The Real Reason Fake Phone Numbers Always Start With 555

Sure, you're constantly on your phone, but no matter who you're texting, they probably don't have a 555 number. That's a big difference between reality and fiction, seeing as every character in every book, movie, and TV show always claims a 555, regardless of whether they live in sunny Los Angeles or Antarctica. While the reasoning for the prevalence of 555 in popular media is pretty understandable, how did this trend first get started?

Where did 555 come from?

Movies have been using 555 numbers for a long time. According to Telecom Heritage, Hollywood was probably first encouraged to adopt this practice in the mid-20th century because, at the time, the 555 code was dedicated to services such as repairs, operators, and so on: this meant that there weren't many real people who had 555 numbers. Why does this matter? Well, imagine that a blockbuster film depicted a villainous corporation selling toxic slime energy drinks, and the corporation's phone number was your number. Would you really want to receive hundreds of calls a day, asking for toxic slime energy drinks? Probably not.

Hence, movies use 555 numbers, and books and TV shows soon followed suit. While it's not entirely clear which movie was the first one to embrace the 555, Academic writes that one of the earliest was the 1962 film Panic in Year Zero!, which used the number 555-2106. Another factor that may have encouraged the use of 555, according to Mental Floss, is how memorable it is. The repeated digit probably helped it gain traction, helping it to become widespread across the media landscape ... and, yes, eventually resulting in articles like this one. 

The dangers of movies, music, and TV using non-555 numbers is real

The use of 555 in popular media isn't just a fun in-joke, though. Silly as it might sound, it serves as an important way to protect real lives, and defend people's privacy. 

For example, look back to 1981, when a hit single titled "Jenny," by Tommy Tutone, soared across the airwaves. Of course, nobody ever calls this song "Jenny" today. They call it 867-5309, the phone number that blasts over and over again in the song's chorus. It's a catchy tune, and a fun song, but it was significantly less fun for all the real folks who had this number, according to Snopes, and then had to deal with their phones ringing off the hooks with prank calls. Lest you think this activity has slowed down today, a New Jersey disc jockey actually asked for the famous phone number in 2004, and reported that he received around thirty such calls a day. 

So yes, real numbers have real consequences. Unfortunately, Hollywood sometimes forgets this lesson. In 2003, when the Jim Carrey flick Bruce Almighty made the mistake of using a non-555 number, a Florida woman named Donna Augustin told People Magazine that she was receiving a flood of calls, sometimes at 1am, from people asking to speak to God.