Home Advice & How-ToGuides How To Find Out Who Called You When Caller ID Is Not an Option
Home Advice & How-ToGuides How To Find Out Who Called You When Caller ID Is Not an Option

How To Find Out Who Called You When Caller ID Is Not an Option

by Fred Decker

Caller ID has been around for a surprisingly long time — the initial patents date back to 1971, and the service started rolling out commercially in 1984 — and for most of us, it would feel strange to pick up a call without knowing who’s on the other end (or at least, what their number is). 

It’s included by default on cellular phones and most landline accounts, but there are still a few landline providers (and plans) that don’t provide the service by default.  If you live in an area where there’s no caller ID available from your carrier, or if you find yourself temporarily in a place where it’s not included in the plan, there are still ways to find out who called you. 

Screen Calls with an Old-School Answering Machine

The most obvious shortcoming of getting by with no caller ID is that you can’t screen your calls as they come in.  You can either reconcile yourself to answering the calls as they come in or letting them ring through without answering. 

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Sometimes you’ll be lucky and the caller will leave a message and a callback number on your voicemail.  Sometimes there may even be an old-school answering system in the house — standalone or built into the phone — in which case you might be able to screen calls by listening to the incoming caller leave their message.  If it’s someone you want to speak with, you can pick up at that point. 

If the caller doesn’t leave a message, or if you don’t have an answering system on the in-house phone (admittedly a rarity in 2023), you’ll have to be a bit more creative to find out who called. 

Using *69 To Identify the Last Incoming Call

Telephone systems use a consistent set of special codes, known as vertical service codes, to deliver special features.  You may know them as “star” codes, because on landline phones it’s the asterisk key that alerts the system a special code is coming. 

One option is to use the call return feature, triggered when you press *69 on the phone’s keypad (it works on cell phones too, except there it’s #69).  Some telephone systems will read you the number of your last incoming call and then offer you the option of calling back.  Other carriers will simply connect you directly to the number that phoned you last. 

If you’re given the number, you have the option to return the call and also the option to look it up beforehand.  If your phone carrier automatically returns the call, you’ll need to decide whether you want to use this feature or not.  You may be greeted by the voice of a receptionist identifying a company or a voicemail recording giving the name of a person or company.  Unfortunately you might also find yourself speaking with someone you wanted to avoid, or an outright scammer, and even if you hang up they’ll probably know it was you who called (most others do have caller ID). 

There are a couple of other issues with *69 as well.  Some phone systems may only let you call back for a relatively brief time period, and of course there’s the risk another call will come in before you can check the last one.  It’s good to have the option, but it’s not always a good option. 

Using *57 To Trace Calls 

If you’ve been the victim of harassing or threatening phone calls, or if you’ve been swamped in spammy and scammy robocalls, the *57 service code provides another way to find out (eventually) who called you.  This code tells the phone company to trace the last incoming call and then report back to you with the name and number of the caller. 

To use the service, wait for the phone to stop ringing and then pick it up and press *57 on the keypad.   Follow the phone company’s voice-prompt instructions and shortly a recorded message will tell you whether the trace was successful.  It won’t always work, but it’s worth a try if you’re being harassed. 

The phone company won’t tell you directly who the caller was — it’s a privacy thing — but after three successful traces of the same number, you can take action.  A court order, subpoena or law-enforcement request can retrieve the information from the phone company.

Some phone companies will provide this service for free, but most will add a charge to your bill or require a subscription. 

Get the Police Involved

Whether or not a call trace is successful, harassing and threatening phone calls that reach the threshold of criminality can still be tracked down after the fact by getting the police involved.  If there’s a criminal case to be made, police can get a warrant to retrieve calling logs from your phone provider in an effort to identify your caller.  

Fortunately most calls are simply annoying and you won’t need to take such an extreme step (but don’t hesitate to use this option if the situation warrants it). 

Forwarding Calls to a Cellular Phone

The simplest way to find out who called you, when you have no caller ID, is by forwarding calls from the phone without caller ID to one with caller ID (usually a cellular phone).  To do that, press *72 on your landline phone and then enter in the 10-digit phone number calls will be routed to.  Until you turn the feature off by pressing *73 on the landline, all incoming calls will be routed to the cell phone. 

This gives you the option of screening calls in real time, just as if they were calling the cell phone directly.   You can choose to answer or not, depending on the caller.  Some calls may still show as “restricted” or “private number,” but receiving them on a cell phone gives you more ways to uncover the underlying number. 

One way is to note the date and time of a call and then check the call logs on your monthly statement.   Often — but not invariably — the underlying number will show up there.  Another option is to install an app that can unmask blocked numbers.  Most apps that block robocalls offer this kind of service as an added feature.  Once you’ve got your caller’s number, you can quickly find out who’s been trying to reach you. 

Using Spokeo To Identify Your Caller 

Once you have a phone number, you’re in control.  Go to Spokeo’s reverse phone lookup tool and enter the number, and see what information is available for your caller.  It will usually return the name of the registered user of that number, along with the geographic location and the name of the telephone service provider where the call originated. 

Depending on the individual caller, you may also see a physical address, one or more email addresses that are associated with the phone number, and even social media or dating-site usernames associated with the number.  Armed with that information, you can do further Spokeo searches using the caller’s name, physical address or email address

Obviously you won’t need to do that if you recognize the number (“Oh, it’s my cousin Phil!”) but it’s tremendously useful if you’re being harassed or if you believe you’ve been approached by a scammer. 

It’s also possible for criminals to spoof the incoming phone number to make it appear that the call is coming from a legitimate or familiar source.  If that’s the case, searching the number will turn up its legitimate owner, but — and this is important — Spokeo’s Phone Reputation Score, which shows on phone number searches, will also tell you if that number’s been the subject of complaints lately.  If it has, that can be a sign that scammers have been spoofing it. 

No Caller ID?  No Problem

None of these options is quite as simple and straightforward as having caller ID available on your main landline phone.  There are pros and cons to each of the techniques we’ve discussed here, and not all of them are practical in all situations. 

That being said, if you don’t have the option of getting caller ID on your primary phone, one or more of these workarounds may be just what you need to restore your peace of mind.