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Millions of Brits haunted by ‘ghost numbers’

Written by: Emma Lunn
Three million Brits have received a phone call meant for the previous owner of their mobile number, while one million have dialled a friend and got a stranger.

The issue occurs when someone stops using their phone number – because they’ve got a new number or changed networks – and the old number 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’.

A survey by found that a fifth (19%) of people have been called by someone trying to get in touch with an ex-partner, and one in eight (12%) by a stranger’s child.

One affected person told Uswitch how they had to block a stranger who rang 10 times as they insisted they were calling their relative’s number.

The study found that a sixth (16%) of mobile users have lost contact with a friend when changing numbers, while one in 20 (5%) accidentally ghosted the person they were dating.

Uswitch found that one in three (34%) consumers aren’t aware they can keep their mobile phone number when changing provider, while more than one in 10 (12%) people have stayed with their supplier because they are scared of losing their number.

Mobile networks 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.

Ofcom rules means consumers can switch providers with a text, but a quarter (25%) of consumers 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.

Catherine Hiley, mobiles expert at, said: “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.”

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