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How To Guide: Reverse Phone Lookup

Reverse Phone Lookup 101: Everything You Need to Know About Reverse Phone Lookup

Reverse phone lookup is a handy tool for any business. It’s useful if your business misses a call and you’d like to know who you’re following up with.

Or if a customer gives you incomplete information.

Or if finding people based on tidbits of personal information is your business, reverse phone lookup is for you.

Whatever the case, having more information about customers is better. Not only that, but reverse phone lookup can help customers find your business. So the benefits go both ways.

Here’s everything you need to know about using reverse phone lookup:

How Reverse Phone Lookup Works

Reverse phone lookup for landlines is fairly simple.

Landline phone numbers that are or were attached to the PSTN (public switched telephone network) are listed in phone books published by phone companies.

Paper phone directories have been transferred to computers. All the information is available online now. Any phone number that was listed in the phone book can be found using a simple internet search.

An internet search is especially effective for businesses. Businesses want to be found, so if you do a reverse phone lookup for a business landline phone number, you’ll almost always get at least the business name and address.

The exceptions are:

  • Unlisted phone numbers.
  • Fax numbers.
  • Cell phone numbers.
  • VoIP phone numbers.

These numbers are either intentionally left out of phone listings, or they aren’t connected to the PSTN. In either case, phone companies usually don’t collect or publish information associated with these numbers.

This means that there’s no central database for fax, cell phone, and VoIP numbers. The data is spread out among different people and entities. So, information for these types of numbers can be trickier to find.

Searching the web for a number that’s not in the directory may still turn up some results if the owner of the phone number has listed their number in places like Facebook or has attached their cell phone number to a business listing. But a basic Google search isn’t very effective for doing reverse cell phone number lookups.

However, there are services that track down cell phone and other unlisted numbers if you really need to find one.

Is Reverse Phone Lookup Legal?

Short answer: yes, reverse phone lookup is legal.

There’s no law against finding or accessing information using a reverse phone lookup, or for what types of phones you can use reverse phone lookup for.

Long answer: yes, but be careful. It’s legal to get information using a reverse phone lookup. However, if you’re a business, there could be rules for how you use that information.

For example, the Amazon Terms of Service for Amazon sellers have specific guidelines for what you can and cannot do with customers’ personal information. Violating the Amazon seller TOS can get you booted from selling on Amazon forever.

Also, even though it may not be technically illegal, using someone’s address or email address without permission can irritate people or make your business seem scammy.

There’s one last thing. US privacy laws may get some overhaul in the wake of the GDPR implementation, so using the information you get with a reverse phone lookup could be even more restricted in the future.

You won’t break any laws just by getting information with a reverse phone lookup. But what you do with that information could get you in hot water.

Brush up on laws that apply to your industry before you start using any information you find.

How to Do a Reverse Cell Phone Lookup

As I said earlier, reverse phone lookups for unlisted or cell phone numbers can be spotty.

Google’s Phonebook Operator used to be capable of performing reverse cell phone lookups.

However, Google received so many requests to have numbers removed from their index that they shut down the Phonebook Operator in 2010, making it much more challenging to do a reverse cell phone lookup today.

Here are some tips to prepare you for doing a reverse phone lookup:

  1. It can take a lot of time. Since there’s no unified database for cell phone numbers, you’ll have to dig around quite a bit. If you’ve got a lot of phone numbers to lookup, you could be investing a significant chunk of time in searching.
  2. The information you find may not be accurate. You won’t be able to verify the information yourself. Depending on how and where you find the data, you may be able to reasonably presume that it’s valid. But it’s likely you’ll just have to go with whatever you find.
  3. There’s a good chance that you won’t find the information you’re looking for. People are getting smarter about their information. So, there’s less information sitting out where you can easily find it.

Now that you know what you’re getting into, here are the best ways to do a reverse cell phone lookup:

  • Check Search Engines.

Although it’s rare that searching Google turns up conclusive results, it’s still possible. The best case scenario is that the phone number you’re checking will have an attached business.

You’ll easily find business information attached to phone numbers.

Reverse phone lookup using Google.

Usually, you’ll get a mishmash of results.

If the phone number search turns up a Facebook page, it’s your lucky day.

Now, it’s not 100% guaranteed that you’ve got the person who actually owns that phone number. The original owner could have gotten a new phone number and never updated it on their Facebook page. But social media matches are some of the most reliable ones you can get with an internet search.

If you have additional information about the person, like a username or even a zip code, adding that to your reverse cell phone lookup could help turn up better results.

Also, toss the phone number in some other search engines like Yahoo! and Bing. Every search engine has its own search algorithm and web spiders. This means it’s possible that one of the other search engines will churn up something that Google didn’t.

If you’ve still got nothing, don’t give up yet. There are other options.

  • Check Social Networks

Although Google can turn up some information from social networks, using the search engine in the social networking apps themselves is better for scraping information.

Use social networks for reverse phone lookup searches.

Searching niche social networking sites and old ones like MySpace is also a good thing to try. Defunct social networks usually don’t turn up in Google searches because the sites gets so little traffic (RIP MySpace). But there are still a lot of old profiles sitting around in there that people have forgotten. They might still have some information on their page.

This method is especially effective if you have something like a username to add to your search criteria.

At this point, if you’ve still come up empty handed, there’s one more place to look.

  • Use a People Search Tool

There are search engines specifically for finding people. There are plenty of free people search engines and reverse phone lookup tools that might get a bite for you.

Check free reverse phone lookup tools.

However, it’s important to note that most free people searches don’t have access to more information than you do. They just have search technology specifically designed for finding personal information.

This also means that free people finders can’t guarantee that the information they find is valid. So, the reverse cell phone lookup may return information. But it’s unverified.

If you’ve still got nothing, it may be time to turn to professional services.

How to Get Verified Information Using Reverse Phone Lookup

While the free reverse phone lookup methods work sometimes, the trouble is that it’s nearly impossible to verify the information you find without some help.

There are services that provide reverse phone lookups and deliver verified information.

These services scour the white and yellow pages. They also check information sources that free services usually don’t. These sources include:

  • Public records (court records, marriage records, death records, voting rolls).
  • Specialized databases.
  • Caller ID records.

Using multiple sources means that these services can cross reference data and ensure that you’re getting the correct information.

Most of the time, you can get information from the yellow and white pages for free.

However, if you need information from the more confidential sources or the phone number isn’t available in the white and yellow pages, you may need to pay to have these sources searched.

But these searches are fast and often inexpensive.

If you’re using reverse phone lookups for your business, these services are usually the best option. If you get incorrect information from a free search, it could damage your company reputation and hurt your bottom line.

Reverse phone lookup services are also ideal for businesses that need to get information for a lot of phone numbers. Doing your own searches for even a dozen phone numbers could take hours. Using a batch append service is the most efficient way to get information for large volumes of phone numbers.

Use batch append services to verify email addresses in bulk.

So, if you’ve got just a few phone numbers to work on, give the free methods a try. Who knows? You might get some hits.

But if you’ve got a whole phone list worth of phone numbers to lookup, it may be time to find yourself a good reverse phone lookup service. You’ll be glad you did!

Leave a comment and let us know which search method worked best for you, or check out our reverse phone lookup tool to lookup phone numbers now.


Differentiating Landline and Cell Phone Numbers

landline and cell phone
Whenever someone calls you, it’s helpful to be able to figure out whether that call was made from a landline phone or a cell phone. Why?

If you can determine that it was a cell phone, then you can feel free to call back at any time of the day in order to leave a message. If it’s a landline, however, you might not want to call at certain times, like early in the morning or late at night, because the ringing of the landline phone might wake people up if the homeowners never turn off the ringer.

Another consideration is the other party’s cell phone minutes. That is, if you ascertain that a phone call was made from a mobile phone, you might choose to respond by sending a text message or by writing an email. That way, you don’t have to worry about eating up the other person’s valuable phone minutes if you’re not sure and want to be respectful of that.

Businesses can also benefit from being able to tell cell phone numbers apart from landline numbers.

If you run, say, a hair salon, you might be in the habit of texting your customers about upcoming appointments. However, you don’t want to be sending text messages to a landline number by mistake. Not only will text messages to landlines never get delivered (although some landline based VoIP numbers do accept text messages) you may still be charged a fee by your text message service provider for these requests.

In addition, many businesses and medical offices want to have a cell phone number for every one of their clients or patients so that they can reach them at any time of the day. And medical offices may qualify for EHR incentives if their phone number data is more meaningful.

Most schools want to be able to reach parents in case of any type of emergency involving their children and when filling out the school forms, occasionally parents don’t enter the right numbers in the correct fields. If school administrators call a landline number during the day when no one is home it can be useless, this wastes school administrator time and can cause your child undo anxiety.

If you manage a doctor’s office, and you are in the processing of switching from a paper filing system to an Electronic Health Records (EHR) system, you need to input up-to-date information on the phone numbers of all of your patients.

How Do You Know if You are Calling a Landline or Mobile Number?

So how do you actually go about figuring out whether a certain phone number is a landline number or a mobile number? A company like SearchBug can actually do all of the work for you. In fact, the company’s phone number verification tools is among one of its most popular services.

So how does this system work? All you have to do is visit the landline or cell phone number tool and enter the phone number. Any valid phone number from the United States or Canada will work. SearchBug will then tell you whether that phone number is a landline number, a wireless number, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) number, or an unknown number (unknowns can be for a variety reasons such as the area code is invalid, or the area code and prefix do not match, or the number provide is not a valid number like the area code 555 is used for movies.

VoIP numbers by the way, are a system of vocal communications in which the sounds of people’s voices are carried over the Internet. VoIP numbers are typically sold in blocks of 1000s to VoIp providers from the major CLEC (Central Local Exchange Carriers).

That’s not all. SearchBug will also respond with the following pieces of information about that number:

  • the name of the phone company or, in the case of VoIP, the name of the local exchange carrier
  • the city or town where a landline phone is located, or where a mobile phone owner lives
  • the area code local
  • the local time zone for that number

You can find out all this information for free, too. SearchBug will even let you search for up to five different phone numbers a day. And for a nominal charge, you can find out if the phone number you searched for was ported – meaning whether that number was transferred, say, from a landline phone to a mobile phone or from AT&T to Verizon for example.

For an extra charge, you can learn the name of the person to whom that phone number is assigned if you need that sort of information. That can be a valuable tool in case, for instance, someone keeps calling you and hanging up whenever you answer.


Marketing Lists and Text Messaging

Marketing Lists via text messaging campaigns are among the most effective ways of reaching customers and potential customers. With just your smartphone at hand, you can create enthusiasm for your products or services immediately. But the only way you’ll succeed at text message campaigning – which is known in the business and advertising communities as SMS, or Short Message Marketing – is to have a carefully-compiled marketing list.

Marketing List and Text Messages - You have 1 New MessageFirst of all, what makes a text message campaign so helpful to small businesses? The main reason is that so many people will see the texts you send them. You could hang a sign in a store window on the busiest street in town, yet many people would simply walk right by it without noticing. In contrast, studies have shown that over 90% of people, as high as 95%, will open and look at a texted ad at once.

There are more benefits to text messaging ads, too. They’re friendly to the environment. They make your business seem cutting-edge, even ‘cool.’ They’re cheaper than many other forms of advertising – including TV spots and, believe it or not, traditional flyers! They’re interactive: people can respond to you right away with questions, comments or suggestions, and you can answer them right away. Perhaps best of all, people who are intrigued by your texts may share them with their contact lists via Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thus, those people will do additional advertising for you, for free!

If you’ve just opened a small business, whether it’s a pizzeria or a garage or something else entirely, you’ll probably want to buy a marketing list – a list of potential customers – from a company specializing in such lists. But these lists may not include cell phone numbers, as there are laws around marketing to cell phones. So how do you get to your potential customers?  You can email or call people and ask them to sign up for your text messaging promotions (to do so, they could email you back or text you a certain code.)

You can also get people to agree to receive your texts by including sign-up sheets on your website and social media sites, and by having your employees ask your customers if they’d like to receive texts.  There are even iPad apps specifically designed to manage in-store sign ups and people like using iPads and tablets so it’s an easier way to get them to give you their information.

But to reiterate, you should never text a customer without their permission beforehand. An unsolicited text message can make customers feel violated, and rightly so. Plus, this practice probably goes against your carrier’s rules, and may even be unlawful where you live. Never pressure anyone to join your text marketing list, either, and instruct your employees not to pressure anyone. Further, there should always be a simple way for your customers to opt out of getting your texts should they change their minds about it.

In order to make more people want to be on your text message marketing list, you have to offer them incentives, incentives they can’t receive any other way. Maybe they get a special discount or coupon, or maybe an exclusive freebie – three slices of pizza for the slice of two, for instance – or maybe you’ll even set up special times during which they can come into your establishment, times when the place is otherwise closed to the general public.

Once you have a sizable text message marketing list at your disposal, the next step is to use it. Just remember that effective text messages are not always easy to create. DO NOT just throw something together off the top of your head. Rather, take care in crafting messages. Write out words and phrases as much as you can; try not to abbreviate even if you believe that a certain abbreviation or acronym is well-known. At the same time, use as few words as you can without sacrificing meaning. Use correct spelling and grammar. Don’t forget to provide the name of your establishment. (You might choose to include a link to your company’s website.) Most of all, there should be what advertisers refer to as a ‘call to action.’ That means you should provide a specific, attractive reason as to why the person receiving the text ought to get to your place of business as soon as possible. Don’t just say: “We have great prices on teddy bears.” Say: “All teddy bears are on sale, up to 50%, until tomorrow night.”

Once you get the hang of text marketing, you can start having fun with it. For example, you might set up a contest in which the tenth person to text you back receives a prize. Or if you own, say, an ice cream parlor, you could create polls to discover your customer’s favorite flavors. You might even set up a weekly poll in which you pit one flavor against another. Be creative!

If you’re not aware, SearchBug offers a free text messaging service that you can use from your computer.  Get up to five (5) free texts daily or subscribe for only $5.97 a month for unlimited texts.


Identify Phone Numbers for Cell Phone Text Messaging

There are several ways to process phone records to determine the line type and carrier (other information is also available if needed).Identify Phone Numbers

  • You can scour the internet for free tools to do this yourself.
  • You can hire a service to run a manual batch to clean lists of phone records.
  • You can subscribe to a service that lets you upload a file with phone numbers.
  • You can subscribe to a service that provides a real-time API and returns XML.

If you have less than a few hundred records you can typically find a free ‘identify phone number’ tool online where you can do the lookup yourself.  The SearchBug service allows you to lookup phone info for free a few times a day. You can subscribe for under $4.00 per month and run 100 per day manually. This is by far the cheapest solution available.

A Manual Batch Service:
If you have a list with 1,000, 10,000 or even a few 100,000 records to clean and only need a single list cleaned, this is a good option. Easy to get started. Simply complete a payment form and email (upload in future) your spreadsheet of numbers with one number per row. Your batch is processed and returned within one business day (sometimes the same day). There is a flat  fee per batch based on number of records.

The Self Service Batch Tool:
This tool allows you to upload phone numbers in any format (ie. dashes, spaces, or even if it has a 1 in front). You can sign up and enter your billing information online. Then you can start to submit 1 to 10,000 records per batch (as many batches as needed daily up to your subscribed monthly limit). Tiered pricing is based on number of records processed monthly. Fee is a monthly subscription as is lower than flat per batch fee pricing.

A Real-Time API:
An API allows you to “call” HTTP GET or HTTP POST via a private URL and receive XML in return to parse into your database as needed. This method allows you to submit from 1 to 1,000 records per API call.

The XML returned can be used as you need. Parse it into your database live. Do you have an inbound call center and want to know information about the number in real-time. Are your people talking to mobile users? Tiered pricing based on number of records processed monthly.

Output from the batch tool or API can return any of the following information:

  • Identify each line type (Cell / Landline / unknown)
  • Carrier name
  • Location
  • Calling Area

Want to learn more about phone number lookup?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Noah Wieder is CEO of SearchBug, Inc. and the founder of Best People Search. SearchBug.com offers a Free People Finder and Company Search as well as Data Scrubbing Services. Bestpeoplesearch.com is a private investigator portal and Information Retrieval Services web site where investigators offer searches to businesses and individuals with specific search needs.