At Spokeo, we’re all about helping you find the information you need to live an informed life in the digital age. The way we empower our users is typically by selling our services (because that’s what keeps the lights on and the servers running), and a lot of the entries on this blog provide tips on how to get the maximum value from a Spokeo subscription.
This time, we’re going to go in a different direction and explain how to find someone’s name — by phone number — for free. It may sound odd or counterintuitive, but empowering ordinary people with information is Spokeo’s mission, not just its business. You’ll need to put in more work with a free search, and lean on a few other search tools, but often you will be able to identify your caller.
Reverse Phone Lookup on Spokeo (Spoiler: It’s Really Easy)
If you want a quick primer on how to look up a phone number with Spokeo, there’s a simple three-step guide written by none other than Spokeo co-founder and CEO Harrison Tang.
Step one is the same whether you’re a paid subscriber or doing a free search: Click the Reverse Phone Lookup tool on Spokeo’s home page, and enter your mystery caller’s phone number (tip: you can enter it right from the home page, as well). If you’re a paid subscriber, you’ll immediately have access to matching information, including if available, the name of the phone number’s registered owner and a host of other details as well. Step two, then, is to look up that person by name, and step three is to review the wealth of information yielded by your search.
The picture’s rather different if you’re doing a free search. In that instance, most of the information about your caller will remain paywalled (and yes, you’ll be given the opportunity to buy it), but you’ll still get a few useful pieces of information. One is the caller’s location, one is your caller’s phone carrier, and a third is a Google Maps snippet giving you a visual representation of the caller’s location. These are things you can build on.
Zooming in on the Location
Learning the location of your caller, and seeing a close-up segment from Google Maps, can give you a good starting point. You should be able to see the street or road where your caller is located, so open up Google Maps on your computer or mobile device and bring up a full-sized map for that community and street.
Now choose Street View and take a look. For starters, is it a commercial street full of businesses, or a residential street of houses or apartments? That alone might give an answer to your question: If it’s in Tucson, for example, and you’ve recently ordered something from a company in Tucson, that’s likely your answer. Similarly, if you only know one person in the area (“Hon, didn’t your cousin Phil move to Tucson last year?”), that may solve the mystery quickly.
If it’s a commercial street, you have a few extra options to try. One is simply to look at the signs, and see if any of them display the phone number you’re looking for (sometimes you get lucky). Another is to return to map view, and zoom in, and look at the businesses highlighted on the map. When you click on one, its address and phone number will pop up. Keep going, until you’ve checked every business or found your number, whichever comes first. This is time-consuming, and not all businesses are listed, but sometimes it works.
Other Number Searches
Spokeo’s reverse phone number lookup draws data from a number of public and proprietary sources, which is why it’s so powerful. That being said, it’s often worth trying a search on Google (or your alternative search engine of choice) just to see what comes up. As a rule, these searches will only link a name to the number if they’re explicitly, publicly paired, perhaps in a listing on one of Google’s services for businesses. A private individual’s number will seldom show up.
What will sometimes show up is a mention of your number on a consumer complaints site. These are public forums where users can report scam calls, calls from collection agencies, or telemarketing robocalls. If the number you’re searching shows up on a few of those sites, you can simply block it and move on.
Another option is to type the phone number into the search bar on the main social media sites. This is a long shot as well, but if the person (or company) calling you has made their phone number public on their profile, it will turn up. Even if the rest of the information is hidden from you, you’ll now have a name to go with the location and phone number. It may not answer all of your questions, but it’s at least enough to decide whether to return those calls, or just block the number.
How to Find a Phone Number Owner through Your Library
Your library can also sometimes help you find a phone number’s owner for free. To begin with, your library may have an institutional subscription to one or more paid search tools. That means you can access it through the library’s website, and all it costs you is your (usually free) library membership.
Some libraries may also have physical reverse directories available in their reference departments (you might remember these as “Criss-Cross” directories, the name used by one of the major publishers). These are similar to an online reverse phone number lookup, and can be in print or on optical disc format. It might seem odd to get a hard copy of a big database — it will always be a bit dated by the time you actually receive it — but it doesn’t require internet access, and it can act as a “snapshot” for future archival research.
The limitations of this approach are that you’ll usually need to go physically to the library to use it, that the information may be outdated, and that usually the library will only have a directory for the local area. If you’re looking for information in a different city, you can try calling the central public library for that area, and asking whether they have a reverse directory, but it’s a long shot and may take some time for a response even when they have one.
It’s Easier with Spokeo
The TL,DR version of all this is that if you really want to find a phone number owner for free there are several avenues you can pursue. Often you’ll succeed, and often you won’t. The question then becomes “Is this the best use of my time?”
There are only so many hours in the day, and most of us can’t find enough of them to do the things we really want to do. Viewed in that context, the initial price to try a paid Spokeo search subscription — about $0.95 for your phone report and a 7 day trial — is pretty minimal. If you find the search useful, inexpensive automatically renewing monthly or quarterly subscriptions can keep your cost per search to a minimum.
Any of these options give you access to Spokeo’s broad and deep data sources. You’ll know at a glance who called, whether it was a company or an individual, and (through our Phone Reputation Score) whether it was likely to be a spammer or scammer. If it’s an individual, you’ll probably also see a wealth of other information, from their social media profiles to their home ownership status.
It’s a lot more than you’ll get for free, and it’s fast. So you’ll find the answers to your questions quickly, and have more time for living your life.
- Google Maps: Home
- Data Axle: Physical Directories
- Library of Congress: Directories by Address: Inventories of Library Collections