3 million people called by stranger contacting previous mobile owner


Three million people have been called by a stranger trying to contact the previous owner of their mobile number, according to price comparison site USwitch.com.

Nearly a fifth of Brits (19%) have been called or messaged by someone trying to get in touch with an ex-partner, while one in seven (15%) were contacted by someone calling a number that belonged to their mother, and one in eight (12%) who said the number once belonged to the caller’s child. 

One person who was haunted by a ‘ghost number’ told how she was plagued by calls from a stranger who was convinced that he was contacting his relative’s number. 

Catriona Hutchinson, 35, from Hastings, East Sussex, said: “He was adamant that my number belonged to his relative. After speaking to him five or six times and receiving numerous voicemails and missed calls, I was forced to block him.”

Another affected person told how they answered a call and waited awkwardly as they were serenaded by a chorus of strangers singing happy birthday meant for another person.

Changing mobile numbers can have consequences for some peoples’ social lives, causing one in six people (16%) to lose contact with a friend, and a hapless one in 20 (5%) finding they had accidentally ghosted the person they were dating. Other unintended results included one in ten people (9%) losing access to an online account, and one in 20 (5%) missing out on a job opportunity.

When someone stops using their number, it is ‘recycled’ and allocated to someone else. If the original owner’s contacts try to call the number once it has been reallocated, they will get the new recipient instead. Calls meant for the original owner’s number are often referred to as coming from a ‘ghost number’.

Mobile network providers are responsible for deciding how long to wait until unwanted numbers are recycled. EE waits at least six months before the number is reallocated, while Vodafone holds off just 90 days before the number can be given to someone else.

More than a third of consumers (34%) are unaware they can keep their mobile number when changing providers, and a similar proportion (35%) are confused about whether this will cost extra. One in ten mobile users (12%) said they had avoided changing providers for fear of losing their number.

Ofcom rules means consumers can switch providers with a text, but a quarter of consumers (25%) don’t know what ‘Text-to-Switch’ is. Mobile users can also move their number to a new network by requesting a PAC code from their current provider, but a fifth of consumers (20%) don’t know what one of these is. 

Uswitch.com is offering advice to consumers on how to keep your mobile number when switching network providers, in order to avoid their old contact details being recycled and becoming a ghost number.

Catherine Hiley, mobiles expert at Uswitch.com, comments:

 “Mobile phone numbers can be reused just 90 days after being handed back, meaning that these spooky encounters are becoming more common.

“All you have to do is get your PAC code from your provider before you make a switch. The code is usually made up of nine digits and will be valid for 30 days. Once you have that, give it to your new provider and they will arrange for you to keep your number.

“If you’re being plagued by unwanted calls, hang up immediately and block the number that’s calling you.”

Chris Price
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