12 Dos & Don'ts For Handling Mystery Text Messages

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
"Hey! How have you been?" You just got a perfectly innocuous text. You'd normally reply back with something like, "I'm good! Just got back from visiting my parents." (Cute.) But, you can't do that, because you have no idea who this friendly texter is.
What do you do? What do you say? Do you play along, like you totally know who this mystery person is, and risk making plans with a total rando? Relax. Here are twelve ways to gracefully handle a text message from an unknown sender with as little pain and embarrassment as possible — plus eleven things you should avoid.
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Do: Opt Out
If you've landed up on a subscription text service for a grocery store, airport, or anywhere else, opt out stat (this usually involves replying with "Stop"). That way, you won't have to worry about getting any spam messages in the future and can avoid any texting fees you might incur. If you have additional questions, reply with "Help" and you should be sent a phone number to call or instructions on where to go for more information.
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Don't: Provide Sensitive Information
If someone asks for another person's personal information, make sure you know who's asking for it before easily giving it away.
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Do: Take The Conversation Elsewhere

The easiest way to get someone's full name — without asking them outright? Tell them to email you or shoot you a message on Facebook Messenger. You can carry on the conversation there and bring it back to text later on, after you've figured out who it is. Just don't forget to add the person's full name this time!
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Another reason requesting an email is worth it? When Apple introduced iOS 9, it added a new caller ID feature. If you receive an email from the person who's messaging you, Apple can typically figure out and suggest who the mystery texter might be.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Don't: Ghost
Just because you don't know who you're ghosting, that doesn't forgive it. Take the hit and respond.
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GIF: Courtesy Bing.
Do: Send A GIF
Now that GIF search is built into Messages, you can quite simply search the phrase "Who are you" and choose a GIF to send among the many results that crop up. This one was our favorite. It's a more light-hearted approach to tackling the issue at hand.
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Don't: Overdo The Effects

There's a time and place for a screen effect like Echo, but this isn't it. It will likely come across as more annoying than amusing.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Do: Use The "I Lost My Phone" Line
Yes, this one is pretty common. But if you apologize off the bat and throw in a personal detail — such as a friend they can ask about it — your fib sounds a little closer to the truth.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Don't: Overuse The "I Lost My Phone" Line
Use this line one too many times and you're bound to use it twice on someone. If the number looks even remotely familiar, go with another tack to find out who it is.
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Photo: Instagram.
Do: Sync Your Contacts With Instagram
If the person texting you has an Instagram, that can be the easiest way to figure out who they are. First, add their number to your contacts under a pseudonym. Then, go to your profile screen on Instagram and press the "Add Friend" icon in the upper left-hand corner. From here, you can sync your contacts and hopefully get a look at who this mystery texter really is.
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Photo: Instagram.
Don't: Accidentally follow the person…
Unless you've texted them back first. They'll get a notification saying you've starting following them, so then trying to backtrack and unfollow them turns it into a messier situation than it needs to be.
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And don't watch — or worse, vote — on their Instagram Story. It's easy to swipe up and see who's been viewing your activities.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Do: The Long-Time-No-See
When you get a random text along the lines of "OMG it's been so long!" you've got a great chance to decipher the mystery sender. Reply back with something like, "I know! When was the last time we hung out?" and the response ("I think Christmas Eve at the diner?") should clue you in to the texter's identity without any awkwardness. Or, if the response is still vague, you can hazard a guess: "Is this Crystal? I got a new phone a while back, so your number isn't in here."
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Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
Don't: Have A Friend Text & Ask Who This Is
It's not middle school, y'all. Instead, search the person's phone number in your email and on Facebook (if it's listed as public, it'll come up in search results), and if that doesn't work, then just resort to The Band-Aid (see the first slide). When iOS 9 comes out this fall, your phone will automatically look through your email and calendar to try to suss out the identify of an unknown caller, so that's something to look forward to.
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Photo: Courtesy Johnson & Johnson.
Do: The Band-Aid
Get the awkward done and over with, sans guesswork. Reply back to the initial message,"I'm so sorry, I don't have your number in my phone! Who is this again?" This works for any kind of text message. It might be weird for a minute or two, but let's face it: We've all been there.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Don't: Small Talk
Don't reply back to that initial text with vague, small-talk questions like "How are you?" or "How are things?" You may still be confused as to the person's identity after 15 minutes of texting, and then it'll be super-awkward when you finally have to give up and ask who you're talking to.
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Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
Do: Ask For A Photo
Maybe you're not sure who this is, but it is definitely someone you met on Tinder or OkCupid. He says his name is Dave, but is it the Dave you had a hilarious conversation with last week, or the Dave who tried to make a move five minutes into your date the week before? Reply with something flirty like "Let me see your face!" and hopefully, the person will send you an identity-clearing selfie in reply. (Make sure you specify face, though, and steer clear of something like "Show me what you're up to" if you want to avoid a dick pic.) If it's Awesome Dave, you're in the clear; if it's Creepy Dave, "Sorry, gotta go!"
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Photo: Courtesy Face Tune.
Don't: Send A Selfie First
This person sounds like someone you know, but it's possible he or she is a complete stranger, or some sort of stalker. Don't send a photo — or other identifying information about yourself (like where you are) until you're 100% sure it's someone you've met before.
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Photo: Courtesy Madeline Buxton.
Do: Check Out Their Snapchat Story
If you're lucky, they'll already have a selfie of themselves on their account without you having to ask. Even if they don't, you'll get some good context and probably be able to place them by their posts. With any luck, you'll figure out who they are and be able to text them right back. Awkwardness eliminated.
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Photo: Courtesy Madeline Buxton.
Don't: Send Them A Snap
It's always annoying when you've texted someone and they choose to respond on a different social platform. It looks like a cop-out. If you're going to snap them in the hopes of getting a selfie back, it's better to ask for one in the first place. Play it cool, and keep your messages within your texts.
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Photo: Courtesy Madeline Buxton.
Do: Crowdsource For The Answer
There's a pretty good chance that even if you don't have a number listed in your contacts, at least one of your friends or coworkers does. Text the number to people from a few different friend groups to cover your bases.
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Photo: Courtesy Madeline Buxton.
Don't: Post The Number On Any Public Social Media Site
This might seem like a no-brainer, but in an age of social media and hacking, it's worth repeating. Don't ever publicly post a phone number, even if you're at a loss as to who's texting you. If you're friends with that person on Facebook, or they follow you on Twitter, this isn't the smoothest way to find out who they are. Plus, you're exposing their deets to people who might use that info to hack their accounts. Keep their digits private.
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Photo: Courtesy Madeline Buxton.
Do: Search For Their Phone Number On A Social Network
Many social media networks, from Facebook to LinkedIn, will have users enter their phone number for contact and security reasons. This one is hit or miss — some people, even if they put in their phone number, will choose to keep it private from friends — but it's worth a shot.

If you narrow the random text down to a few people you think it could be from, trying searching their social media handles on Google, which might pull up the number if those people have listed it elsewhere.
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Photo: Courtesy Madeline Buxton.
Don't: Pay A Third-Party Service To Find Out Who Owns A Phone Number
Some reverse phone directory services are fakes, so you could lose money for no good reason. Plus, if you're really willing to pay for someone's name, isn't it worth it at that point to just own up and ask who it is?
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Photo: Apple.
Do: Add New Contacts Into Your Phone
Once you've identified who this mystery texter is — and they're a friend — don't wait, add them to your Contacts. Now you'll know who it is the next time they message you... And if you get another unknown text, there will be one less person whose identity it could be.
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Photo: Apple.
Don't: Click Links In The Message
Many apps now shoot you a text message with a link to verify your phone number. That's well and good if you're expecting that message, and trust the source. But if you haven't just signed up for an app, or an old contact messages you out of the blue with some link in the message, do not click it. There's a good chance it could be spam, malware, or a phishing scheme to get more information from you.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
In The Future…
While you can't prevent this from happening completely, you can minimize the chances somewhat. First, rather than deleting the numbers of old dates and partners, add "ZZZ" to the beginning of their last names so they sit at the end of your contacts list instead of among the people you actually chat with. Then, if an ex texts you out of the blue, you're prepared. And, when you add a new number to your contacts, take a second to add descriptors in the "Notes" field, like how and where you met this person, mutual friends, where he or she works, or what you've chatted about before. Whew — now you'll definitely know that message was from Awesome Dave, not Creepy Dave.

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