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Free Cell Phone Search - Privacy Bought and Sold:

Why Free Cell Phone Searches Don't Exist

reverse directories sites phones

A reverse phone lookup is the service that allows a person to enter a phone number into a directory and find the name listed for that number. For listed landlines, a reverse phone lookup is as easy as going to Anywho or another free reverse phone directory. For cell phones and unlisted numbers, however, free cell phone searches provide very, very little information. Mostly, they are advertisements for paid reverse phone lookup services.

Free cell phone search sites like Phone Detective, Find That Number, Spokeo, and many others provide only the carrier and location for a given number. Find That Number makes a big showing of this information, announcing that the number was “successfully traced!” and throwing up a Google Maps shot of the location with a shaded circle around it that looks like something right out of a crime drama. In truth, the number is not so much being traced as referenced.

The current state of cell phone reverse lookups is a curious blend of privacy protection and opportunism. In September 2004, the Consumer’s Union successfully opposed a wireless 411 directory, leading to the passing of the Wireless 411 Privacy Act. In an attempt to spare consumers from the “telemarketing hell” that had grown from publically listed numbers, the Union lobbied to keep cellular phones private from 411 listings.

Owners of landlines have long had the option to make their numbers unlisted for a nominal fee, but the Privacy Act made privacy the default choice for cellular phones. There is always a buck to be made, however—though denied their 411 listings, cellular providers still have the option of selling their directories. Reverse phone look-up sites are among their largest buyers.

Though privacy laws restrict cell phone directories, law and coin have conspired to make them available to those willing to pay for the service. Sites that claim to offer free cell phone searches can only offer the location and provider, often including a “click here” link that will take the searcher to a transaction page.

Amusingly, search engines are the best option for obtaining an actual free cell phone search. Privacy laws do not restrict the information that people put on personals ads, business web sites, and online resumes, so many cell phone numbers can be found floating around on the internet.

To perform a free cell phone search on a search engine, put the number in quotation marks, e.g. “###-###-####”. The quotation marks tell the search engine that the user seeks exact matches only. The first several hits will probably be phone look-up directories. Buried amid those piles of numbers, there just might be the name to which that mysterious number belongs.

Otherwise, detectives on a budget are out of luck. Privacy laws have put a hold on free cell phone directories, and websites that claim to offer otherwise are—forgive the cliché—selling something.

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