How to Trace a Phone Call

By Lawrence Harris

We see it done all the time on TV crime dramas. The phone trace is happening in real time as the caller speaks, complete with graphics of map locations with a dot representing the trace rapidly homing in on the caller's location on a computer monitor's screen.In reality, none of us has the technology to trace a phone call that way---not even the police or a private investigator. But there are steps you can take to find out who just called you, and where they live.

Step 1

Keep a written log of the date, time of day and content of each phone call. If you want to trace the phone call because someone is harassing you, this written, contemporaneous record will become very useful later when identifying and prosecuting the perpetrator.

Step 2

Use the caller ID function of your phone to get a readout of the phone number of the incoming call, if available.

Step 3

Use the "*69" function if the phone on which the phone call was received hasn't received another call yet. To do this, simply pick up the phone and get a dial tone, then dial "*69"; an automated recording should come on which tells you at what time the last incoming call was received and the phone number from which it was dialed. One caveat: Some phone numbers cannot be retrieved using "*69." Among these are calls where the caller placed a caller ID block on his phone, a common tactic of prank and obscene callers.

Step 4

Call your phone company. If you are trying to trace the call either because of harassing phone calls or to track down a missing family member, the phone company can activate a trace function on all your incoming calls. This will maintain a record for use in an investigation, but the trace log can only be obtained by a law enforcement agency.

Step 5

Check your next phone bill. If you have detailed billing, every one of your phone calls will be listed by date and time. The subject phone number can then be identified by searching for the times and dates that correspond to your call log.

Step 6

Point your Internet browser to, or a similar white pages website and do a search on the phone number. You may find a search result that provides you with the name and address of the owner of the phone number.

Step 7

Call the local police department's non-emergency number and explain the missing persons or harassment situation and that you have started a trace log with the phone company. If warranted, the police will send an investigator or officer to take a report from you. If the police department is not too overworked and your harasser lives in their jurisdiction, they may even pay him a visit to let him know his identity is known and the harassment must cease immediately. If it does not, he will be arrested and charged.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you do not have detailed billing to see a list of incoming phone numbers, some phone companies will supply you with a detailed bill upon request.
  • If the trace is due to phone harassment, you can put a block on the harasser's phone number so that he will not be able to get through to your phone number from the phone number he previously used to harass you. However, it doesn't prevent him from using a different phone number to call you.
  • The police will probably not tell you the identity of your harasser, but if they do, do not make the mistake of harassing them back. That tactic will most certainly backfire and get you into legal trouble as well.