Top 2 reasons you can't find the cell phone number you are looking for

Periodically our cell phone directory will not return a result. Below are a few reasons why this is happening.

1. Major cell phone providers recycle millions of cell phone numbers each year.

For example, when someone relocates to another state, they may choose to get a local number, therefore allowing the cell phone provider to assign the old number to someone else. At National Cellular Directory, we work to ensure that the cell phone numbers we provide are matched with the most recent number owner's name.

Prepaid phones may be amplifying the problem, as these numbers are likely to be recycled more often. According to CNET there are 29 million Americans on a prepaid cell phone number. There is a 17% chance that a cell phone number belongs to a prepaid cell phone, which means that number is more likely to be recycled.

Unfortunately for me, this fact was one of those life lessons I had to learn the hard way. I’ll never forget the day I started getting calls from a man I’ll call Richard (names changed to protect identities). Richard was a very troubled man trying to reach his bankruptcy attorney. He had more drama in his life than the average soap opera on TV. My guess is his attorney, who I’ll call Steve, used to have the cell number before me, so when it was recycled to me I instantly became the unwitting beneficiary of the unforgettable experience of Richard. It is also possible that after dealing with Richard himself, poor Steve decided to change his number and start fresh. You can decide for yourself, so read on my friend.

It started off innocently enough. Richard left a message on my phone thinking he was leaving a message for Steve, trying to initiate bankruptcy proceedings. Early on in all this, when I recognized his number on the caller ID, I answered his calls - twice - to alert him to the fact that he was calling the wrong number and I was most definitely NOT Steve. Despite this, he continued to call my phone thinking it was Steve’s phone. Over the course of two weeks I received more than 15 messages from Richard detailing the train wreck that was his life.

From filing bankruptcy to filing for divorce, being arrested for domestic assault on his wife, spending the night in jail, getting a restraining order, losing his home to foreclosure, living out of his car, family and friends kicking him out, going to court, losing his briefcase with all his legal documents in it, losing his credit card at the homeless shelter, filing a lawsuit against a local hospital for personal injury her claims was due to a prescription drug, and declaring himself a vulnerable adult, I heard about it all.

At this point, I’m exhausted by listening to this crazy person harassing my phone daily for the past 2 weeks. Thinking I’m brilliant, I change my outgoing message to reflect my first name only, figuring he would catch onto this now. No such luck for me. Now the messages become directed at me, and he began accusing me of covering for Steve and I need to relay this message and that message to Steve. To end all of this craziness, I answered one of his calls again and gave him an earful. He tried to contact me one final time after that but his phone was cut off. I can only hope that his wireless carrier shut off his service for nonpayment of the bill.

Fortunately most people don’t end up having this kind of trouble from a recycled number. I guess I just wasn’t one of the lucky ones.

2. Cell number is registered with someone else.

Married couples typically have the cell phone account under just one person's name (i.e. Primary account holder). Therefore, the primary user of the cell phone might be under a different name.

National Cellular Directory is currently working on a new feature that finds relationships between people and attempts to locate additional phone number matches, increasing the chances of a successful search by 30%

Remember the good old days of the teen line, or the second phone line in the house just for the teenagers and their friends to use? This happened way back when phones were actually connected to cords and installed on the wall in many homes. This was the current day equivalent of the tween/teen’s personal cell phone on the parent’s cell phone account. Say you wanted do a reverse cell phone search for a particular number that may be a secondary line on one account, you would likely get results reflecting the primary account holder’s name (usually the parent), not the actual user of the phone number you’re trying to locate.

Family plans can cause confusion with Caller ID, which may interfere with reverse cell phone search results on NCD. For example, Verizon has some known issues and some workarounds: Change your Verzon Caller ID.

T-Mobile is also reporting some issues transferring between providers: Team Mobile cell phone number provider transfer issues

Here is a great link on how to change the caller ID on a family plan. If you have 5 cell phone numbers on a family plan for John Smith, all cell phone numbers on that plan will show up as “John Smith” on caller ID. Luckily, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T have recognized this issue and have some fixes for us: Family plan caller id change.

If you need to update your cell phone number’s caller ID with your carrier, here are the steps for a few of the major carriers:

Verizon Wireless:

Contact customer service at 1-800-922-0204, you will need to give them your customer number and pin.


Contact customer service at 888-211-4727 from any phone or by dialing "*2" from your mobile phone. You will need to give them the account PIN or the last four digits of the account holder’s social security number for verification.


Go to > select > "my profile" select > "user information" select > "primary user account holder" select > "edit user information" then enter the new caller ID you would like listed.