Reverse Phone Lookup: The Increasingly Popular Tool for Fraud Detection

reverse phone lookup

An in-depth look at how reverse phone lookup works, and what information you can get from it.

If you’ve ever bought a new phone and had to change numbers, you might have noticed how many apps and services required you to confirm your identity again.

This is because phone number verification is more and more tied to your identity, and used to authenticate all kinds of accounts, from email to social media and ecommerce.

In short: phone numbers are now an extra data point that becomes part of your digital footprint. And that data is highly valuable, both for fraudsters, and for companies trying to stop them. 

What Is Reverse Phone Lookup?

Reverse Phone Lookup is a process that lets you find information about someone based on their phone number. It aggregates info from open sources, social media, and messenger apps. Providers who offer the service include: Anyone Reverse Lookup, White Pages Reverse, Spy Dialer, and Reverse Telephone Lookup.

Phone Numbers as Authentication Factors

Phone number confirmation is increasingly popular for 2-factor and multi-factor authentication (2FA and MFA). This is when companies use a combination of data points to confirm someone’s identity: email address and password, but also biometrics (fingerprint / face scan), and yes, phone number too. Google Security statistics show that 2FA can block up to 100% of automated attacks, 99% of bulk phishing attacks, and 66% of targeted attacks.

But phone numbers are also used as single factors for authentication (SFA). With the rise of mobile-first services, using a phone number as authentication makes complete sense. Since messaging apps are going to need the phone number to function, they might as well use it as one of its main authentication points. 

Phone Numbers and Security 

Phone numbers both have pros and cons as security data points. Comparing them with email addresses, for instance, it’s easy to see that they are harder to create. Fraudsters don’t usually go through the trouble of getting real, new phone numbers for each of their schemes. And while apps like Hushed or Burner app can generate extra phone numbers, they won’t have any social or messenger footprint we can extract via reverse phone lookup.

Historically, customers were also more reticent to share phone numbers than email addresses. There are fewer of them floating around on the darkweb, and large lists of phone numbers have yet to appear in big data breaches. 

For the negatives, it’s worth noting that 2FA with a phone number isn’t always as secure as one would hope. A growing number of white hat hackers have managed to bypass the security measure through phishing and other social engineering methods. 

Another issue arises with the increasing popularity of SIM-swapping attacks. This three step process, also known as SIM splitting or SIM jacking, sees fraudsters acquire a phone number through hacks, phishing or sheer luck.

They then call the mobile phone’s provider, and claim to want to change their number to a new one. The new number, which is in the fraudster’s possession, will then receive all the SMS used for mobile verification, which allows them to access other accounts such as email, social media, or even mobile banking.

What Info Can You Gather Based on A Phone Number Only

Still, there are times when aggregating data linked to a phone number can be used by the good guys. This is exactly what happens with our Reverse Phone Lookup module, and here is the info you can glean from it:

  • Validity: see if the phone number is real or not
  • Country of carrier
  • Carrier type: mobile or landline
  • Social media / messenger info: which social media accounts are linked to the number. You can get a lot of info from finding someone’s Facebook, Google, Instagram or Twitter linked account.
  • Messenger data: with numbers linked to messenger apps (Whatsapp, Viber, Telegram) we can also retrieve the profile picture and information about when the user was last seen online. 

Fraud Prevention With Reverse Phone Lookup – How It Works

The first step is to gather your users’ phone numbers. This can happen at signup, login, or for important processes such as checkout and payment.

You can then run the phone number through a Reverse Phone Lookup tool. SEON lets you do it in three ways, all of which work incredibly fast, delivering results under 1 second. Collection happens in real-time, and only uses fresh data to avoid false positives, whether you use:

  • our Chrome extension, the Intelligence Tool, which is ideal for quick manual reviews. Simply paste the phone number in, and get your reverse phone lookup results immediately.
phone number social profiling

Online Reverse Lookup Services Vs Phone Check API 

A number of companies offers a caller ID lookup service, which allows organizations to gain information about a phone number, usually for filtering out spam. They work by searching a huge crowd-sourced database of phone numbers, which historically worked well – depending on the location.

However, these “white pages in reverse”, like many tech companies, are coming under increasing scrutiny due to data privacy concerns. That is to say, they need to collect information about you in order to provide the service, as seen with Truecaller’s T&Cs:

“When you install and use the Truecaller Apps, Truecaller will collect, process and retain personal information from You and any devices You may use in Your interaction with our Services.”

The other problem is that, for many organizations, using private data from a third party service can be difficult to justify under new data protection regulations. This is why our Phone API only aggregates data from open and public databases

Finally, there is the issue of integration. These services can’t be used at scale with a fraud prevention tool, because it is time consuming to manually search for every phone number on an external platform. If you receive the good data, you will also need to enrich it manually to get a clearer picture of who the user really is. 

Key Takeaway – the Right Reverse Phone Lookup Tool For The Job

Reverse Phone Lookup is useful in many cases, and if your main goal is to create a phone call spam filter, free online or app services can work well. 

But it would be a shame not to use this powerful data point for fraud prevention, as it has been proven to help:

  • Reduce chargeback rates
  • Decrease transaction fraud
  • Prevent multi accounting and takeover attacks
  • And more….

This is true whether you only need Reverse Phone Lookup for manual review, or if you want to combine its power with other tools like a Reverse Email Lookup module to generate risk scores. SEON offers both solutions with our Chrome plugin, and Sense Platform.

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