To see if your phone is being tapped, look for apps using too much battery or data, listen for weird noises in phone calls, and watch for weird behavior like random mic activation or redirected websites. You can also use MMI or USSD codes to check your call forwarding status.
For better or worse, our smartphones are always with us, so if someone taps into the camera or mic, it’s a serious problem. But how can you tell if your phone is being tapped, and how do you protect yourself?
How to Tell If Your Phone Is Being Tapped
If someone gains access to your phone they can potentially send fake emails, read your personal messages, record your calls, and all sorts of other nefarious behavior. But can you even tell if someone’s hacked your phone? Here are a few things to look out for.
1. Bad Battery Life
If your phone constantly overheats seemingly for no reason and the battery drains quickly without any apparent cause, your phone might be hacked. Malicious software running in the background can drain your battery without any apps running and can be anything from malware that’s reading your email to call-recording spyware.
If you’re already a heavy phone user, your battery probably gets hot anyway. Streaming video or playing games for long periods of time, for example, will cause your phone to heat up which is pretty normal. If you haven’t been using your phone a lot and the battery still heats up or can’t hold a charge, you might want to check for malicious software.
To do that, check your battery settings. On either an Android phone or iPhone you can see which apps are using the most battery by going to Settings > Battery, where you’ll see which apps are using the most power. If there are apps on that list you don’t remember installing, or a third-party app that shouldn’t be using much power, uninstall them immediately.
For more detailed instructions, see our guides for checking battery usage on Android and checking iPhone battery use. Then learn how to remove Android apps or delete iPhone apps.
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2. Weird Noises
A high-pitched hum or strange, pulsating static on the line could be a sign your calls are being recorded. If you hear static or other strange sounds like clicking or beeping even when you aren’t calling someone, that’s another sign, especially when your phone’s been tapped by police.
Hearing these sounds once or twice at random is probably okay, but if it happens consistently, check your phone. You can try using a sound-bandwidth sensor app from another phone set to a low frequency. If it picks up several sounds over the course of a minute, your phone may be compromised.
3. Abnormally High Data Use
Spyware and malware will routinely use a lot of data since they’re constantly sending information back to whoever hacked your device. If your location or data icons at the top of your screen regularly move or light up, that could be a sign someone is sending data from your phone or controlling it remotely. Higher than normal data use can also show up as a higher phone bill if you don’t have an unlimited data plan.
iPhones and Android phones both let you check your data usage to see if your phone is (possibly) tapped. To do it on an iPhone, go to Settings > Cellular. On Android, go to Settings > Network & Internet. It may also be under Connections > Data usage or > Mobile data usage.
4. Unusual Activity
If your phone has trouble shutting down, that could be a sign it’s being tapped. Randomly shutting down on its own is another sign of trouble. When turning off your phone, check to see if the backlight stays on even when the phone is powered off or if the shutdown fails altogether.
Other strange behaviors your phone could exhibit if it’s been compromised include popup ads, the screen lighting up at random, and messages you don’t recognize that push you to follow unfamiliar links. Performance also often slows way down.
Also, watch out for your camera or mic turning on randomly. If you keep seeing the camera light go on when you didn’t open an app that uses the camera, it could be a sign your phone’s been hacked. Some malicious software lets hackers access your camera without turning the light on, so always dig deeper if you think something’s fishy.
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5. Websites Look Strange
Some forms of malicious software can infiltrate your browser, showing you a fake web page that looks legitimate, then harvesting your login credentials when you type them in. If you’re browsing on your phone and the web page you’re looking at acts strange or doesn’t look quite like it’s supposed to, close the browser and check your phone for malware by scanning it or taking it to a professional.
How to Protect Your Phone From Being Tapped
If you want to make sure your phone is never compromised, avoid downloading any apps that aren’t from the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. Even when using the mainstream app stores, though, do a Google search of the app and the developer to double-check that they’re on the level before you download; bad apps can and do occasionally get past their vetting processes.
Download trusted anti-malware and antivirus apps and use them regularly. If you can afford a premium subscription, do it. If not, there are some great free options available.
Using a VPN to obscure your true IP address can make it harder for someone who’s trying to track you to pin down your location. If you can, try a few out and use one regularly when you’re in public or on an unsecured connection.
You can also check and see whether your calls and messages are being forwarded to other devices using Man-Machine Interface (MMI) codes. They’ll be different depending on the network but can allow you to discover and cut off any unauthorized forwarding. To use them, dial the desired MMI code with your keypad, then hit the call button.
If you’re on a GSM network (like AT&T and T-Mobile):
*#002# — Lists all call and data forwarding settings
##002# — Clears all call and data forwarding settings
If you’re on a CDMA network (like Verizon and US Cellular):
*72 — Lists all call and data forwarding settings
*73 — Clears all call and data forwarding settings
Unfortunately, MMI codes only work on Android devices, but you can use the USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) code *#21# on iPhone to check your call forwarding status and see if your calls are being forwarded anywhere else.
If you’ve done your due diligence but you’re still experiencing these symptoms, take your phone to a professional. Odds are they’ll have the tools to scan more deeply and remove any bad software that could be causing the problem.