These days when the phone rings and I don’t recognize the number, I usually just ignore the call. If someone really wants to reach me, they’ll leave a message. But when I’m expecting a call back from a doctor or am just curious about who called, I turn to a reverse-number lookup service.
The problem is that if you Google "free reverse number lookup" or some similar term, you'll get a lot of "people search" sites that claim to be free but actually charge a fee or provide a free trial to a recurring fee service (which you have to remember to cancel, and they may not make it easy). Some sites I found are just plain deceptive, claiming free search and just forwarding you to the people search sites for affiliate commissions.
There is one free service I’ve found that does a far better job than the rest, SpyDialer.com. The site says they gather information from publicly available sources and has "billions" of phone numbers in its database. That sounds like an exaggeration, though I’ve tested it on mobile numbers, landlines, and Google Voice numbers, and most come back accurately. And, I’ve used it for months whenever I see a local number that I don’t recognize – I found missed calls from doctors, the pharmacy, my hair salon and more (often, the calling number didn't match the number I called for an appointment or prescription). SpyDialer will also tell you if it’s known spam. Occasionally, the service will show “No Record Found” (and it only works for US numbers) – it's not perfect, but it's pretty good.
IMPORTANT NOTE: One big downside to SpyDialer is that the interface is ugly and cluttered with ads, including ads for people search services that may cause you to click on an ad rather than the site's own search box. Here is what it looks like when you search for a number using the correct boxes so you don't get misled by one of the ads.
1. Enter the number in the box and make sure “Phone” is highlighted in black.
2. SpyDialer will tell you what type of number it is – mobile or landline—and give you the option for "Hear Voicemail," “Name Lookup,” “Photo Lookup,” or “Phone Spam.” Make sure “Name Lookup” is selected and click on “Search.”
3. Here is the SpyDialer results page. You’ll notice the caveat that the data may be out of date. That always shows up.
In addition to phone numbers, SpyDialer also lets you lookup people by name or email address.
Updated on 3/3/2022 after additional testing and to reflect SpyDialer site design changes
[Image credit: incoming call concept via BigStockPhoto, SpyDialer/Techlicious]