How to Determine if a Number Belongs to a Pay Phone

By Karen Schultz

Updated September 26, 2017

Standard pay phones are disappearing with the popularity of cell phones.
i pay phone image by Jamie Wilson from

If you have caller ID you have the ability to see who is calling you before you answer the call. However, sometimes calls come without identification or blocked names and numbers. You may wonder if you are receiving a call from a pay phone or if someone is using a pay phone number in a relay. You can determine if a number belongs to a pay phone by following a few simple steps.

Inbound Calls

Call the number back. If someone answers, ask if the phone is a public phone and its location. If you hear a personalized greeting, it is not a pay phone number.

Look up the number in one of the online pay phone directories (see Resources). The only directories available at this time (as of November 2010) are ones accumulated by individuals that may not be complete listings.

Watch out for caller ID spoofing, a fraudulent practice in which someone disguises the identity and originator of the call by using another number relayed as the caller ID number. A person can use a pay phone or pay phone number in a caller ID spoofing scheme.

Outbound Calls

When calling from a phone, look for printed information on or near the telephone. Pursuant to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, the Operator Service Provider (OSP) must post its name, address and toll-free number in plain view near the public telephone.

After you dial your number, listen for a message from the OSP handling your call. FCC rules require that the OSP verbally identify itself to you at the beginning of the call before the call is connected and billed.

Hang up if you do not approve of the rates or push more keys to enable the call to be billed by your long-distance company. For example, if you want to use a certain long-distance carrier, follow the steps provided by the company to dial their 800, 950 or 101-ABCD/10 10 XYZ access numbers and any other codes.


You can call 9-1-1 on a pay phone at no charge.