When you were a kid, you probably called your friends and enemies to annoy them. Annoying people doesn’t do much damage, save for those 2 am calls that woke up the whole house. As an adult, the stakes are higher. When someone calls and hangs up, you don’t know if they realized they called the wrong number, or if they’re stalking you, pulling a prank, or trying to tap your phone.
One hang up call isn’t a big deal, but when you repeatedly receive nuisance calls, you need to figure out who’s making those calls. There are several apps to help with prank and nuisance calls, but the nature of cell phones makes that information challenging to trace. Caller ID doesn’t work as well with cell phones, and there’s no guarantee the caller isn’t spoofing the information.
How wired caller ID works
When you make a call on a landline, two separate signals are sent to the recipient through the wires. One for the ring, and another for the caller ID information. The caller ID information sent to the recipient of your call doesn’t come from you or your phone, but rather, the local phone company translates your phone number to a name, phone number, and city.
You’ve probably noticed caller ID on your cell phone often provides only a name. On a landline, you can receive full caller ID data from incoming calls including the person’s name. Cell phones have a native caller ID feature that displays the name and phone number of the caller, but not much more. The location is often limited to a caller’s state, and may not be accurate. The other problem is cell phone caller ID data is easy to spoof.
Wireless cell phones process caller data through cell towers, and much of the caller’s information is lost in the process due to incompatibilities. Most cellular networks were built before caller ID, so it’s unlikely to change at the root. However, there are ways to get better caller ID information on a cell phone.
How to search for a caller with limited caller ID information
It’s frustrating and sometimes scary to receive anonymous calls. If someone’s harassing or threatening you, it’s important to identify them. Usually those people will block caller ID, but not always.
At the very least, when you receive a call that isn’t blocked, you’ll have a phone number to work with. Use a tool for free cell phone lookup to find out who is associated with that number. A search will give you the owner’s full name, address, and other personal information.
Another option is to run a Google search for the phone number in question. You’ll find out if that number is associated with spam calls or scams. For example, say you receive a call from someone claiming you owe a debt, and it sounds familiar, but you haven’t been in touch with the company for years. You should look up the number before giving away your financial information. Even if you know the debt is real and the number matches the company’s number, be cautious about making a payment over the phone. Caller ID information can be spoofed.
If you know you’ve already paid the debt, the caller may have gotten ahold of your personal information and an old debt statement from the trash.
Be cautious with using caller ID apps
Cell phone caller ID apps sound promising, but many take your contacts and add them to their database. The purpose is to improve accuracy, but it’s also a violation of privacy. For example, these caller ID apps work, but most compromise the privacy of your contacts. When companies claim they don’t use the data for any other purposes, that might be true. However, all it would take is one data breach to expose the data they collect to an unauthorized third party.
If you’re getting harassing phone calls, don’t let the limitations of caller ID stop you from finding out who it is. If you can’t identify the caller with apps and phone number look ups, contact the police. If you’re being threatened, the police may be willing to answer the call on your behalf and tell the caller to stop.