How Can I Find Out Who Called Me for Free?
Phones are conveniences and annoyances at the same time. While we use them constantly to check social media, text messages, and work emails, more people leave their smartphones silent for calls. That means that missed calls are mysteries to be solved: who called me?
Letting calls go to voicemail is a strategy many people use to weed out unwanted intrusions on their workdays and evenings at home. Adding a spam filtering app reduces the number of interruptions as well. Still, when a call shows up that is unaccounted for by apps or voicemail, you can’t help wondering who it was. You may wonder, “How can I find out who called me for free?”
What are Unwanted Calls?
Since the advent of cell phones, the number of households in the US with landlines has dropped to below 40 percent. The number of households with cell phones only has soared to nearly 60 percent.
That by itself is some protection from unwanted calls because cell phone numbers are not published the way that landline numbers always were in phone books. It’s easier to keep your cell phone number private and away from scam callers.
However, the vast majority of calls are unwanted. Studies show that telemarketers and scam artists using auto-dialing computers make about 4 billion phone calls per month. While new government regulations require caller ID authentication, it’s likely the telemarketers – mostly trying to defraud people – quickly found a way around the new rule.
Such telemarketing scams snare millions of people for an average of $502 each, over $28 billion a year. Amazingly, younger people and men are the most likely to fall prey to a convincing story and make payment for fake tech support, fraudulent IRS charges, or bail for a family member who isn’t in custody.
Types of Unwanted Calls
When your neighbor calls to complain that your dog has been barking all day, it’s an unwanted call, but that pales in comparison to getting dozens of robocalls per day. Some of those unwanted calls may:
- Claim you won a sweepstakes. You didn’t win, but they say they need your social security number or bank account number to verify the winning or deposit funds in your account. This information may be used to steal your identity.
- Warn you that your social security number “has been suspended” by the federal government and you either have to verify the digits (so the caller can steal your identity) or pay a fine by wire or gift cards. The government never calls people and doesn’t take payments in those forms.
- Pretend to be tech support, telling you that your computer has been infected by a virus. Then ask for payment to fix the nonexistent bug.
- Pose as a coworker who desperately needs the PIN or password for an important account.
- Claims to be from Amazon or another large company with questions about a recent order or are trying to resolve a shipping issue. They will ask “to confirm” information like credit card numbers if you believe them. This information allows them to steal from you.
- A fake bank employee saying that your account has been compromised, so they need your account number and debit card PIN verified. Hang up and call your bank directly before providing any of this sensitive information.
How to Find the Owner of the Number that Called?
There are searchable databases of phone numbers used by spammers, scammers, and robocallers. You may confirm that other people receive unwanted calls from the same numbers, but that doesn’t solve anything. Because many scammers can change the caller ID number that you see, knowing incoming phone numbers is frequently useless unless you can trace the calls to someone nearby. The best thing to do is block calls with a service or filter built into your smartphone.
If there are repeated calls from a local number, you may want to know why – and who. Record the number and note each time you get a call from them. You may run a reverse lookup to find out who it is but be wary when trying to find out why they’re calling. (And remember, it may not be them, it may be a “spoofed” or completely fake caller ID number). If it turns out to be a local person who is harassing or stalking you, the police may get involved. Still, there’s little they can do about an anonymous caller trying to defraud you but doesn’t threaten bodily harm.
Five Tools to Learn Who Called
Many fraudulent callers can spoof the caller ID function so that the number they’re calling from looks different every time. They can even switch caller ID information, so it looks like your neighbor is calling you or that you are calling yourself.
Several tools exist to drill down to the originating number of annoyance calls. Here is a handful to consider:
- Truthfinder provides more details than a general reverse number lookup function. This site may also provide information about the number’s owner including age, location, and personal information.
- Sync.Me is a reverse number lookup website with an optional cell phone application. This site offers information on international calls as well as local calls.
- PeopleFinderFree dives into all kinds of records, including photos, to dig up specific information on the person or people related to the phone number you search. Social media hits may be part of the results.
- FindPeopleFast does a background check according to the reverse phone number lookup you request. Consider how helpful it would be to know the caller’s aliases and addresses.
- TrueCaller claims to research cell phone numbers, which is so helpful now that few callers use landlines. This service is also available as an Android or iOs app.
How To Report Unwanted Phone Calls
If you have been a victim of fraud via telephone, you may make a report to the Federal Communications Commission (https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us/requests/new?ticket_form_id=39744). Reporting annoying calls that have not resulted in lost money is unlikely to result in any changes; telemarketers and scammers will continue to call.
Subscription services that block robo and scam calls are better able to block unwanted incoming calls when subscribers report them. These companies use algorithms to determine where the calls are coming from and can often detect and shut down suspicious calls before your phone rings.
How To Stop Unwanted Calls
The best way to reduce unwanted calls is to keep your phone number private. Do not give out your cell phone or landline number to every business you visit, such as for loyalty cards. It’s just another data point that companies can use to track you. They’re likely to sell that information to others.
While it’s helpful to research the numbers showing up in your caller ID, it’s even better not to have any. There are many ways to stop – or at least reduce – unwanted calls, starting with the Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov), which removes your number from most legal calling lists. Remember that robocallers and scammers are unlikely to pay attention to whether it’s legal to call you once your number is registered with Do Not Call. Here are some additional tips to reduce the number of unwanted calls:
- Filter calls coming to your cell phone by sending those not from contacts into spam.
- Join a subscription service like NoMoRobo that screens calls and flags those likely to be spam.
- Screen calls at home with Google Voice, voicemail, or an old-fashioned answering machine (NoMoRobo also works for free on landlines).
- Answer fewer calls. If you answer your phone, scammers and robocallers are more likely to call you again.
Governmental Resources to Report Fraud
Your local police department is unlikely to help stop unwanted telephone calls. They will get involved if you can document some pattern of stalking or threats from a local source (such as an unhappy ex-spouse, former employee, or classmate). If you detect a pattern of threatening calls, you may contact law enforcement for advice and to document the complaint.
Most unwanted calls originate outside the country and are calls made from lists purchased on the dark web. If you or a household member were the victim of a telemarketing scam in the past, they would likely continue to call, hoping to trick you again. For these reasons, law enforcement is unlikely to be of help stopping the calls.
If you have been a victim of fraudulent calls, report your experience to www.ftc.gov. The Federal Trade Commission is the agency charged with fighting fraud and prosecuting criminals that use the internet, mail, or phones to commit crimes. While they may not be able to stop the calls, the information you provide may help them track down scammers before they defraud someone else.