When your cellphone rings, your first instinct is to check who’s calling before you pick up. But what happens when you look at the screen to find no number?
When a private caller rings your phone, their contact information and identity are hidden from you. It might show up on your screen as:
- Private caller
- No caller ID
While you may be wary of answering a call from a private number, if you don’t pick up, then how do you know if you want to return the call? Fortunately, there are ways to try and track down how to call back a private number.
Step 1: Call a private number for free with *69 or #69
Even though it’s legal for anyone to block their number for privacy reasons, it’s also within your right to try and uncover the identity behind a masked number. The first method you can try is Last Call Return, a universal Vertical Service Code (VSC) governed by the North American Numbering Plan Administration.
For landlines, dial *69 to automatically call back the last number that called you. On a mobile phone, dial #69. Keep in mind that your phone provider may set a time limit in calling back a number, typically within 30 minutes of the last call.
When using the *69 (or #69) calling method, you won’t get the actual phone number of the person who rang you, but you’ll at least get in touch with the caller. While there’s no guarantee the caller will pick up, you might get their voicemail, which could give you a clue to their identity.
Step 2: Look up the number in your call log, then use a reverse phone search
If you missed your window to use Last Call Return, you can always check your phone usage log when you receive your monthly statement. Mobile and landline phone companies track every incoming and outgoing call to your phone—and sometimes calls that come from private numbers are unmasked in these logs. You can look at the call records on your phone, then match up the date and time to your phone company’s usage log.
If you track down the phone number and want to learn more about it before dialing back, you can perform a reverse phone search. To do so, type the phone number into the search bar, then tap the search button to run a report. It may turn up the identity of the person or company behind the private number.
However, if you’re dealing with a spoofed call, a reverse phone lookup won’t turn up any information—that in itself may clue you in that you’re dealing with a robocaller or scammer. According to the FCC, caller ID spoofing is illegal if there’s intent to “defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value.”
Step 3: Use a service to unblock masked numbers
Receiving a steady stream of calls from private numbers can be downright annoying. If you’re looking for a way to unblock all masked numbers, you can use a paid subscription service, such as TrapCall, which is an app available for both iOS and Android phones.
With the app, you’ll decline an incoming call from a private or masked number. Then TrapCall will unmask the phone number and any associated caller ID information.
Step 4: Use call tracing to unblock private callers
Another option to get to the bottom of a private, blocked or restricted call is to use call tracing. After receiving a call from a blocked number, dial *57 (or #57 from a mobile phone) and follow your phone company’s recorded instructions. After the trace attempt is complete, a recorded message will tell you whether the phone company successfully traced the phone number, name and address of the caller.
While this method of unmasking a number isn’t immediately useful to you—for privacy reasons, the information isn’t delivered to you directly—it could be helpful if you’re being harassed. If a private caller is traced successfully at least three times and you have kept a documented log of the dates and times you activated call tracing, you can contact local law enforcement and your phone company to request that action be taken against the offending caller.
With consumers receiving more than 5.1 billion robocalls a month, getting a private number call can be annoying. But at least you have options to find out who’s calling you, especially if it’s a common occurrence.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a private number?
It is an incoming call that may show up on your cellphone screen as a number that may be restricted, unknown, blocked, a private caller or no caller ID.
How to call back a private number with *69 or #69?
For landlines, dial *69 (or what is known as Last Return Call) to automatically call back the last number that called you. On a mobile phone, dial #69. Keep in mind that your phone provider may set a time limit in calling back a number, typically within 30 minutes of the last call.
What other services can unmask a private number?
A paid subscription service, such as TrapCall, an app available for both iOS and Android phones, can unmask an incoming private or masked number and any associated caller ID information. Another option is to use call tracing. After receiving a call from a blocked number, dial *57 (or #57 from a mobile phone) and follow your phone company's recorded instructions. After the trace attempt is complete, a recorded message will tell you whether the phone company successfully traced the phone number, name and address of the caller.