In a world full of spam and robo-calls, most of us look at an unknown number on our cell phones with a healthy dose of suspicion. What will happen if you answer? Will it be a legitimate call like an appointment reminder, or is it someone looking to scam you out of your money or personal information?
The easiest way to manage this is to simply not answer your phone when a number you don't recognize comes calling. If it's important, the caller can leave a voicemail or get in touch with you through email or text messaging. But you might still be curious about who was on the other end, and Google may be able to help.
Google's far-reaching search engine should be your first stop when it comes to tracking down a mysterious phone number. Here's how it works.
Reverse phone lookups
Back in the days of old-fashioned white and yellow pages, you would look up a number by finding a business's or person's name in the directory. A reverse phone lookup is what you do when you don't have a name to start with. It's all about uncovering the caller behind the number that appeared on your phone.
Since Google catalogs a ton of businesses, your chances of success are pretty good if the number belongs to a company of some sort. Individuals can be more challenging, but even here Google might be able to shine some light on the mystery.
How to search
With the phone number handy, head over to Google.com and type it into the search box, area code included. So, using a fake movie phone number as an example, it would read 602-555-0100. Run the search and scan the first few results that pop up. If the number belongs to a business, you should the see the name at or near the top of the search results.
Hopefully, this answers your burning question about that mystery number. Perhaps it was a call you were expecting, a legitimate contact from a business, or a even a misdialed number.
Another possibility is that you will see the number logged with one of several websites that attempt to track phone numbers associated with spammers and scammers. This can be a strong indication that the call wasn't from a legitimate person or business.
Keep in mind that scammers have gotten very good at spoofing phone numbers, so you may even get calls from fake numbers that share the same first six digits as your own. You'll be glad you didn't answer that mystery call.
If Google gives you a business name in return, it's likely to be accurate, but personal cell phone numbers are notoriously hard to track.
So when it comes to individuals, be more careful. For example, I searched for my own phone number, one that I've had for over 10 years. Google returned search results associating my number with the names of two different people, neither of whom I know. My phone number may have once belonged to those people, or it could just be a quirk of the search engine. My name never appeared in Google's search results.
You may still be able to track down a name if that person has shared his or her phone number through a site that Google indexes, like certain online marketplaces or social media sources. Again, don't take this information as gospel. Names that appear in search results might not be accurate.
While it won't work for every number, Google can be a great way to find out who's behind an unknown phone call. You don't have to answer numbers you don't recognize, but you may at least be able to satisfy your curiosity.
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