relevant content only, but it turns out PeopleFinders are pretty savvy content creators as well. Articles on their blog run the gamut from the instructional to the informative to the fun.
Actually, “fun” does not quite describe PeopleFinders’ blog content accurately. It’s so good it even has outright guilty pleasures like Phone Numbers of TV and Movie Characters! They don’t shy away from the timely and topical, as demonstrated in the cleverly relevant Contact Tracing Versus Unknown Phone Numbers article from early 2021.
Transparency is quite the buzzword of late, but in the case of PeopleFinders, the company demonstrates transparency by listing its executive staff individually on the website. They also make clear a company perspective on keeping data accessible easily and with the most minor barriers to entry.
The review team held PeopleFinders’ 20+ year history, high consumer scores, quality content, and corporate transparency in high regard when deciding where to place PeopleFinders on our list.
3. Spokeo – Most Polished
- A+ Rating on Better Business Bureau
- Enterprise business service offering
- Nonprofit / charity / community programs (including grant program for nonprofits)
- Slickest website user interface
- Ironically, a clean, professional interface can be a downside for some
Spokeo is the professional elder cousin of this list and is unique in that Spokeo customers are both consumers and other companies. Consumers find a solid entry in the reverse phone lookup space with a top-notch, user-friendly website interface. While all three of our top brands run admirable web presences, the Spokeo approach is on another level with its lean lines, white space, and crisp, responsive development. The business-to-business crowd will find familiarity in the high level of visual polish paired with the professional clarity and organization of the Spokeo website.
A+ with the Better Business Bureau
While Spokeo is not the lone entry on our list to boast this designation, our review team took particular note due to its dual value for consumer and business clients alike. The Better Business Bureau is the kind of third-party nod that both an informed consumer and responsible business person would find praiseworthy.
Spokeo is the sole entry on our list to offer enterprise-level reverse phone lookup business services. Spokeo Business is a graduated, professional version of the consumer service and includes every bell and whistle we could imagine:
- Advanced filters
- Deeper searches
- Professional reporting tools
- Team dashboards
- Flexible enterprise account pricing
- Dedicated support team
Spokeo approaches giving back the same way as it approaches business: from multiple angles. The company has an impressive array of community programs, dubbed collectively as “Spokeo Cares.” These programs include:
- Local Outreach
- Nonprofit Philanthropy
This mentality resonates with the top brass of the company as well. In fact, the section of the Spokeo website dedicated to the company’s community outreach and efforts shows more than one of the company’s founders elbow deep with their colleagues. Our review team rated this highly, as corporations often tend to be cut from the same cloth as their founders. Seeing multiple founders directly involved in this segment of the company may indicate that leadership cares to set an example and puts resources into giving back.
Ultimately, Spokeo made our list out of a combination of business savvy, consumer friendliness, and the demonstrated balance of success with giving back.
What is a reverse phone lookup, and what information can I get?
A reverse phone lookup is an information-gathering tool enabling the user to input limited information and gain valuable and diverse insights. In plain language: it’s a way to find out who the heck is calling! All three of the services on our list provide websites through which a user can enter a phone number for a reverse lookup and get a wealth of information in return, including:
- Full names
- Basic contact information (phone numbers, email addresses)
- Current and previous addresses
- Known family members and associates
- Previous employers
- Social media accounts
- Rich media (photos, video)
People find this information useful in a variety of ways, including:
- Investigating potential scammers
- Finding lost friends or loved ones
- Updating contact info
- Finding current and previous addresses and locations
- Revealing criminal records
- Finding social media accounts
- Seeing which people are associated with the search target
- Looking themselves up to see what is available for others to find
Is the provided data always accurate?
Yes, the reverse lookup services on our list provide accurate data. This may not be the case for others including free reverse phone lookup services that provide very basic contact information that may or may not be as accurate, but all three of the services listed here draw their data for a reverse phone lookup search from multiple databases the world over. Their data is accurate for traditional landlines and cell phone numbers, but the presentation of data differs by company. As important as the data itself are the ways in which the user can organize and consume it. This part is a matter of preference, and we encourage you to try each and decide which works best for you.
What if there are no results?
Sometimes there are no results from a reverse phone number lookup search, whether for a cell phone number or a landline. There are a variety of reasons this may be the case. The reason there are no results may be as simple as the target number being new. Data needs time to be established among multiple databases for cross-reference and verifiability. Sometimes the caller just has a phone number that’s simply hot off the presses.
Unfortunately, the term “burner phone” exists because some folks do not wish to be found. A burner phone is a disposable mobile phone with a temporary number and service. “Burn” in this context refers to the owner disposing of a phone after a purposefully limited amount of time. This practice has historically been regarded as dubious.
Once in a while, a spammer has figured out how to spoof their number or mask it in an effective enough way as to not trip the red flags that designate it as disingenuous. This is usually a temporary situation, but it does happen.
Are there privacy concerns for me?
No, the reverse phone number lookup services on our list do not pose any privacy concern to you as an individual consumer. In fact, we highly recommend using each of the services on this list to “investigate” yourself! Conducting a reverse cell phone lookup on yourself scratches a very human itch: wanting to know about yourself and wanting to know what others know about you as well.
Self-searches are highly recommended for the purposes of your own knowledge, to evaluate the information that is publicly available about you, to manage your “personal brand,” and to ensure safety and privacy.
The latter may seem counterintuitive on the surface. Why would one search for the things they don’t want others to know? The simple answer is that we all long to see what info can be found about us and how readily available that information is to others by simply entering cell phone numbers into a search box. Self-searches on our top three sites give you snapshots of the various connections your online presence leaves in its wake. As we move around, so does our data. It can even be a little scary to see what info is out there!
Mini-Glossary of Phone Marketing Terminology
Telemarketing is a vast industry of its own, with its own specific-often dastardly-terms. Here are some of the definitions commonly used.
- Caller ID: an old feature of landline phones with which one could see a display of the phone number dialing them in real-time. There was a short delay before the number would display, so there were some tense moments of standing over a landline phone and dreading the number that might appear. This was a particular feature for landline phones and did not come standard with all services. One had to order this separately and pay more for it every month!
North American Numbering Plan (NANP): who decided how phone numbers work? The modern phone numbering system we are familiar with today came from the establishment of the NANP system. As in many new industries and technologies, standards were not set right away, and a variety of numbering arrangements made the telephone more complicated to use than we’re accustomed to now.
In the 1940s, AT&T (under the Bell name at the time) created a system using a country code prefix, a three-digit area code prefix, and seven-digit phone numbers. They called this combination the North American Numbering Plan, and it applied to multiple regions in twenty countries, mainly in North America.
Note: before the establishment of the NANP system, phone numbers more closely represented physical addresses. Classic films like Elizabeth Taylor’s Butterfield 8 reflect the practice, with the movie title representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Similarly, Michael Corleone can be heard asking an operator for “Long Beach 4-5620” from a pay phone in The Godfather.
- Robocall / Robotech: a pre-recorded or pre-written call or text message that is distributed to targets of a marketing message en masse. “Robocalls” are the calls that very few people wish to receive, as they are not from a friend, loved one, or even a business contact. In essence, a robocall or robotext is a sales pitch.
- Spoofing: a display of deliberately misleading information on caller ID in order to mask the caller’s source. More recently, this practice has transformed from displaying things like “Unknown” or “Blocked Number” to making the call seem as though it is coming from a local number. Scammers use this dirty tactic to localize the incoming phone number, so the recipient is more likely to answer it.
Spoofing was enough of a problem that congress passed the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, outlawing falsification of caller ID info. There are, of course, nuances to this law, which is why the practice unfortunately still exists.
- Star-6-9: a dial-tone command that automatically calls the last incoming call’s number back. Didn’t recognize the number? “Star-69 it” was a common phrase, meaning “auto-call them back.” This was also an “added feature,” requiring extra cost to include in one’s monthly telephone service.
It worked like this: one would input a combination of “*” along with the numbers 6 and 9 into a landline phone while listening to the dial-tone after an incoming call had gone unanswered. Basically, without caller ID, the next best option was to wait until the call was missed (which was often done purposefully as an early form of call screening) and then pick up the phone and dial *69. But rather than getting information about the person who called, this command instead immediately calls that number back. As you can imagine, this led to some strange, wonderful, and exciting times when that call came from a friend, a loved one, or even a romantic crush. The feature was far less compelling when the call came from a telemarketer, however.
- Vertical Service Code: features built into a phone system that the user activates by dialing either “*” or “#” before a series of numbers. A handful of standard codes are still known by consumers, but many others have fallen out of general use.
In the context of spammers and unwanted calls, the *69 “dial back the last call” is most relevant. A few others included:
- *52 – call hold
- *60 – call blocking
- *72 – call forwarding
- *78 – do not disturb
If everyone tries to avoid robocalls, spam, and scammers, why do they keep calling?
According to the Pew Research Center, a whopping eight-in-ten Americans avoid answering calls from unknown numbers. The nuances to this data vary by gender, income level, age, and race, but one thing is clear: we generally want to know who is calling, so “unknown” is often seen as a negative.
The logic, then, is clear: to be a successful phone scammer, one must call from real phone numbers. Which numbers are most likely to be answered? A good guess is to start with numbers that are the most familiar. That’s why so many robocalls come from area codes that appear local to your own-even if you haven’t lived there in years.
There is, of course, another reason spammers keep calling: profit. In the world of shady deals on a massive scale, even modest success is lucrative.
As reported by USA Today: on average, the victim of a scam call will lose USD 182. There were an estimated 45.9 billion robocalls in 2020.
The following is only an example:
Let’s say 0.01% of the 45.9 billion robocalls in 2020 were successful.
A moment of pause for context: in this example, we’re hypothesizing that literally 99.9% of all robocalls in 2020 were ignored or did not result in profit. That is, we’re guessing that 99.9% of all robocalls in 2020 actually failed.
Stay with us here: even if 99.9% of all robocalls failed, but if a mere hundredth of a percent of those calls were picked up, then scammers made more than 800 million dollars last year! And they didn’t even dial those numbers by hand.
The success rate in our example is fabricated both because we don’t have an accurate way to know how successful robocalls are and demonstrate how extreme the issue is. A hundredth of a percent is a meager success rate. That should be a conservative figure to use in such an example, so it’s easy to see how insanely fruitful such scams can be. Money talks. And in the case of robocalls, talk means money.
Is it legal for brands to call me without my permission?
The answer to this varies in the US by state and elsewhere by country and region, but generally, no. In fact, the entire business world went into relative upheaval in the years leading up to 2018 when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect. The GDPR impacted businesses worldwide by requiring new and stringent communications to end-users about the ways in which their personal data is collected, stored, and used.
How did scammers get my number?
In many cases, you gave it to them! This is an oversimplification, however, as the sharing and selling of data has a variety of gray areas along the edges of the business world. It is along such areas that legitimate businesses can obtain lists of user data and contact info. Such information has value simply in the correlation of multiple data points on a single person.
For example: if Joseph R. Schmo goes by “Joe”, but only to his friends at the country club, then you now have multiple data points about Joe. Each point of data has its own inherent value (e.g., a phone number) as well as additional value when paired with others (e.g., a phone number and an email address). Such data can be sorted, packaged, repackaged, analyzed, simplified, and generally used in many different ways to provide valuable market data. To carry our example further: if I want to successfully market a yachting shoe, Joe Schmo would be a prime target. As such, his information is valuable to me. As such, that information might be worth paying for. You can see how slippery the slope gets. To put it bluntly: data can be profitable.
What if my personal phone number is on one of the reverse phone lookup pages?
Good news: if your personal info is on one of the reverse phone lookup pages, you can make them remove it! Every brand on our list provides an “opt-out” service that is accessible and simple enough to perform in a matter of minutes. In fact, the opt-out process was a parameter our review team used to preclude other competitors from this very ranking.
All three reverse phone lookup services on our list operate reputable businesses that provide a straightforward service via publicly available and trustworthy databases. All three phone search services care about your privacy and make it easy to remove yourself from their services. Some of them even provide additional information at the end of the process to continue the same “data cleansing” across other major databases.
How can I reduce the number of spammers, scammers, and robocalls I get?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a variety of good resources to help consumers avoid robocalls. Among the FCC’s suggestions are:
- Do not answer calls from unknown numbers
- Even “local” calls from your area code can be suspect
- If a caller or recording asks you to press a button, hang up
- Do not respond to any questions
- Do not part with any personal information
- If you get a call that appears to be from an “official agency” (such as the IRS), hang up immediately. Look up the number for the official organization and call it directly.
- Keep your voicemail password protected. Some scammers know how to gain access to your voicemail if you do not lock it with a password.
- Register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry
What a reverse phone lookup service can do:
- Connect information you have to information you want (e.g., phone number to full name)
- Help you fill in missing contact information for someone you know
- Assist in the location of a long lost friend or family member
- Help highlight potential red flags about an incoming phone number
What a reverse phone lookup service cannot do:
- Act as a government agency
- Act with any legal or regulatory authority
- Determine factors covered by credit or consumer reporting agencies
After an in-depth evaluation, our review team concludes that TruthFinder, PeopleFinders, and Spokeo are the three best reverse phone lookup services around. Each one offers a wealth of options, a solid base service with a variety of extras, years of experience, and excellent and comparable pricing.
*Note: numbers outlined in this article represent the full, non-promotional price only at the time of review. See each brand’s website for the latest pricing.
This article has been supplied by a paid advertiser. Content has not been independently verified by Los Angeles magazine.