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7 Ways Telemarketers Get Your Cell Phone Number

by on April 06, 2018
in Phones and Mobile, Tips & How-Tos, Privacy :: 33 comments

If you’re in the shrinking pool of people who still have a landline, you’re most likely inundated with calls from telemarketers.

But your cell phone is different, right? You may have registered on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry and maybe you know regulations exist that limit the ways debt collectors and companies selling things can pester you on your cell phone.

That kind of thinking isn’t grounded in reality and, unfortunately, a growing number of telemarketing companies don’t care about lists and legislation and will harass you with unwanted calls and texts on your mobile phone anyway. In fact, a recent study by YouMail, a free robocall blocker provider, recently estimated 30.7 billion robocalls in 2017—those lacking a human being on the other end. The FTC recorded more than 7 million robocall complaints in 2017, up from 5.3 million in 2016.

But how do telemarketers get your phone number anyway? You might be surprised.

1. You overshare your number

Anytime you fill out a form and give out your phone number—whether it’s a contest entry, a warranty registration, a signup form for an online service, what you include on your social networking profile—you’re opening yourself up for solicitations. Or, think about how many retailers have your number because you want loyalty points to score discounts or in-store credit.

Even putting your phone number in your email signature can put you at risk. As can giving your number to your dentist for appointment reminders or favorite food delivery service to get a "convenient" text notification. Even using two-step authentication services (which we hope you do!) requires you to give up your phone number.

If you enter your number on a form or online, there's a chance that your number will end up in someone else's hands. 

2. You accept Terms of Use without reading or understanding them

A growing number of mobile apps—things like flashlight utilities or games—are really only interested in harvesting your personal information and selling it. So make sure you read the Terms of Use or Terms of Service. And check to see what apps want to access when you install them.

3. Big data has killed privacy

In case you don’t know what “big data” is, here’s a brief primer.

Basically, we live in an age where computers are so smart and fast they can crawl the web and look at billions of data points instantly. In a blink they can look at everything you Like, pin or tweet. They can mine census data and other public records, such as how much you paid for your house and whether or not it was ever foreclosed upon. Just search for yourself on—you’ll be amazed at the number of companies that claim to have information about your family, income, phone number and much, much more. (Check out our guide to removing yourself from people search services.)

Again, the more information you share online, the easier it’s going to be for someone to get your mobile number.

4. Technology can dial zillions of random numbers like it’s nothing

We’ve all received calls that don’t have another human on the other end. Not only is the recording automated, oftentimes so is the process of finding your number. Automatic dialing devices can figure out and call all possible phone number combinations, including unlisted and mobile numbers.

5. Automatic Number Identification can also sabotage you

When you call 800, 888, and 900 numbers your phone number can be captured by a system called "Automatic Number Identification" or ANI. ANI automatically identifies and stores your number and matches it with other online digital markers associated with you. (See the big data section above.)

6. The credit bureaus give away your information

Before you get mad at them for spilling so much of your personal information, remember—you’re the one who agreed to sign up for that department-store credit card so as to receive 25% off.

7. Charities take all the fun out of being philanthropic

Don’t you hate it when you give $10 to some charity that’s been hounding you only to have it double down on trying to get even more money from you? The few bucks you gave it are completely eaten up in its marketing efforts to get deeper access to your wallet.

Blame the third-party telemarketing companies the charities hire to collect funds on their behalf. Telemarketers keep a percentage of whatever they collect, turning over the rest of your donation to the charity. However, the telemarketers also keep your personal information, from which they can profit exponentially as they sell and resell it to other telemarketing companies.

What to do about it

First, be smart about accepting Terms of Use when it comes to apps you’re downloading onto your smartphone. Does a flashlight utility really need access to your call logs?

And, while some telemarketers don’t heed it, many do—register your number on the National Do Not Call Registry (Do Not Call registrations never expire, so don't fall for the current scam that prompts you to re-register). Note that if you give your cell phone number to a business, they can call you for up to 180 days after even if you’re on the Do Not Call Registry

[Editor's note: Canada has its own Do Not Call registry which can be found HERE]

Even better, use a fake or alternate number if you absolutely must sign up for a loyalty program or contest. And there’s simply no reason you need to post your phone number on Facebook or your Google profile. The people who you want to hear from already have your number.

Also, make sure to install on your phone an app that will block numbers from texting and calling you. And use an app that identifies spammers when they call. We like Nomorobo, which is available for iOS, Android, and your landline phone. Alternately, get a Google Voice number. It has a good screener and you can block numbers.

Finally, don't answer calls from numbers you don't recognize. A real person will leave a message or call you back. And don't get taken in by numbers that look familiar. Increasingly, scammers are using a trick called number spoofing to fake a number with the same area code and exchange as your phone number.

This post was updated on 4/6/2018.

[woman screaming into phone via Shutterstock]

Discussion loading


From lyn buerger on July 01, 2013 :: 11:58 am

The do not call registry is a joke.  Assuming you keep records and report them and assuming anything is done about it all they have to do is re-route they call through another number and keep on keeping on.
I’m anxiously awaiting the way to block robo calls and thanks to our and their $50,000. reward we have two systems coming. on is and hopefully it won’t cost much and will work.



Do Not Call Registry

From Nancy on July 01, 2013 :: 12:24 pm

I have a land line. Signing up for the Do Not Call Registry is a total waste of time and effort. I even left messages about the constant solicitors on their site. Energy, home improvement, and carpet cleaner calls are endless. These robocallers (and also live people) call at lunch, dinner time, and about 7 pm. Unfortunately there is no caller ID number on who is calling when you answer the phone. The phone company passes the buck and tells you to sign up on Do Not Call.

However, when you sign up with a reputable online site for a merchandise sale, if you do not fill in your phone number you cannot go to the next step in ordering. Phone numbers are required entries. So you are stuck with giving out your phone number.



If you must sign up, don't tell them everything

From Mary on July 01, 2013 :: 5:52 pm

Whenever a phone number is demanded on a site I deliberately sign up for, I simply use a phone number I had like 20 years ago.  This rarely fails to go through.  It does piss me off to no end that websites ask for your snail mail address when all you want to do is receive some online newsletter.  I would prefer to forego receiving something of relatively little value than to hand out this much personal information all the time.

By the way, Mozilla has a plug-in called “Mask Me” or something like that which allows you to put a fake email address in one of these online forms; you get any messages from them in your actual originating email address initially but then you can block them.  This much is free; I think it costs money if you want to use it to create fake phone numbers.

The Automatic Number Identification data mininig thing mentioned in number 5 above is really creepy.  This sort of thing should be illegal and it should be easier to block such things from a non-smartphone cell phone.  Back when all we had was caller-id on the landline, I just didn’t answer any number I didn’t recognize or let it go to the answering machine.  Now I almost never answer the cell phone because I only use it for emergencies anyway.  But then, I always hated the telephone.  Most people aren’t so stubborn.



just don't answer

From jimmy kraktov on May 28, 2014 :: 12:44 am

My entire working life was retail sales. The telephone made me lots of money over the years but when I finished work I rarely used my phone at home. I paid a small fee every month for almost 40 years to keep my number unlisted. Before I had caller ID all I could do, and always did, was hang up on anyone I didn’t know when the phone rang. I have an old cellphone in my car that’s ready to use in an emergency. I now have, for a home phone, a magicJack connected to my computer. Any call I get is shown on my TV screen. If it’s not in my list of contacts or a number doesn’t appear I simply don’t answer. One click on the interface on screen and the phone stops ringing and my peace and privacy is maintained. I’ve always been amazed by the number of people I know who scramble to answer a ringing phone. Like there’s some rule that says you have to. Afraid they’ll miss out on something important. That’s what voicemail is for. Putting my info on the “Do Not Call” list has reduced, but not fully eliminated robocalls, but again, if the phone rings, I have never felt the need to answer. It’s about all one can do to keep from being pestered, and it works. I take full advantage of my ‘voicemail’ feature. These days there is no reason anyone has to talk on the phone with strangers, or even people you know, while you’re busy doing something else.

gravatar doesn't work

From Guest on November 25, 2013 :: 6:50 pm doesn’t work. It increase junk calls ten fold! People do you want a free solution(the only one you should be using)? Login online on the computer to your phone providers website. They have a place where you can block numbers. I haven’t had a spam call since! Of course you pay for your phone and phone bills, but that’s beside the point. This blocking solution provided by your phone service is free of charge smile ! If you don’t believe me, go look at your phone provider for yourself.



That's not accurate

From Josh Kirschner on November 26, 2013 :: 2:43 pm

Not sure what you’re basing your comments on. won’t increase junk calls at all, and should reduce them by a fair amount if it works as promised.

The problem with using your phone company’s blocking is that you must manually enter every number you want to block. And, unless you know in advance what spammers are going to call, you’re not going to have much luck with that.




From Joe on March 27, 2018 :: 10:23 am

Here’s my phone number go ahead and call me.



Thank you for the heads-up!

From Jeffrey Deutsch on July 01, 2013 :: 12:04 pm

Hello Christina,

Excellent reminder that most of us could stand to tighten up our personal information safety practices.

If you want a number to give retailers and others, please don’t just make one up without knowing for sure that it won’t impact innocent folks. Instead—especially if it’s something where you might actually want to hear back from them*—you might like to get a free voicemail number at K7.

(No, I don’t work for them; I’m just a satisfied “customer”.)

On the other hand, if you know you won’t want to hear from them, you can always give them the Telemarketer’s Nightmare: (973) 474-9051.

And with regard to apps, thank you also for the reminder to check app permissions. If, when considering a new app, I see any permission I’m not sure I understand why it’s there, I look on the developer’s website (if applicable) to see if they’ve listed permission reasons there. If not, or if I don’t understand what I see there, I email the developer and ask.

[*] For contests, you’ll need to give a number where they can at least leave a message for you.

Keep up the good work!

Jeff Deutsch



From on July 01, 2013 :: 12:36 pm

Ithink it’s amazing that when I clicked on the link, it was for a contest that requests….my phone number.



Which link?

From Josh Kirschner on July 01, 2013 :: 1:10 pm

Which link is taking you to a contest?



Call Blocking

From Don on July 15, 2013 :: 5:54 pm

The thing I would like very much to see is call blocking on my cell phone. The ability to block entire area codes and individual exchanges would put an end to many of these calls. Of course the cell companies won’t do that because they make money on every call.



There are apps for that (At least on Android!)

From Jeffrey Deutsch on July 15, 2013 :: 6:04 pm


Check out Techlicious’ recent piece for several good Android apps for call blocking.

In fact, just today I installed PrivacyStar so I’ll see how that goes.

Jeff Deutsch



Jeff Deutsch

From Don on July 15, 2013 :: 6:22 pm

Thanks Jeff but I don’t have an Android.



Situation in Europe

From ABT on December 16, 2014 :: 9:58 am

Not only in the US, but also here in Europe we are experiencing this problem. I work for a B2B leadgeneration company, where we combine all sorts of available data,but we still respect an individual’s privacy. In the past I worked for a b2c call center,where it was common practice to get private phone numbers from various sources, such as debt collectors, enquiries, phone companies etc. Fortunately that’s all forbidden by law now.



Trying to get a job costs to much

From Brian Winiarski on March 23, 2015 :: 2:02 pm

I have been looking for work for quite a while. Many companies no longer accept applications and require workers to apply online. This is because the human resources gods in control of our lives are unable and unwilling to lift a piece of paper. They cannot perform the job they are hiring for or any job except their’ own. They cannot build things, plant things, create things, or fight our’ countries battles. They will soon be unable to wipe their’ own butts. They only know how to use the technology that workers build. They are in control of whether we get to work or not though so they think they are more intelligent than us. Usually they require a phone number and email address for contact info when a job application is being submitted. I have filled out about fourty of these online applications within the past 6 months. I have not been contacted about any jobs, but have recieved about 60 calls from telemarketers and hundreds of spam emails. I am 45 yrs. old and very intelligent. It is painfully obvious to me that internet and social media and the misuse of it by the lazy, greedy, arrogant rulers of the working class citizens of society is the number one factor that will destroy this nation and eventually the world. Technology is wonderful, but we create it and build it and those that only know how to use it become arrogant and greedy and lack the true intelligence needed to better the world. They spend all day looking at a computer sreen or smartphone and think they are intillectually superior to the person who used his hands to build that computer, smartphone, house,car,office,road,airplane,television, and everything else. They lure me in with hope of a job then sell my contact info to a telemarketer. I will starve. Who then will build them a house, fix their’ car fight their’ wars, and wipe their’ butts?



no listed number

From jimmy kraktov on April 26, 2015 :: 2:40 pm

I have a magicJack and have been using it now for about 5 years.Its biggest plus, besides the really cheap price for service, is the fact that the phone number you get isn’t listed anywhere. The magicJack people have your number for ID and billing purposes only. No one else has access to it. You can’t even get a magicJack number listed, anywhere. As long as you don’t give out your number carelessly you’ll never get a telemarketing call.



MagicJack is not a "perfect" junk call blocker

From ctsurv553 on October 16, 2016 :: 10:55 pm

> magicJack people have your number for ID
> and billing purposes only.
> No one else has access to it.
> you’ll never get a telemarketing call.

That is not completely true. As long as you are connected to the world with any technology that ultimately uses a 10-digit phone number as your device’s address, you can still get robo-calls, those junk calls that are dialed by a computer grinding out calls in sequence, or maybe at random. These auto-dialers are programmed to dial a number, wait a certain number of rings to be picked up, then listen for you to say “hello?”, then patch you through to either a recorded message or a live person. Try this: the next time you get a number where the caller ID is unknown, pick up the handset but DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Just listen. Most likely, there will be a few seconds of silence, which is the auto-dialer waiting for a response: either a fax machine hand-shake signal, or for a human to say “hello?”. If the auto-dialer gets a fax machine, or just silence for 4 or 5 seconds, it hangs up and goes on to the next number. If it was in fact a friend or family member trying to reach you, THEY will say “hello?, is anyone there?”, and you can then say “Hi!” yourself and explain that you didn’t answer right away because you thought it was a junk call. All of this would be unnecessary if the caller ID system actually worked, but it is nearly worthless for screening out junk calls. Telemarketers and scammers have all figured out ways to spoof the system, and even the phone carriers themselves contribute to the problem because many of them (Verizon for example) don’t transmit the proper caller ID in the first place. When my daughter, a Verizon customer, phones me, all I see on my caller ID is “wireless caller”. No name, no phone number, not even what city the call is being placed from. Completely useless. A “wireless caller” could be ANYONE, calling from ANYWHERE. When she was with AT&T, my caller ID showed her name, at least. All of my friends and family who are with Verizon have useless caller ID’s that just say “wireless caller” or “unknown caller”. BTW, my phone is a landline. I can’t stand cell phones. They cost 10 times as much as a land line and sound worse than the soup-can-and-kite-string toy phones we played with as kids 50 years ago. How the hell can the manufacturers, especially Apple and Samsung, get away with charging $500 bucks or more for a cell phone that has audio voice call quality worse than the phones that my grandparents were using 100 years ago?



Great Post CTSERVE!

From Mike on June 01, 2017 :: 4:41 pm

Thanks for all that great info. Hope it helps everyone out some.


Well explained, Im very annoyed

From Maryann Farrugia on September 04, 2015 :: 2:56 am

Well explained, Im very annoyed because of the robo calls they call over and over again. They don’t follow the do not call registry rule just to market their b***s***. They must be sued and file a complain to the bureau.



robo calls

From jimmy kraktov on September 14, 2015 :: 1:10 am

I can understand your frustration. Robo calls are truly ‘mindless’ and stopping them difficult. Two tips that I can think of here. First, never answer any unknown number. If it’s a robo call or a live telemarketer, they rely on a reply. If you answer, just to yell at them, they’ve made a connection and you’ll remain on the ‘sucker’ list. Second one involves the Internet. If you sign up for anything online you’re usually asked, by way of a tick box, if they can share with “select third party” partners. Never agree to that because you just gave your info to someone you don’t know and it becomes fair game in the world of scammers and spammers. Again, and assuming you have call display, never answer an unknown number. You likely have all your contacts in a list. If it’s important they’ll leave a message. Robo calls don’t leave messages as a rule. I started my life new when I got my magicJack and NEW phone number. Only friends and family have it and I will not give it to anyone else except my bank and VISA. If ever required, I can get a new phone number, online, in literally seconds, for $10. My junk calls stopped the day I plugged in my new phone. Personal information is, these days, worth $$$ to a lot of people. Guard it very carefully.



You forgot the best part in this article ...

From Michael on July 21, 2016 :: 11:34 am

These people need to PAY for their sins, with $$$.  They can be fined up to $16,000 PER call if violating the Federal DNC list.  Check it out:



Don't be an idiot

From Jack on November 19, 2017 :: 6:27 pm

Keep in mind, the DNC list exists only to stop SALES calls. Not everyone is a telemarketer. If they are not a telemarketer, it doesn’t matter if you are on the list.



Calling someone is not a

From Jack on November 19, 2017 :: 6:29 pm

Calling someone is not a sin. Lol, idiot.




From Fixit Mann on September 05, 2016 :: 10:54 am

I have a business page on Facebook, where I had listed my number. I was receiving 10 or more telemarketing and scam calls a day until I took my number off that page. If you have a business listed on Facebook, TAKE THE PHONE NUMBER OFF. The calls will stop almost immediately.
Facebook should NEVER ask for your phone number, it is NOT necessary, and if you deliberately post your number on it, yes, even for a business, you are just asking for robo-calls! By doing business with Facebook you have just consented to share your information with anyone they do business with (Even robocallers) and it is an exception to the “do not call” rule.



complaint aganist apple i phone5s

From praveen sharma on October 17, 2016 :: 1:41 pm

If you have any lucky Customer details plz provide me Apple iPhone5s



don't give any number

From Fake numbers on October 31, 2016 :: 5:11 pm

Hey… when you give a fake number out it could be someone else’s number—like mine. Now I’m stuck with dozens of telemarketers. I have to block a few more every day. Thanks.




From fedup on January 27, 2017 :: 2:49 pm

I do not know how they got my cell phone number because the only people that have it is my family.  When asked my telephone number etc. on any form, I list no cell phone.  I have never listed my cell phone in all the years that I have had it.  Who sells your numbers?



Dollar Reverse Up and Free

From Andrew Smallwood on February 12, 2017 :: 9:00 pm

This is just an update from my previous post. is up and running and is 100% free. No gimmicks, just follow the instructions. If you are wondering what information is available from your number, check it out. Or if you need to find the identity of another number. There is no limit, every search reveals all information we have on a particular number. Email me if you have any issues at andrew AT




From BackTracer on May 02, 2017 :: 11:31 am

I have had NomoRobo for several years and it works great. It nails at least 95% of the 4 to 8 telemarketing calls I get daily. Words of advice - never call back an unknown number. They will put it on their list as good and resell it to other telemarketers. I have also heard that doing things like using #250 on your cell phone will propagate your cell # to other telemarketers.



Yes, we're big fans, too

From Josh Kirschner on May 02, 2017 :: 2:14 pm

We’re also big fans of Nomorobo. We’ve been using it for our home and business lines and have seen a significant percentage of the spam calls get blocked. In fact, we just a whole article about Nomorobo a few months ago, recommending it to our readers:



Over the Internet Phones

From Michael J Bouley on March 27, 2018 :: 12:39 pm

I used to get all kinds of spam calls in my internet phone I wound up get the number changed.




From Harriet on April 06, 2018 :: 6:34 pm

I’ve had it for a few years and it works really well.  I don’t need to look at the caller ID—if the phone rings only once, NOMOROBO picked it up.  If the caller is legit, he will be instructed how to get through and the caller ID will show a number that ends in something like 0666. 

My car dealership had tried to call me, came in as 1 ring.  A minute or so later, a call came through with that special number and left a message.  When I returned the call, I asked what they were told by NOMOROBO and that’s how I found out about the special number that will appear in caller ID.

Some spam calls do get through and I do not answer.  If really legit, they will leave a message.  But the number of spam calls that do get through has been greatly reduced since I have NOMOROBO.



Be Considerate

From Taminar on April 21, 2018 :: 6:00 pm

When you give out a 20-year-old phone number, you do realize that you’re now subjecting someone else to those robocalls, right? Ditto with making something up; it may be a real phone number for someone else.

I’m doubly frustrated because I have a prepaid phone. Not a 40-dollars-a-month unlimited calls and texts prepaid. I put $100 on it in December and if I’m careful, that lasts me all year.

However, a helpful “text” from the doctor’s office may be filled with so much information that it counts as three texts to my flip phone. And I hate third party authentification, because I have to pay to get that code. We have a free Google phone, and it can get texts, but some systems refuse to recognize it as a real phone number.


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