what’s the etiquette when you get a text from an unknown number?

A reader writes:

Here’s a question regarding the nuances of professional texting.

I was at the gym at night and received a text from an unknown number, asking for a “quick question” — the email address of the CEO of a firm at which I used to work. I quickly searched emails on my phone for the number, but didn’t find it, so I nearly immediately responded to the text: “Hi. I don’t have this number in my phone, unfortunately. Who is this?”

I was hoping for a quick response with a name, but nothing. My curiosity piqued, in between workout sets I began to cross-reference call history with emails. I figured out that I had a conversation with that number two weeks ago — an informational interview with someone at a “dream job” firm.

So I texted back asking to confirm it was her: “Is this ________?”

No response after ~30 minutes. I sent the requested information anyway, trying to make the awkward situation casual: “Hey, it’s name@email.com. Was at the gym earlier, but here you go.”

She still hasn’t responded to any texts. Is that necessarily a sign I’ve hurt my chances at this firm? Could this have been some sort of test? Short of figuring out the Caller ID faster initially, what would have been the better response?

On the phone, asking “who is this, please?” is the etiquette I was taught for unknown numbers. Does that not translate to text? This must be a common scenario in professional settings, what with the exchange of business cards.

Some more context: this person is busy and ignored half my emails previously. She could also easily find the requested information other places. It is hard for me to think of a scenario in which she would need to text a faint acquaintance for it.

It’s very, very unlikely that this was a test. It’s far more likely that this person is just brusque to the point of rudeness.

Texting you to ask for your former CEO’s email address with zero context was rude. Even if she figured that she was in your phone and thus you’d know it was her, it’s rude to request information like that without explaining why you’re asking for it.

It’s also rude that she didn’t respond back to any of your texts. Not immediately, because it’s possible that she was busy with other things at the time. But she should have responded eventually, and definitely after you sent her the info she was asking for. It’s really rude that she didn’t.

However, on your end, ideally you would have just left it alone after the first text. If the person doesn’t care enough to respond to identify herself when you ask her to, she’s definitely not entitled to your former boss’s email address. If she wants it, she can answer your damn question — and the onus shouldn’t be on you to go digging to try to figure out who was contacting you. (I can understand your impulse there; it’s natural to be curious about something like that and to try to figure it out. But you still could have waited to respond until she replied to your first question.)

Etiquette doesn’t require you to identify unknown numbers. And it’s perfectly acceptable to ask who a texter is, and to wait for a response before answering further. Don’t start second-guessing yourself just because she was rude.

{ 134 comments… read them below }

  1. Nervous Accountant*

    Interesting…It truly is tempting to respond to unknown numbers and find out what’s going on but I agree w the advice given here.

    1. Vicki*

      I have never been tempted to respond to unknown numbers. My immediate reaction is that unknown == wrong. I don’t answer the calls and I delete the texts.

      1. Joe*

        I once replied to a text from an unknown number, because they asked if I was coming over for quesadillas that night. After I saw the text, I really wanted quesadillas, so I tried to see if I could get myself invited even after they realized it was a wrong number. Alas, they didn’t go for it, so no quesadillas for me that night.

  2. Jaguar*

    Haha, you cracked, OP! If the situations were reversed, would you expect anything more than a, “Who is this?” in response? “I don’t know who this number is” is a totally valid thing for anyone to hear unless they’re insane and you shouldn’t accommodate people who are insane.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      “New phone—who dis?”

      Just kidding. OP, it’s fine to ask someone to identify themselves, and whoever texted you was rude. But I agree with Alison that you should only ask once, and with others that you should not send contact info on text. I would have followed up by email b/c unauthorized folks can text you from another person’s phone, and they can also simulate another person’s number. So just from a prudence standpoint, it helps to verify.

      But etiquette-wise, you were fine at texts 1&2.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        There’s something just so flagrantly rude about this particular example. Texting a near-stranger for someone’s email address when it’s easily available elsewhere? Questionable. And if that near-stranger is someone you know perfectly well has need of your good opinion? Obnoxious and arrogant – it has (whether intended or not) a real “Drop what you’re doing and fetch me that information, minion!” feel about it that reeeeeeeeally rubs me the wrong way. And then to not even acknowledge that near stranger when he or she writes back? Rude rude rude rude rude rude.

    2. OhBehave*

      A year or so ago I got a text asking if I wanted to meet for lunch. I immediately said, “Yes! Who is this?” I mean, it’s lunch out, LOL!

      OP you probably should have just stopped with, “I would be happy to oblige, but I don’t recognize this number.” and left it at that. My curiosity would have been piqued as well but only for a moment. Texts demanding information with no context don’t get information until they are identified.

  3. Sassy AE*

    After a scary brush with an ex I’ve always ignored random calls and texts. If it’s important they’ll leave a message. A random person asking me for someone’s contact information would set all my sensors off. That’s a no-no to do out of the blue with no context.

    Just today my sister sent me the number of a contact who was waiting for me to text her, and I still felt I needed to preface it with, “Hi. This is Sassy…” I can’t believe she’d be so rude/comfortable enough to send that message and still expect a response.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      YUP. I’ve never been in a truly scary situation because of responding to an unknown number, but at best it’s a restaurant calling me to confirm a reservation (which…I get why they have to do it, but it’s annoying and now that I know they won’t cancel the reservation if you don’t confirm, I refuse to pick up the phone) and at worst it’s a fundraiser. Basically, if you buy a ticket from any NYC cultural institution and have it sent to you EVER, they will call you and ask you for money or to subscribe to event series forever and ever no matter how many times you ask them to stop.

      Every time I relax and think I’ll go ahead and pick up the phone when it’s an unknown number, I regret it. If it’s that important, they’ll leave a message.

      1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

        Same here. If I don’t recognize the number calling me, I won’t pick up the phone.
        Additionally, I have my voicemail to automatically respond with a variant of “I’m not here/available. If you don’t leave a message, I won’t call you back.”

        Next time I have to start interviewing for a job or something though, I’ll have to change that so I don’t get labeled “unprofessional”…

        1. Hrovitnir*

          Haha, I have something along the lines of “I don’t answer unknown numbers, either text me or leave a message” and when some idiot rear ended my 4WD on their scooter I got a call from the cop involved – the message started “hi, it’s X, hopefully I’m important enough to reply to” or something similar. (He was pretty nice.)

          1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

            I got a call from someone at an organization thinking I was a parole officer for some guy.
            I called them back to let them know they had the wrong number. The person who answered asked “Are you sure?”

        2. JGray*

          I have a random person who I do not know that likes to text me all the time even though I have told him repeatedly that I don’t know him and I have no idea who he is looking for. He likes to ask me about whether I have drugs (one specifically asked if I smoked all of his pot) and if people can spend the night or come over to my house. It makes it worse if I respond to him so I don’t. It doesn’t happen that often but its really annoying when it does happen. It drives my husband crazy that I don’t answer unknown numbers but I just don’t. I also had a rental company from a town 3 hours away from me that had my number as one of their tenants number. They stopped calling me after I told them I wasn’t their tenant but for a while I was getting phone calls about where me rent payment was.

          1. Gadfly*

            I used to have a drunk woman who would call me in the middle of the night and rant at me, convinced I was her mother. This was about 12 years ago, when it was a bit harder to block numbers. I finally added her to my phonebook so she would come up as ‘crazy, Do NOT Answer’

            Now, I kinda wonder why I never called her back at about 7am or earier the next morning to tell her to knock it off if she didn’t want these sober/hungover follow-ups of me blowing up her phone the way she did mine.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        Re: reservations–this is part of why I make most of mine through Yelp, because their website will text you (making clear it’s the site) allowing to confirm via text. So much easier, because I hate phone calls intensely.

      3. nonegiven*

        Any local number that is not in my phone is now suspect. Most hang up without leaving a message, but after answering a couple, I see they are scammers spoofing local numbers.

        Sorry anyone not in my phone, if you are legitimate, you’ll have to leave a message, otherwise I will assume scam.

    2. shep*

      Same, both because of an ex and general paranoia. I have a pretty large social media following, and while I’m sure 99% of my followers are awesome people, that 1% has given me cause to be really vigilant about protecting my personal information. I’ve noticed an uptick in calls from numbers I don’t recognize. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but I don’t answer them. I feel like if the caller wants to get in touch with me that much and it’s something important, they’ll leave a message.

    3. CMart*

      I always assume unknown numbers are a scam–let alone someone will more malicious ill intent. I thought this letter was going to go “…and so I gave the CEO’s email to a Nigerian prince, whoops!”

      I also always, always preface new communication with “Hey this is CMart” possibly with a “from __”. It just seems like common sense to me.

      1. Not A Morning Person*

        Agree with this. I get lots of calls from numbers that I assume are telemarketing or scams. I don’t respond to any of them. If it’s important they’ll find a way to contact me that doesn’t look like spam or scam.

      2. Gaia*

        A scam or someone trying to sell me something I don’t want. If I know you well enough for you to have my number, I have yours in my phone book. If for some reason you’re calling from another number, you know to text me not call because I won’t answer that call. And don’t bother leaving a voicemail – I won’t listen to it.

        1. nonegiven*

          Lately almost all the scams are using in state area codes in their Caller ID. I actually answered one because the prefix was local. Never again.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            I rang one back once because it was the same area code as where I was going on holiday in a few days, and I panicked in case it was the accommodation calling with a problem. It was some scammer asking if I had been missold PPI.

      3. KH*

        The letter writer should not have sent contact information to an unknown person.

        I worked at a firm where it was relatively common for scammers, marketers or competitors to call and ask for contact details of key people, to either steal our stuff, sell us something, or poach employees.
        …Responding to an unknown number with such contact information was expressly forbidden by policy.

        In the above case, communication should have ceased when there was no reply to the “Who is this?” question.

    4. Justme*

      Same, Sassy. An ex used my number on a personals site to get revenge. I got some really *interesting* calls. Now I screen everything and am careful of to whom and where I give my number.

    5. Jaydee*

      I’ll even re-introduce myself or otherwise make my identity clear if it’s been a long time between texts and I figure the person might not have saved my number in their phone or might have deleted their previous texts from me.

    6. Kate*

      Yes, this! A few months ago Google changed their profile privacy settings, and my profile was suddenly showing my location, my phone number, and I’m not sure what else.

      I have two Google email addresses, one professional with my real name, one personal, and I used to have a Google blog that I never even put one post on. I don’t know how on earth my phone number got attached to the profile, but it did, and when they changed the settings it was all out there!

      I got a really creepy text from a guy in my area I didn’t know asking me if I wanted to f*ck, I never replied and since the text showed him as a Google person in my area I signed on in a hurry and deleted and hid all of my Google info as best I could. It was awful.

      1. copy run start*

        If you have an Android phone, I think it pairs your number with the Google account you sign in with. I just checked both my Gmail accounts and they have my phone number. It might have something to do with account recovery options too, like if you add your phone number.

        @NEW YEAR, NEW ME
        There’s a privacy checkup function if you log in to your Google Account, myaccount.google.com. I just did it, and… ugh. Knowing all the things they want to track and share is disturbing.

    7. gsa*

      “This is gsa from xyz, we met the other day and…”

      That’s me every single time until I know they have saved my number.

  4. H.C.*

    I’d also worry about giving out CEO’s email address if it isn’t publicly available (or if you gave out the real/direct email address vs something like ceo@companyname.com which an admin would filter through).

    And if it is publicly available, you could easily reply by saying “I no longer work at that company, but CEO’s email should be posted on their website”

    Otherwise, concur with AAM that it’s OK to get ID verification before supplying info.

    1. Sarianna*

      Agreed–I’d never give out contact info for someone else without confirming that it’s okay for the requester to have it. Neither business nor personal. Business-wise: that’s making it easy for social engineering attacks, especially with how easily phone numbers can be spoofed (much to my dismay, with all of these ‘local’ spam calls lately). Personal: same concept, but meaning well and giving info may mean giving that info to someone who shouldn’t have it, like a stalker or abusive ex. I’d much rather get the requester’s info and promise to pass it on.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I don’t even care how public that info is–I don’t give out contact info. Period. Full stop.

        1. Red 5*

          Same here, and I frequently remind friends and family not to give out mine no matter who is asking, even if you know that other person is a friend/family.

          If it’s business, I have like three readily available ways to contact me listed in multiple places. If it’s personal, then ask them if you can forward THEIR contact info to ME and I’ll contact you if I want to and in the method I prefer. Otherwise, no dice. There’s too many cases as people posing as someone else etc. for me to trust it. Also, I have multiple email addresses and I use them in different ways. Most people really don’t get this and will give people the wrong one, which just makes things awkward.

      2. L.*

        I agree, was my first thought – social engineering. Could be a stalker/abusive ex, but governments and private companies put a lot of effort into corporate espionage. An email is not necessarily private, but someone could send a phishing attack or malware to that address after obtaining it. OP did nothing wrong asking questions, and a reasonable legitimate requester would have no problem with her basic follow-up.

        1. Larina*

          My company was recently victim of a spoofing attack because someone figured out who our CEO was and mimicked their email profile when contacting our clueless finance person. As soon as this person asked for the CEO’s email, all my red flags went up.

      3. Jaydee*

        Ugh with the local spam calls. I answer because it could my kid’s daycare or school. And then it’s “This is the credit card company….” and I’m like “Oh no it isn’t!!! Because my credit card is affiliated with a bank that doesn’t even *have* a branch in my town. So even if I didn’t recognize the start of this bullsh!t recorded message, I would know it is spam. Good day!” and then I block the number.

      4. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Same. Even if I know who is asking and why, I will always check before I give out any contact info. I would absolutely not give out any contact info to an unknown (to me) number.

    2. Admin Assistant*

      Yeah, I don’t care what the question is, whether it’s “what’s your CEO’s email address” or more personal like “what’s the name of that restaurant you went to in NYC” or “what is the date of your wedding, again,” I don’t answer questions from numbers not saved in my phone unless I know who I’m talking to.

      1. Lunch Meat*

        OT: I have a former roommate who majored in science and took biology and organic chemistry classes and is just an amazing nerd for all of that. Once I was trying to calculate my blood alcohol level and I texted her:

        “How many pints of blood are in the human body?”

        She answered the question and asked me why I wanted to know *before* telling me she had a new phone and she didn’t know who I was. Since then I’ve been wondering if any out-of-the-blue text message would faze her.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          Heh, I got a late night text from an unknown number once saying “which type of cell has the least interesting epigenome?” I replied “red blood cell” and then”wait, who is this?!” in a separate text. Turned out it was one of the volunteers I’d managed at an epigenomics conference a couple of years earlier – I’d deleted all volunteers’ contact info out of my phone after the conference ended. He was a bit embarrassed because apparently the text was an attempt to settle a drunken argument in a conference hotel bar :D

          1. Gene*

            I have three phone numbers on my phone, Verizon, Sideline, and Google Voice. If I get strange texts or calls from unknown numbers with no VM left, I typically wait a few days then reply text from one of the others with nonsense or something like, “The tawny owl hoots at noon.”

          2. Jaydee*

            My physics teacher husband would get texts like that from his dad. Usually because he and his buddies were trying to settle a bet at the bar.

      2. Jaydee*

        Those sound so much like the type of security questions on websites now that you’ve got to be careful with that seemingly innocuous information.

        1. CM*

          I’m going to change my security question to “which type of cell has the least interesting epigenome?”

    3. Ama*

      Yeah, I ‘ve worked at a couple of places where members of the public have tried to get contact info from me for VIPs that I work with. If I’m actually at work and they don’t seem like they just want to sell something I will offer to forward their information to the VIP in question, and quite often they won’t take me up on it — what they really want is to be able to claim “oh Ama gave me your info” as if I had somehow endorsed them.

      But anyone who texted me when I wasn’t at the office and who wasn’t my boss asking because there was an emergency would have to wait until office hours before I responded at all.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I assumed that the OP knew it was okay to give it out to this person (and don’t think we should assume that she’s wrong about that), but you’re right that it’s something you want to be sure about.

      1. Sarianna*

        I agree that it’s fair to assume the OP knew it was okay to give it to that person. However, I don’t necessarily agree that the OP can assume that the texter *is* that person, especially without other context via text. Someone wtih access to OtherPerson’s email could easily have gotten OP’s info, with the intent to gain access to or spoof the CEO’s email, for example. Social engineering is still the easiest way to get this kind of information/access! Heck, most people hold the door open for the person behind them, even when it’s a pass-/key-secured door and they don’t know the person behind them personally. We all want to be nice, and there are jerks who prey on that.

      2. BF50*

        Last year an employee at Seagate Technology sent all the W2s of past and present employees to a scam email that appeared to come from their CEO.

        Thousands of people had their identities stolen. One article says somewhere between 2 and 10 thousand identities were stolen.

        This year the exact same thing happened at a company called Sunrun in San Francisco. Granted that’s a smaller company than Seagate, but I’d be very careful disclosing that type of info, especially in early spring.

        1. Pippa*

          That just happened last month with our school district. Someone pretending to be the superintendent emailed finance for the W2s. Why he’d actually need that info is anyone’s guess, and that request really should have raised red flags by itself.

          So now more bills for identity protection for employees for a school district facing a cut in state aid of close to 10% of the total school budget. /sigh. I understand there has been Training.

        2. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

          Stories like that just make me go “Noooooo, whhyyyyy???” Why are you sending confidential information over unsecure email?! Did nobody teach you about internet safety and security???

          We have near-daily HIPAA articles shared with us from our Compliance Officer about other companies doing stuff like that and being hit with big fines after exposing their personnel/patients to identity theft.

    5. Episkey*

      I was also thinking the same thing. The only reason I’d give out my boss’ info like that is because it is very public information and easily findable. I’d still want to know who was asking though, or else I’d tell them to just search for it online.

    6. BananaPants*

      Agreed, my first thought was that this is social engineering. Given that I’m required to take a computer-based information security training module annually that includes social engineering up there with phishing and scam URLs and all the rest, I’m not giving out anyone’s email, work extension, or company-paid mobile phone number. Nope.

      If someone needs a C-level executive’s contact info, they’ll already have it or have access to it.

  5. AndersonDarling*

    I don’t like being paranoid, but we’ve had issues with spoof emails from scammers. They use the CEO’s email address to ask for sensitive information- W2s, social security numbers… I wouldn’t be surprised if a shady character would find a business card and text asking for the contact’s CEO’s email address so they can run the scam. Questioning the sender would be enough to send them on to their next target.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I should clarify. They spoof the CEO’s email address and send an email to another employee asking for sensitive information.

    2. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Sadly yes this is a thing. Best to ignore texts from people who don’t identify themselves. If they can’t be bothered to introduce themselves politely do you really want to waste your time dealing with them?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Counterpoint–my husband had to replace his phone, and the new one is making a habit of randomly deleting large chunks of his contact list. Which he realized when a number he recognized as my cell came up as unknown. If someone assumes with reason that they will appear as “Todd from Accounting” on your cell, as part of the “Todd from Accounting Explains State Withholding Footnotes” thread, it wouldn’t be unusual for them to fire off a quick question and assume you knew it was them, in this context.

        1. Zombii*

          I thought the “people who don’t identify themselves” NoMoreMrFixit was referring to are the the people who don’t respond to New phone who dis?, not the ones who send a text without identifying themselves in that first text?

    3. AnonAnalyst*

      This was actually my thought until the OP clarified that she recognized the number after scrolling through her call history. But wow, what a bad way to approach this request. I probably wouldn’t have responded at all.

    4. seejay*

      yeah it’s not hard to spoof emails and phone numbers these days. It could easily have been a spoof text number to phish for more information. The term is called “spear phishing”, where the attacker uses specific bait to make it look like they’re more legitimate and are more focused on specific targets. Instead of using a large net and hoping to just catch anything, they’ll research a specific person (such as a CEO) and focus on those particular details, either using them to lure people in because they look/act like the target, or to gain the target’s trust by knowing specific details about them.

      Targeting the OP specifically, with a return number from a company/person they have a connection to, and asking for a former coworker’s contact information could very well be a spear phishing attack. It might *not* be, but it also smells like it could be.

      1. Oh They Didn't*

        Yep. I assume this is how someone at my former employer came to send a requested file to someone they thought was their CEO, but wasn’t.

        The list of everyone who received a W2 from the company for 2016…and their social security numbers.

        And the fact that it happened and wasn’t actually the CEO was discovered a month later, so whoever got those had a month’s head start on things.

        They’re now providing all the affected employees and ex-employees with two years of free credit monitoring, and at least some of those affected are not happy that it’s only that long.

        And I’m counting my blessings that I stopped working there before 2016, and wasn’t in the file. I know too many good people who were, however, and now have to deal with the fallout.

        1. BF50*

          And 2 years of credit monitoring isn’t going to help all that much. Really they need it for life.

          With a month long head start that’s enough time for the scammers to file multiple income tax returns, stealing refunds or to open countless credit cards. Which is why Seagate is being sued.

          1. Oh They Didn't*

            Wow. And neither Seagate nor the other you mentioned above were the one I was talking about.

            It’s nice to know we as humans keep making the same mistakes over and over.

            If we didn’t, the scammers wouldn’t have any reason to keep trying these stunts, I guess. :(

            1. BF50*

              Can you imagine suing your own employer? That must be fraught since you’re relying on them for your income. I also cannot imagine being the payroll person who fell for the scam. :(

              I’m glad I work for a small enough company that if our payroll person received that email, I’m confident she would walk down the hall and knock on the CEO’s door to ask him why he needed that info.

            2. seejay*

              Think about it… before if someone robbed a store, they got what was in the cash register or off the shelves. Or if you steal a purse or wallet, you got someone’s credit card. If you skimmed a bank machine, you could get a few cards that way (or maybe a few dozen). Now though, with the right tools and know-how, hackers are stealing thousands of credit cards from all over the country (or world) in one swoop. We only hear about the big cases where a major breach happened from a big name company, but there’s a lot of smaller businesses that lose data and get hacked that don’t make it into the news as much (not as many people get compromised as well, but it’s still happening).

              Being able to steal hundreds of credit card numbers without leaving your house is a pretty lucrative business for some people. Of course it takes specialized knowledge and cryptography and security works hard to protect our information, but it can only do so much since we can never fully control the human factor of security. That will always be the weak point which is what scammers excel at exploiting.

        2. seejay*

          I used to work for a bank in the corporate security department. It was not uncommon at all for high up muckity mucks in the banking industry to either get targeted specifically for social engineering attacks or have attackers pretend to be them to others lower in the banking hierarchy (or combine the two, the attacker goes after the high up person to get more information from them in order to pretend to be them to attack someone lower down in the hierarchy).

          What’s even scarier is how often the people high up in the hierarchy think they’re either immune to the attacks or “too smart” to fall for it.

          (Hint: they almost always are not immune or too smart).

          1. Gadfly*

            It is like the studies about how in general Mac users tend to be more vulnerable when they are targeted, because they believe no one can hack a Mac

    5. JessaB*

      Yes that was my immediate first thought. Social engineering scams to get information not readily available are dangerous. And let’s say the info given was 100% publically available and the CEO doesn’t care if you give it out. It was still given to an unknown who now has a HOOK. They know you think they’re “job you asked about,” and even if they’re NOT, they now are going to say they are, AND you’ve already given em a little bit of info without any true idea who you were talking to. You are now on the list “Hi this is job you were asking about can you tell me x.” And this time you may not remember you haven’t actually verified A: they are who they say they are and B: that you have already told them things without checking.

  6. Venus Supreme*

    Yeah, I’m super wary about phone calls and texts from unrecognizable numbers on my personal phone. If they don’t identify who they are or don’t leave a voicemail, I ignore it. If they need something from me so badly they’ll find another way to contact me. There’s a lot of creepos in the world.

    1. Breda*

      Yeah, I never answer the phone unless I have the number saved – 90% of the time it’s a telemarketer or robocall with a spoofed number. Same with texts: it’s on them to identify themselves, just as they would in a phone call. It’s pretty rude that this person never bothered to do so, or even say thanks, besides which it’s super weird that she would text a person she’d had one phone conversation with! I would 100% email this question.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Same here–though I’m job hunting, and I will pick up the phone occasionally if it’s a local number. I won’t answer if it’s unknown or from an area code I don’t recognize. Although I’m applying to jobs out of state, I’m guessing they’d probably email before they called (if they bothered to contact me at all, rawr), and I can always let it go to voice mail and call them right back.

      2. JKP*

        I have a specific ring tone for everyone in my address book (friends/family one ring tone, work a different ring tone, and SO their own personal one). Then I have the default ring tone set to silence. So basically, if they are not in my address book, my phone never even rings. 99.9% of the time, those unknown numbers never leave a voicemail and are most likely robocalls.

        1. Breda*

          Very occasionally, they DO leave a voicemail – and it always turns out they got a spoofed call that used MY number and are returning the “missed call.” Ack.

    2. Murphy*

      Yeah, I don’t pick up the phone for unknown numbers unless they’re local to where I live. My cell phone number is not local so most unknown calls I get are from that state, and are usually spam/wrong numbers. I’d you’re calling me from where I live now, you probably know me.

  7. Long time listener, First time caller*

    I greet unknown texts the same way I greet unknown callers who ask who I am without introducing themselves (umm, you called me) I answer nothing until they tell me who they are. It may seem rude but, there are people out there trying to trick others so it pays to be circumspect and then decide whether the caller/texter is worth the time.

  8. Admin Assistant*

    Personally, I would never give out my CEO’s email address unless I was absolutely sure who it was, and in most cases I wouldn’t give it out unless I checked with my CEO and confirmed that person wanted her email.

    But also, this phantom texter’s behavior was rude & bizarre.

    1. SLR*

      100% agree about giving out email addresses. I know the guys I work for well but I still won’t give out their email to randos calling and asking for it; I tell them they must ask the individual themselves when they speak and that I’m happy to pass along any message. Also, by context I assume the texter is asking for that contact information for references? It’s hard to tell, but wouldn’t that have been in the OP’s file if they had gotten that far already? I totally would have not responded with the email address until after the texter ID’d themselves.

  9. Annie Moose*

    I’m gonna be honest, my first assumption to the first text would’ve been someone trying to con me into giving them information!

  10. Adam*

    I think like 90% of the phone calls I get on my personal phone are from numbers I can’t identify. Most of them will have a local area code, but as the king of phone/text screening, if I can’t identify you I’ll ask for more info. Then you aren’t getting a live version of me until you do.

    1. napkin seal*

      I would imagine she wouldn’t have given it at all if it was something she wouldn’t have done for most people. I dont see an instance of obnoxious sales person / scammer texting personal phones asking for a contact.

      1. seejay*

        Scammers most definitely 100% would ask for a CEOs contact information. Pretending to be a CEO to employees would be a lot of leverage to a scammer trying to convince people to click on something to install malware or a virus or something else nefarious.

        This reeks of a spear phishing attack in my opinion.

  11. TootsNYC*

    Quite apart from the asking for someone else’s contact info (rude, rude), there’s the issue of whether someone who -just- texted you should be able to answer you back right away.

    It’s possible that, even if you replied somewhat quickly, the other person has had to put their phone away in those few seconds. Or they want to send a longer reply but don’t have time to craft it right now.

    The fact that people CAN respond instantly doesn’t mean that they must.
    Be patient. Wait. Don’t respond until AFTER they do, and if they don’t, then it just drops.

    This counts with your best friends, too.

    Be patient. Wait.

    1. JessaB*

      Yeh my friend has a habit of texting something then walking away from her phone (she’s a nurse and if she needs something when she’s at work, she’ll stop between patients, shove a text at me and not do a thing til she’s in between again.) I’m used to that but that’s someone who comes up on my phone as “NAME”

    2. KR*

      Still, the person texting OP hasn’t responded at all and has a history of ignoring emails. If she had I doubt OP would have written into Alice about it. I think since OP was the one who was texted they shouldn’t have to worry about whether the other person had to put their phone down or isn’t one to get back to text messages right away.

      1. Zombii*

        You’re missing the point: OP wasn’t obligated to keep texting after the first “Who is this?” and shouldn’t have felt pressured into doing so. That’s where this interaction should have ended.

        (OP is interviewing, I get that, and apparently wants to be very helpful, but it’s a lot of effort that just isn’t necessary.)

  12. seejay*

    Having been stalked and harassed, if I don’t know the number, *at best* it might get a “who is this?” from me. Anything else, I’ll be tracing it online and from there deciding what to do next: blocking, reporting, ignoring, etc.

    My friends and family know me well enough to know that they should identify themselves from the start. Recruiters who cold-call or cold-text me get blocked. If someone contacts me asking for someone else’s information, my red alert is going off.

    I guard my phone number from texts and calls jealously. I don’t answer it unless I know who it is or am expecting the call. People can make sure they identify themselves ahead of time or at least respond when I ask who they are because my safety is first and foremost. For everything else, there’s email.

  13. animaniactoo*

    What I’d be curious to know is how comfortable the CEO would be with you giving out his e-mail address.

    I don’t pass on information EVER. Not even work numbers. Without explicit instructions that it’s okay to do so. I will take information and agree to pass it back to the person you’re looking to hook up with and let them decide if they want to contact you/you to have their info. But that’s it.

    As far as the etiquette question – I agree with Alison’s response completely. Among other things, if they can’t take the time and courtesy to name themselves and follow up with a basic “thanks”, then I doubt that they will be instrumental in helping or harming a shot at a position with the company.

    1. SLR*

      I tell my guys all the time that I would NEVER give out their contact information unless the explicitly tell me X person is to have it. Otherwise, you can leave a message with me and I will certainly pass it along. If they decide to give you their email, that’s their decision. I’m also super private and tech weary though so maybe that colors things for me too.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I’ve been this way for over 30 years, back before an e-mail address was even a common thing to have. Because privacy/control stuff around my info ty and I’ll grant you the same in return. These days, I think I’m even *more* on top of it. I wouldn’t describe myself as tech weary, but my tech happy self comes with a strong dose of tech cynicism? Which means I’m pretty cautious even when I’m enthusiastic about something.

        1. Belinda*

          I feel I must point out that tech people are the first to hear of new ways others are doing data-harvesting. There’s often a delay between informing people and the general population getting the same news from some other source or multiple sources before deciding the rumor is fact. Meanwhile, people feel free to insult or accuse the broadcaster of wearing a tin-foil hat (American slang for a person who is paranoid)

          It is very easy to intercept a cell phone call; it is very easy to spoof a phone number or an email address. It is easy to force-guess most email passwords; email is not private communication.

          Responding to the text with anything but silence, tells a scammer your number and email is active and can be re-sold. Having “Send read reciepts” turned on as the default, does the same thing. Spammers will get a notification. You can choose the contacts who need it. I have turned it off for all.

          It’s Mad Magazine’s (or was that in Cracked) “Spy vs Spy”- – Outwit them

  14. MegaMoose, Esq*

    I agree with Alison here – this person was definitely rude and the only thing you should have done different here was not to text again after your first response. I would totally have been curious and dug around, and I definitely get wanting to look good to a potential future employer, but there is nothing in any way rude about not answering a question like that without the other person identifying themselves. And terms of texting etiquette generally, I think this is the kind of request that shouldn’t have been done via text at all.

  15. Shelby Drink the Juice*

    I doubt I would have responded at all in the first place. For myself, if I’m going to text someone and I’m not sure they have my contact info I start with “This is Shelby”.

  16. kb*

    Asking for identification after receiving a text from someone for the first time, even if you’ve spoken on the phone before, isn’t rude at all– very standard. I’d say it was a breach of texting etiquette for your interviewer to not introduce herself the first time she texted you.

    The only time it’s rude to ask a texter who they are is if you should have saved their number in your contacts by now and just haven’t (someone you text regularly with and/or is very significant in your life). Even then you can just say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I lost all my contacts.”

  17. Sophie*

    I usually say “I’m so sorry, but I dont actually have this number saved in my phone – who is this?”

    But it’s probably them leaving a phone and I think it’s only because you found out it was a high up person that you now feel pressured about being rude!

  18. Anonymoose*

    “If the person doesn’t care enough to respond to identify herself when you ask her to, she’s definitely not entitled to your former boss’s email address.”

    BOOM. That’s all there is to it. I would have just waiting for the texter to respond, and if they never did, well then that speaks volumes about the so-called ‘dream job firm’. I think you went above and beyond to get her the info, and the fact that she didn’t even bother to thank you? At ALL?


  19. EA in CA*

    I just ignore those texts. Same thing with people calling into our office. If I don’t recognize the number, they go straight to voicemail. If they don’t leave a message, then it was not important enough or they were telemarketers.

  20. Sue Wilson*

    I mean, this sounds 100% like someone spoof your contact’s phone number in order to span your former CEOs company, so some advice: even if it is okay to give out contact information, it is incredibly dangerous nowadays to give it out to people who don’t respond. Don’t do for information security reasons.

    1. Some sort of Management Consultant*

      Why is it more dangerous to give it out to someone who doesn’t respond?

  21. Mallory*

    Frankly it would be completely within social convention to ignore a text from an unknown number entirely. It’s not an appropriate way to correspond with a job candidate, IMO. Would be interested to hear from/about any hiring managers who do correspond that way, though.

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      It’s not my preferred communication method, but I’ve run into a couple of recruiters/hiring managers who’ve texted me once or twice during the process. Usually it’s been to let me know they’ll be calling me a few minutes late or something because the meeting they’re in is running long. However, everyone who has done this has prefaced the first text with who they are so I wasn’t sitting there wondering why I had gotten a text from some random number.

    2. Winger*

      I understand the reasoning behind this, but unfortunately texting is too ubiquitous now. I’m only 32 (meaning, I and my friends have texted for most of my adult life) and it took me a long time to accept this on a professional level. That doesn’t mean you should allow or enable people to be rude or inappropriate, but for example, I wouldn’t recommend ignoring a text from an unknown number entirely just because you think “if this is important, s/he will call/email me.”

  22. Amber Rose*

    Sometimes people forget that their names don’t just pop up and that’s OK. What’s not OK is just never responding. If I don’t get a response, I assume it’s a scammer or something. I realize you went looking for the number and that’s probably not the case, but it’s hard to be sure. We’ve had trouble here at work with someone impersonating various workers and sending creepy emails and stuff. I got one from the president [air quotes] that asked me if I was still at my desk. Our shipper had them break into a chain of emails and start emailing our customers as her.

    Then again, we have nothing in the way of cyber security, so you know better than me if this was all OK. I’d just be really careful. And let the rude people stew. It’s their own fault.

  23. SLR*

    I totally text back “Who is this please?” regardless of professional or personal if I don’t have the number saved. I also would have never sent the CEO’s email without confirming who is asking for it. So if I had to wait over an hour to get a response as to who it was, then I wait an hour. If it’s not that important to respond with an identifying text it’s not that important I get that email address to you promptly.

    1. Jennifer's Texting Thneed*

      Heck, I got a reply like that from my *aunt* and my only reaction was to feel dopey that I’d assumed she’d know it was me. (I wasn’t much of a texter then, while she was more savvy because she had teenagers.) I don’t make that mistake anymore.

  24. Allison*

    I’m only okay with work-related texts if they’re from people I currently work with, about stuff that’s too urgent for e-mail. I don’t want prospective employers texting me, I don’t want former employers or co-workers texting me about work, and I really don’t want job candidates calling or texting me on my personal phone (which is why I refuse to include it in my work signature). If someone was asking for the e-mail address of someone I used to work with, and I didn’t even know who they were, I’d probably ignore it, say I couldn’t remember, or ask why they needed that information.

  25. Jamie*

    I’m going to guess the texter found the CEO’s email after texting OP so no longer needed the OP. Regardless she was rude.

  26. NW Mossy*

    This is more interesting than the randos who keep texting me thinking I’m their friend/relative who just had her second child. Ali, sorry you’re not getting the congrats you deserve!

  27. Fafaflunkie*

    I was recently given (well, okay, issued) a new phone at work for work-related things (as I will never give my personal phone number to work clients or suppliers, and I can turn this phone off at the end of the work day.) I have seen some odd-ball texts from odd-ball number I don’t recognize asking for things totally not work related. I never had an issue with simply responding with “I’m sorry, I’m unfamiliar with this number. Who is this?” Normally I get no reply back, but there was one time when someone was repeatedly texting me for someone, likely the person who had the number before I did. To which I responded one last time “You have the wrong person!” Then I blocked that number from contacting me.

    There is a great feature on Samsung phones (like the GS7/edge and I’ll guess the GS8/+ will have it too) that will go out on the net and fetch the name of the number that’s calling you, even if you don’t have Name ID service. It’s almost eerily accurate–a phone number that would show up as “Name unknown” on Name-ID equipped phone will have the name pop up on this phone–and no, the number is not in my contact list either. Good thing both the personal phone and the one work assigned me (they know better than to give me something with a certain kind of fruit on the back of the phone) are GS7s. Alas, it doesn’t work with unknown texters, so it wouldn’t have helped the OP in this case.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I have an S7 and do not know about this feature, and googling isn’t showing me anything useful. Could you tell me what Samsung calls it, or what setting it can be found under?

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        NVM- found the right search terms. Followed a step by step with pictures, and the setting isn’t there on my phone. It must be disabled by T-Mobile.

        1. Zombii*

          Is your phone pre-paid? They always take away the good features on pre-paid phones. (If I had a dollar for every time I followed a step-by-step to find out that option just isn’t available on my burner…)

        2. Fafaflunkie*

          That sucks. Looks like your phone carrier wants you to spend the extra coin for their (oftentimes useless) Name ID. My work and personal phones are from two different carriers, and they both have the feature turned on.

  28. Not So NewReader*

    Growing up in a time where everyone always answered the phone (because you never know it could be an emergency –wth?), I am very happy to live in a time of caller ID and very happy to screen my calls.
    I was pretty surprised to see friends who STILL answer every call and argue with the scammer. So unnecessary to elevate the blood pressure that much, really.

    I will say this, when I have to do return phone calls for my job MOST of the time I do not get an answer. Probably 75% of the time. (I have a job where people answer the phone because of [reasons].) Of that 75% over half do not even have a voice mail set up. Uh-hum. I really want to add to my outgoing message, “If you have no intention of answering your phone and you have not bothered to set up a vm box, then don’t bother leaving a message. Call me during working hours when I am here.”

  29. EvilQueenRegina*

    Reminds me of the time my mother couldn’t understand why I rejected a call from a number I didn’t recognise. Turned out in the end I was right to. About a month earlier, I had had lots of texts from this woman who had mistaken my number for her ex’s and was sending me texts meant for the ex about getting back together – “This is Lucy, any chance of reconcile, I just want to explain things….” She wouldn’t believe me when I told her she was texting a wrong number and kept accusing me of being the ex PRETENDING she had one, and in the end I gave up trying to convince her and just let her rant on, but I decided I would just leave all unknown numbers to it after that. This call I had rejected was from one of her friends trying to prank the ex, which I later found out after more calls and a text from her (still thinking she had the ex). She’s now gone quiet, but I did stop answering random numbers altogether after that.

    And spoofing is always possible (I still remember that letter on here about the guy who spoofed someone’s mother’s phone number to see if she’d answer that when she wasn’t answering his calls as himself, and the mother was in surgery or something that day). So yeah, I wouldn’t have answered that.

  30. Akcipitrokulo*

    I make it a rule never, ever to pass on someone’s personal details unless I know, 100%, that they would want that person to have them. If I’m only 95% sure I’ll reply “hey there! I’ve passed your details on!”

  31. MommyMD*

    I would email him back and say upon reflection you are opting out of giving him a reference.

  32. AlwhoisthatAl*

    I never respond to unknown numbers or emails, ever. If the person cannot be bothered to leave a voice mail or explain in their email, I cannot be bothered to reply. it’s that simple.

  33. Belinda*

    If someone were to ask me in person I’d say, “Oh, I think it’s been changed-?” and give them the company main phone number or website. Maybe direct them to LinkedIn if appropriate. With a smile.

    Appear to comply but not give them the information they’ve asked for. Plausible Denial does have a white hat!

  34. Gabriel Conroy*

    Kind of off topic, but one of my pet peeves is the “quick question.” They’re almost never “quick.” While people who ask “quick questions” probably don’t have any ill intent, the function of “quick questions” is often to make it awkward for the one who’s asked to cut off the conversation if they’re busy or don’t have the time it takes to answer or research the answer to the question.

  35. Minocho*

    My favorite unknown text receipt and response:

    From unknown number: “Hi! Thank you for responding. We have rented another cottage at this point.”

    My response: “?”

    “But where am I supposed to hide the bodies?!?”

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