Private number phone calls are met with distrust and suspicion from many recipients, who often assume that the call is being made for fraudulent purposes. However, whilst it isn't uncommon for fraudsters to withhold their caller identity, private calls are also used by businesses and regular people for a number of reasons.

Anyone can make a private call by simply prefixing the number you wish to call with a code that is specific to the country you are calling from. Similarly, it is also simple to uniformly reject all private calls from your phone.

So what exactly are private calls? Who uses them and why? And how can you both make a private call and reject private calls from your phone?

We are going to answer all this and more as we explore the question: what is a private number?

A private number is when a caller withholds their number or name from appearing on their caller identity. On a phone, this will appear in writing with phrases such as 'Private Number', 'Private Caller', 'Number Withheld', 'No Caller ID', etc.

People use private numbers for all sorts of reasons. If you are considering using one yourself, you should remember that the call recipients are less likely to pick up if you do so.

So let's jump in and find out who uses private number phone calls.

Private number calls have come to be associated with cold callers and scams.

However, there are many reasons other callers may withhold their number for both personal and professional reasons.

For example, some businesses choose to call on private numbers to prevent call recipients from returning their calls. It is also common for teachers to use a private number when calling a student's parent.

You may want to use private calls in a personal capacity as well. For example, you may be calling a number for the first time, and you don't want the recipient to have your number in the case of a misdial.

Some businesses opt to use a private number as it prevents clients and customers from being to return the call.

For example, if you ran a business and used your personal mobile phone number as the main business number, you may want to withhold your identity for calls, so you don't get work calls when you don't want them.

Or, if a business has a call centre operation or customer service line, they may choose to call from a private number, so people don't ring back and engage the line.

However, many customers and general phone users are less likely to pick up a call from an unknown number as they can be suspicious. Withheld private numbers have become increasingly associated with scams and fraud, so it may be damaging to your business if you choose to call using a private number.

Calling from a personal mobile number can also look unprofessional in comparison to using business numbers like 0800 or 0345, but it is probably preferable to using a private number.

If you do choose to use a private number for your business, you should be prepared for a higher call rejection rate than if you don't withhold your number.

Most mobile phones have the option to block calls from private numbers in the calls section of settings. From there, you can choose to automatically reject all incoming calls from private numbers.

It is also possible to withhold your own number to make private outgoing calls.

To withhold your number in the UK, you simply prefix the number you are calling with 141 before ringing it. The recipient will then be unable to see the identity of the caller.

You must either prefix the number with 141 each time you call or adjust your phone settings so that your caller ID is always withheld. Again, for the latter option, you should be able to find this in your phone's call settings.

If you are in the USA, the process is the same, but your prefix the call recipient's number with 67 instead of 141.

In recent years, private numbers have become increasingly associated with scam callers. These are fraudsters who call your number to try and gain your personal or financial information over the phone. They then use this information for further fraudulent purposes such as credit card fraud.

If you receive a call from an unknown number and you answer it, make sure you clarify who the caller is and where they are calling from before you pass over any sensitive information.

Here we will take a quick look at some of the most common phone scams you can receive from private callers.

Bank scams

Perhaps the most common phone scam is to receive a call from a private number and the caller tell you that they are from your bank.

They will usually say that there is a problem or issue with your card or account and that your money is at risk. Of course, to reduce the risk, they will then ask for your account or card details. They may also tell you to transfer your money into a "safe" account to ensure it isn't stolen.

Of course, you should never give your bank details over the phone to someone you have never heard from before. If you believe that it could actually be your bank, then ask them if you can make the transfer in person at a local branch or online via your own online banking account.

Computer repair scams

Another common scam is receiving a call claiming to be from an IT firm that tells you your computer has a virus and your sensitive information is at risk. They will then tell you that you need to download expensive anti-virus software that you can buy from them.

Not only do you then lose money by buying the fake spyware, but you then also run the risk of installing the spyware onto your computer and finding that it is itself a virus used to extract your details.

Compensation scams

Another classic scam is the compensation call. This is a call you receive from a company that asks you about a recent accident you have had and claims that you are entitled to compensation.

Even if you have recently had an accident, don't engage with these calls. You should approach your own insurance company and not a cold caller.

HMRC calls

There has been a recent spate of scams in which the caller claims to be from HMRC and says there are issues with either unpaid taxes or tax rebates that you are involved in. They will then ask for your bank details so the process can be completed.

HMRC would never contact you and ask for your personal or financial details in this way, so do not be fooled into cooperating no matter how professional they sound.

Number spoofing

This is a tricky one. There is now technology available that means that scammers can call you up and mimic an official phone number to make you believe that you are being called by a legitimate organisation, such as your bank or your phone service provider.

The only thing you can do in this situation is to protect your information and hang up if you feel suspicious. You can then call the actual organisation back and check if they were genuinely calling you or not.

‘Anti-scam’ scams

These are calls from callers claiming to be from an organisation that protects and supports victims of scams. They will then attempt to sell you some anti-scam technology or other such equipment that, of course, is not legitimate.