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There are a lot of instances when you might need to match a phone number to a real person’s name. Maybe you got a text from an unknown number. Maybe you’ve seen a call from an unlisted contact pop up repeatedly on your partner’s home screen. Whatever the case may be, here are some of the best ways to nail down the name of the person behind a number and figure out how or why they’re reaching out.

How to determine if it’s a real number

There are loads of apps and online services out there that can give you a secondary phone number, like Google Voice and TextFree. Some of these will add a little note at the bottom of text messages, like, “This message was sent using [app name],” but not all of them do. If the person is using a throwaway number or third-party app to contact you, it’ll be harder to figure out who they are, but might clue you in to whether their motivation is shady. Your first order of business is to determine if that’s what they’re doing.

Step one here is to save the number as something like “Mystery Caller.” If you have an iPhone, open a text thread with your new contact. If you have the option to iMessage, rather than text message them, they’re using a real iCloud account, which is a solid signal this is their real number. If you do only get the option to text message them, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re dealing with someone using a third-party messaging service; they could just have an Android.

We’ll get to your reverse-lookup options momentarily. Some reverse lookups can tell you if the person is using a real phone number backed by a mobile carrier, but this gets dicy because of how widespread those services are and the different terms used to describe mobile numbers, prepaid numbers, and the like. If you’re feeling bold, block your number using trusty old *67, then call the person. In some cases, a third-party provider will play audio that says something like, “Hello. Please state your name after the tone, and Google Voice will try to connect you.” If you don’t hear something like this after a ring or two, it could be a signal the person is using their real number.

How to reverse look up a phone number

There are plenty of reverse phone number search sites online that you can use to glean some knowledge about your mystery contact. You may have to pay money here. Whitepages offers a reverse phone lookup, for instance. I just entered my real phone number and it correctly revealed my home town, where the number is registered, and noted that it’s a number associated with a cell phone. When I clicked the button offering to reveal the owner’s name, I was prompted to pay $9.99 for a single report or $2.50 per month for regular access to reports.

I then entered a phone number I know to be a Google Voice number. It did not show me any location data (although the area code, which a third-party user gets to pick, is in Manhattan) and it identified this as a “landline.” If you’re getting texts from an unknown number that comes back as a landline, you can assume it’s a third party app.

More in-depth searches, like Intelius, can give you lots of information about someone for a fee, but don’t always return results for third-party apps. If your contact is using their real phone number, you’ll be able to get information, usually by paying around a dollar for a one-time report (though Intelius can tack on a service fee of about $3.99).

Use the apps you already have

Here’s where things get fun. Using reverse lookup tools is effective in many cases, but there are other methods, especially if you don’t want to pay, don’t trust those sites, or aren’t getting hits. Social media is a great tool here.

We’ve already told you that you can use Snapchat to figure out who is calling or texting you by saving the person’s number and then going to your friend suggestions, where you’ll see them at the bottom of the list (if they have a Snap). When you use Snapchat, be advised that it will auto-populate your contact name for them in, so you might see them as “Mystery Caller.” Looking at their username can help you figure out who they are. (This is also true on Clubhouse and Signal. You’ll see their contact name, not their real name, but at least you’ll know they’re contacting you from the number they use for their socials.)

Instagram used to suggest people whose number you had saved, but it’s not as reliable anymore. TikTok is a good one because it will suggest that you follow people who are in your contacts and you can click their profile (with your profile views option toggled firmly off) to see if you recognize them, but be careful here. TikTok has also started reverse-suggesting contacts, meaning your target may get a suggestion to follow you. TikTok shows users why each suggested follow is appearing. You’ll notice some of your suggestions say “From your contacts.” In some cases, the suggestion will say, “You’re in their contacts.” If you’re searching, say, for someone who’s been hitting up your friend or significant other, you might give yourself away like this.

Finally, the GOAT: CashApp. You can type a phone number into CashApp and it will display the associated account, if the person has one. If they do have one, you won’t see your contact name for them, as, in most cases, people have their real names (or initials) on finance-related apps.

   



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