What to Do if Your Phone Is Tapped?
Phone tapping has taken new forms since many people have cut the cord and given up landlines. In fact, the number of Americans with smartphones has doubled in the past ten years, contributing to the worldwide figure of 5 billion cell phones.
People may enlist phone tapping or spyware for many reasons, whether it’s law enforcement seeking information about your activities to others who seek to get a competitive advantage on your business, to find out if you’re having an extramarital affair, or if your boss thinks you’re acting unethically.
Smartphones are somewhat easier to tap than old-fashioned flip phones because there are many ways to put tracking software on smartphones, whereas old-style phones are less susceptible because they don’t use as many apps. Also, TracPhones and other similar “burner” prepaid phones are less likely to be tapped because they are harder to link to an individual user if the user seeks to remain anonymous.
The process of tapping a phone may begin with a phone lookup directory, which can confirm the link between the individual of interest and their phone.
How to Tell if Your Phone is Tapped?
On landlines, tapping a line is not very difficult. It requires access to the physical location of the phone or its connection (an outdoor box) so that a listening or recording device can be attached to a line. Unlike in the old movies, it’s no longer common for police to be sitting in a van across the street from your home, waiting for you to get a phone call they can listen to. Now, it’s possible to set up a recorder on a tapped line so that conversations will be captured without anyone standing by.
Things you may experience if your phone has been tapped include:
- Static noise or high-pitched humming during calls;
- making noise when it isn’t in use;
- battery heating up;
- data transfer indicator on even when the application is set to “off” position;
- trouble shutting down;
- higher-than-usual data usage;
- icons that move when not in use (may be a sign that a hacker is active on your system);
- receiving garbled SMS text messages;
- interruptions in calls, and
- clicking or buzzing noises during calls are all potential indications of a line tap, whether it’s a landline or a cell phone.
When police use their “Stingray” devices, they trick your phone into connecting with a fake cell tower in order to zero in on your location. When this happens your phone will appear to have service but in fact it does not (because the cell tower is fake). That’s another sign of a potential tap. (Many courts have required police to have search warrants before using a Stingray but public interest groups that have tried to uncover information about law enforcement use of such devices have been unable to determine whether several states allow their use.)
Another type of phone “tap” is when your device is hacked in a way that allows the microphone to be turned on remotely. This allows the hacker to listen to not only your phone calls but other discussions that take place in the same area as the phone – even when the phone is turned off.
Cell phones that are tapped by spyware apps may show changes in appearance, such as the home screen, as spyware apps may move the preset icons from their designated locations. Unexpected static or garbled communications can be indications that a cell phone has been tapped. Batteries that drain quickly despite normal use is another potential sign that spyware has been installed on your phone, potentially “tapping” your communications. A device called a sound bandwidth sensor can be used to detect phone taps. You may also notice that the phone causes frequency interference with radios or televisions with antennas if it has been compromised.
Remember that VOIP (voice over internet protocol) calls made via computer is another potential communication method that can be tapped.
If someone has broken into your home but nothing was taken, it’s possible that it was done to “bug” your communications, particularly to install spyware on your computer, phone, and other devices. Most spyware requires not only physical access to a phone but passwords that allow a download and activation of the software.
Protect Your Cell Phone From Being Tapped
If you suspect that your cell phone is being tapped, the first step is shutting it off – or at least turning off its location. While in airplane mode, examine your phone for unusual apps and delete them. Follow instructions for restoring the phone to factory mode, after attempting to remove unwanted programs and apps. Change passwords to the phone and all important accounts.
If your landline is being tapped, it is probably a good idea to stop using it or to stop having private, confidential conversations on it. If you haven’t done anything illegal, you can ask police if they have the means to detect a wiretap (if the wiretap wasn’t done by police it is likely illegal). If it’s a stalker trying to determine the habits and whereabouts of the individual, those activities are most likely illegal if the individual has not consented.
How to Untap Your Phone and Remove Spyware
Check on which apps are using an inordinate amount of your battery, and delete any identified unfamiliar apps. It’s possible that these apps have introduced malware on your phone that isn’t actually tapping your conversations but could be sending your private information and data to unauthorized third parties.
On an Android, go to Settings>Security>Allow Unknown Sources to determine if your phone has been jailbroken without your consent, allowing unwanted third-party apps to be launched on your device. Turn off any permissions that allow pop-up ads, location tracking, and ad personalization.
iPhones should be equipped with the latest ios updates; also avoid jailbroken phones which are more likely to allow spyware. Under settings, shut off iPhone analytics, and under “location services” turn off most of the “system services” options like “significant locations” in order to reduce the use of your personal data. Also check under Settings>Privacy that “Limit Ad Tracking” is off.
From security measures do not answer unknown calls or respond to (or take action on) text messages from unfamiliar numbers (use a phone lookup directory to research those trying to contact you). It can bring a lot of pain and can be an easy way to get infected by malware.
Run updates that will provide patches or fixes for known gaps in device and software security. Get protection from malware and run it on a regular basis. Avoid clicking on any unfamiliar, unexpected text message or email links that could be a trojan poised to launch spyware on your device.
How to Protect Your Privacy Online
- downloading only well-known apps from reputable sources;
- change passwords to protect any future data and access;
- do not leave your devices unattended.