How to Look Up a Phone Number and Run a Reverse Search

Public Records Search

Before the internet age, looking up a phone number was a much more manual process. The easiest method was to call “information”, which uses the number 411. Using that number, people could provide the name of a person or a business and a directory assistance operator would look up the number on their behalf. In many cases, an automated voice would read the phone number back to the caller.

In some situations, the directory assistance operator would need to ask for more information, such as the difference between two people with the same name, or the street where a particular business may be located. In addition to 411, people relied on printed phone books. Printed books for both the white pages and yellow pages were distributed to all homes and businesses in the country. In addition, the local library kept copies of the books for all of the counties in the area. Looking up a number required physically searching through the book, which was arranged in alphabetical order to find the name and number of the person you were seeking. Everyone in the county was included by default, but could opt out by submitting a request to the phone company. If you needed the number of a person living outside the local area, calling information was the best option.

How to Look Up a Phone Number

These days, public telephone directories are available as online databases and can be accessed quickly via computer, tablet or mobile device. To find a number, go to one of the search databases (see the list below). Locate their search form and enter the individual’s first name and last name. If you only have a partial name, enter whatever you have. If you know the city and state, enter that too. Leave the city/state fields blank if you want to search then entire country. The database will generate a list of results. Look through the names to see if you found a match, if not, conduct another search using different parameters. If you’re efforts don’t succeed, we recommend visiting another databases and run the same queries. Some of the services use different data sources, so you may end up with different results.

How to Do a Reverse Phone Number Search

A reverse search is used when you have the phone number, whether a landline or cell, and need to match it to a physical address. Most of the search services in the list below offer reverse matching tools. To begin, visit one of the sites and locate their reverse lookup tool. Then, just type in the number and hit enter. The results should show potential matches with the individuals name and/or address, city and state. Similar to the approach described above, plan to visit multiple sites and run the same query to see if you get different results.


How to Get the Best Results

There are a few time-saving tricks that will help you save time and get more accurate results.

  • Use multiple websites to access potentially different public records sources
  • Search using partial numbers to narrow down results to a particular area code and calling prefix
  • Do a Google search to see if the number shows up on any sites

See White Pages for more resources.

How to Find Unlisted Telephone Numbers

There is no easy way to find unlisted phone numbers. Individuals who don’t want their phone number listed in the telephone directory do so for a reason. They prefer to remain anonymous to avoid many of the calls from telemarketers and scammers. However, even unlisted numbers find their way into records systems, as people may list them on applications, resumes, social media profiles, etc. Some database information providers compile contact information from alternative public records sources which may pick up some unlisted numbers. Paying to access such services may increase the likelihood of a match.

Search Tools, Databases and Websites

There are a number of websites that provide searchable versions of the white pages and yellow pages. Multiple numbers can be searched at no cost. Following are some of the more popular sites.

  • Spokeo People Search– Spokeo is a people search engine that specializes in aggregating and organizing vast quantities of people-related information from a large variety of public sources. The public data is amassed and presented in an integrated, coherent, and easy-to-follow format. It is a great resource for private investigators.
  • The Internet 800 Directory – The Internet 800 directory website is a large collection of searchable toll-free numbers.
  • Number – was created with the goal of creating a community-driven website that allows people to post details on annoying callers, and telemarketers.
  • Pay Phone Directory – Pay Telephones have been slowly phasing out for many years, but some still exist. The Pay Phone Directory website offers information on thousands of pay telephone numbers in the United States, Canada, and other countries.
  • Phone Validator– The Phone Validator is a useful tool that allows users to learn if a phone number is a landline or a cell phone.  The site also allows users to automatically run the phone number through directory assistance and Google to develop new leads.
  •– This site is a global directory with index of e-mail addresses and phone numbers. Formerly known as BigBook, SuperPages and Switchboard. provides users with access to the complete Yellow Pages (and business white pages) for the United States. The site has a nice feature of a map interface that can plot an address to street level, or select phone numbers in a mapped area.
  • WhoWhere– WhoWhere is a website that provides access to both business and residential numbers for the USA. Search by name and location.
  •– Private detectives can use this website to search for businesses through the yellow pages business phone book.
  • U S West Dex– Dex is one of the leading Yellow Pages publishers. A leader in local search, Dex connects business and consumers through its portfolio of print solutions and online at

Call the Number

It’s the simplest thing you can do. Pick up and call the number. But pretend to be someone else to avoid recognition. When they answer, ask for a person with an unusual name not likely to be there. Say something like “Hello, is Lilly Becky there? No? Are you absolutely sure? Well, who am I talking to then?” Be a little forceful. Even sound angry, as if you think they’re lying to you. This approach can rattle the other person and make them reveal their identity. Avoid this one if you’re not comfortable acting. And make sure you don’t call from a number that can be traced back to you!

Get an Inside Connection

Having a buddy on the inside of the phone company was classic approach for TV detectives. If you recall the Rockford Files or Mannix or any other old private eye show, they were forever pulling over to a pay phone and calling their friend, Ginger or Susie or Maggie, at the telephone company. The friend would dutifully give them whatever information the PI needed to pursue the case.

Interestingly, this method actually works – even if it’s a little on the shady side. If you know someone at the company, you can probably talk them into helping.

Unfortunately, they probably won’t help you once a week like on the TV shows. At some point your friend’s better judgment will take over. You’ll be left with nothing but numbers again. (Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, just what the detective had that you don’t).

Intelius Search

Are you seeing an unknown number on your caller ID on your cell, mobile or home phone? Did the monthly bill come in and there are calls made to a number that is unfamiliar? Intelius can provide you with answers to these kind of questions, and more, with a Reverse Phone Number Search.

This search report provides you with the name and location behind that mysterious number. Intelius access to premium public records that goes beyond the “white pages” and therefore are able to provide you with contact information behind a number that other sites cannot. And if we can’t find it in our database immediately, we’ll take an extra step and run an expert search and return phone lookup results within 48 hours at no additional charge. Your search is 100% confidential. Run a Search now.

A reverse telephone number search directory is a database of numbers and associated customer details such as mailing addresses, city, state and zip code.  A reverse directory allows users to search by a number to retrieve the details associated with that number (owner name, address, etc.).

Such directories are used by law enforcement, emergency services, skip tracers, and private detectives to determine the origin or owner of a phone number.  Some of these systems use both listed and unlisted telephone number sources. However, most of the free lookup tools on the internet will search only listed, non-private numbers.

What Do Private Investigators Need to Know?

In almost every investigation case, a private investigator will have a need to look up a phone number. Investigators run phone number searches for a variety of reasons such as: searching for missing persons, conducting background investigations and employment checks, to track down a debtor, locate a witness or expert for a court trial, or as a part of everyday business.


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