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Caller Display / Who has called You last?

In the UK on a BT land line, if you dial 1471 a friendly voice tells you who called you last. This is handy because if the phone rang and you did not answer it in time, you may like to get to know who it was who called.

The voice of the machine reads out the number clearly, and you can make a note of it on paper or on a computer text file.

You are also given the option to press "3" which will then automatically call the person back. However, it's best to avoid doing this because you get charged for it! It's much cheaper to make a note of the number and then dial the number yourself! Besides being more miserly and showing good money sense, it also helps you to build up your own private database of phone numbers and contacts, provided you keep it up to date that is!

(In the case of the line being by Vonage, it's "1" to call back. And there's no charge for it!).

The voice also tells you the time that the last incoming call was made. This can be handy too. For example, if you go out shopping for an hour and come back and wonder if you've missed any phone calls, you can find out. Dial 1471 and the voice will say when the last call was. If it was over an hour ago then you haven't missed any calls.

(In the case of the line being by Vonage, if the call was anonymous, the comment keeps it a secret WHEN the call was, which is rather odd, because you are already party to that information in theory, because you could know when the phone rang).

These days you can get snazzy telephones with "Caller Display" from places like BT Shop and other phone selling places. These are better than just having 1471 telling you the last incoming call. A caller-display phone can tell you the penultimate call, and the antepenultimate call, and so on back to a while ago. Very handy for flicking through the numbers that have phoned you. They can tell you all the phone numbers that have called you, and when all of those calls happened. Such phones also have a blinking lamp that tells you if there have been any calls. Also, the LCD display shows you the phone number of an incoming call immediately, even while the phone is ringing. That way, you might decide not to answer! ;-)

By the way, caller-display phones tend to require three AAA batteries, and if they die then the memory is lost. However, you can avoid paying money for batteries by using rechargeables. And, to eliminate the problem of flatness and/or deadness of cells, you can get a PSU and replace the batteries with two "wooden batteries" (pieces sawn off a pencil) connected to the correct voltage (typically 4.5 volts DC). This then allows the memory of the phone to be maintained without problems of flat batteries.

Now about incoming "caller display" messages: Sometimes the number coming up is a phone number, which is all very fine because you then have a choice of whether to phone back, or to make a note of the number on your text file, or to do a search and find out if that number has any notoriety for making annoying telephonic spam nuisance calls.

However, sometimes there are some slightly obtuse cryptic messages that come in. Notably the following...

"The Caller Withheld Their Number"

This means that either, literally, someone phoned you can deliberately withheld their number, either by using 141 or by being default eX Directory (XD) in the old style... Or, that you've been phoned by someone in one of those government/commercial places where they have an internal phone exchange and they have a policy of withholding all of the outgoing caller numbers because if anyone phoned back then they'd not know whom to connect it to.

If someone withholds their number, they might be up to no good, so you should be on your guard until you can be sure they are OK. Nuisance callers often withhold their numbers. However, there are honest decent people who withhold their numbers and they aren't to blame.

"We Do Not Have the Caller's Number to Return the Call"

This is slightly more mysterious, and is distinct from "The Caller Withheld Their Number". If it's "We Do Not Have the Caller's Number to Return the Call" then the phone number of the caller is unknown but not withheld. This can happen if someone phones from abroad. International calls often come up as "We Do Not Have the Caller's Number to Return the Call". Also, if someone calls from another phone network, then it can come up with a similar situation. Calls from subscribers of OneTel, TalkTalk, HomeCall, and various other phone networks, can come up with "We Do Not Have the Caller's Number to Return the Call". It's not their fault; it's just that the network hasn't been set up to convey the caller dial number identity to the other network.

Mostly, "We Do Not Have the Caller's Number to Return the Call" means that the call is international. It can often be a call centre in one of the world's up-and-coming economies such as India. Remember to ask the people what the weather is like there. People working in call centres are often very pleased to be treated like folk rather than like a nuisance.

Other things to be aware of about incoming caller display numbers:

In the UK, cheating by faking up the incoming number is not allowed. No spoofing, unlike with e-mail where it is rife. However, there is an exception. A company is allowed to spoof the incoming number to another number provided they own the other number. This has allowed at least one rogue double glazing company to cheat by spoofing their telephone spam sender number to a disposable number which they also owned, and that "does not accept incoming calls". You can't tell in advance (the first time) before picking up that it's a rogue call. However, if anyone tries this, you can be wise to them next time and have the rogue number in your file of blacklisted numbers. You can also report them to various watchdogs. It's a pity the Telephone Preference Service isn't what it says on the can, ie a Telephone Preference Service. If it was, you'd be able to express some actual PREFERENCE and ban specific numbers, rather than it being an all-or-nothing zero tolerance nonsense.

Internationally, it is possible to send a fake ID to the exchange, but these almost invariably come up with nonsensical numbers on the caller display, so the trick is easily rumbled. Again, you have to be on your guard if such a call comes in, as it could be from anywhere in the world, and you can't track it. So, be careful not to give away any personal info, even if the people pretend they already know. It's a bit like these stupid bank emails which you need be forewarned about.

Another situation about 1471 and Caller Display is that you may occasionally get a call from an 0800 number and when you phone it back, you get an answer machine message which says "[so-and-so company] phoned you, but you weren't in, so we'll just try again later". Annoying, but not sinister. BT do this themselves, and there are a few companies performing surveys that do it to. Try not to worry about them.

Saving money when calling back:

If you get an incoming call from a mobile phone, but you don't manage to pick up in time, you might feel a bit wary about phoning back, because mobile phones are very expensive to call. However, there's a trick which is popular in Panama and in Scotland, where you dial the number and then give it a "ting"*. This involves letting the tone ring out for just a few seconds and then you hang up. That way, the other person has a "missed call" and they can then decide whether to call you back or not, at their expense.

* A ting? Don't you mean "a Scotchmans"? Yes, well I have heard it called that, but let's keep good diplomacy for all and call it a TING.


The phone is for your convenience and you should not feel compelled to answer it just because it rings. The use of 1471 helps you to find out whence incoming calls originated and represents a social improvement from the days when incoming calls were mostly anonymous. In the old days your main defensive barrier was that it cost the caller tuppence to make the call.

Even at the time of writing this page, November 2010, time and technology had already moved on, and it is now no longer possible to state with any certainty from the incoming number where geographically the caller is! The number might be with a British area dialling-code, but it could be a VoIP phone, which could be anywhere in the world. I am in the process of emigrating, and Vonage has told me that I may take my British phone number with me if I pay them a sensible amount per month. Update: This has happened! I have emigrated to Panama, and taken my British phone with me, complete with British phone number! I have written about this in the Vonage Customer Testimonial

In a future chapter of this subject I'll probably by explaining when and how videophone calls should be selected "audio only" and going over a few other videophone call hints and tips.

(And then when two-way touchy feely phones are invented, I'll probably explain how to avoid being tickled to death).