The rise of texting has birthed a new kind of awkward social interaction: the text with no name attached. Do you ask who it is, risking the shame of a friend realizing you didn’t care to save their number? Or do you text back, pretending you know what’s up, hoping they’ll drop enough clues to give away their identity?
You could just ask them, of course. Most people won’t be offended by a simple “Sorry, but I must not have put your number in my phone — I’m such a scatterbrain! Who is this?” But there are a few other ways you might be able to figure it out for yourself.
Note: If you’re receiving harassing or threatening text messages, you can silence or block the offending number, which can offer a temporary reprieve while you speak to the police or a lawyer.
Do a reverse look-up on Google
Your first instinct may be to type the number into Google, hoping for a reverse look-up tool to find a match. I don’t usually have high hopes for this, but in testing solutions for this article, I found more of my friends from reverse look-ups than I expected. (Which is a good reminder to search your own name, number, and address, and remove your information from as many of these “people finding” sites as possible.) So give it a shot. This is the least likely way to find out who texted you, but it’s an easy first step.
Check old group messages
If this person’s texting you, there’s a chance they’ve texted you before. Usually, those old texts would show up in the same thread — unless they were part of a group message. Head back to the main list of message threads, scroll up to the search bar and search for the person’s number. You may find that it returns old conversations that reveal who it belongs to (or at least unearths a few more clues).
Search your email
If old text messages don’t return anything, head to your email app and search for their number there. Remember to try a few different formats, like:
- (212) 555-1212
… and so on. With any luck, you’ll find an old email conversation in which someone shared their phone number or it was listed in their email signature. Be sure to check all your email accounts, if you have separate ones for work and home life.
Poke around social media
While many of us wouldn’t dream of putting our numbers on social media for all to see, others aren’t so private. In my testing, most social networks aren’t great about letting you search by phone number — Facebook, for example, returned no results for a phone number that was clearly visible on my friend’s profile, and a Facebook spokesperson told me this was the intended behavior. LinkedIn proved similarly fruitless. That means this won’t be a good step when you’re starting from scratch, but if you have a few ideas of who it might be, you can look up their profiles on social media to see if they have their number listed. If nothing else, it can help confirm your suspicions.
Don’t forget messaging apps, either. If you use Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or even Twitter, search your messages for the number in question — once again, using multiple formats (dots, dashes and so on) — to see if maybe that person has messaged you their number in the past.
Just ask, silly
If your spouse, roommate or helpful friend is willing to spare a few seconds, they can perform the same searches listed above on their own phone. If they have the person in their contacts, you might be home free.
If, at this point, you still haven’t identified your mystery texter, it’s probably time to give up. You could waste hours trying to figure out something, but it’s easier to just ask. You probably won’t offend anyone and you’ll have your answer instantly, so you can move on with your life. Maybe you can even use that time to catch up with an old friend.