Is Your Phone Tapped?

Here's how to tell if your conversations are being overheard

What to Know

  • Watch for unprompted app downloads, abnormally short battery life, random spikes in data usage, and unusual background noise.
  • Shutdown failures can indicate someone has placed malicious software on your phone.
  • Weird SMS text messages containing garbled series of letters and numbers from unknown senders are a sign, too.

This article explains what to look for if you suspect someone is tapping your phone.

A Word about Phone Taps and How to Stop Them Instantly

Have you ever been in the middle of a phone call and heard a strange sound, like a click or a static noise, and wondered if your phone was being tapped? If so, you're not alone. Many people are concerned that their personal and business communications might not be private. Your smartphone can be vulnerable to tapping, especially if your device is jailbroken or rooted to take advantage of third-party apps.

The quickest way to stop strange behavior from a remote hacker, without shutting down the whole phone, is to put it into airplane mode to shut off cell data and Wi-Fi. This will let you handle the situation offline (remove apps, reset your device, etc.) while also stopping any network activity.

It can take a little sleuthing to find out if you're really dealing with a phone tap or just random glitches. If you've only noticed one of the signs listed below, then you may not be dealing with a spy app or other tapping device. But if you're encountering multiple red flags, then you may indeed have someone listening in on your calls. Take a look at the indicators listed below to see if any match what's happening on your phone.

Unusual Background Noise

If you hear pulsating static, high-pitched humming, or other strange background noise when on voice calls, it may be a sign that your phone is being tapped. Strange noises do crop up from time to time on cell and landline calls, however, so this isn't a surefire indicator that something is wrong. If you hear unusual sounds like beeping, clicking, or static when you're not on a call, that's another sign that your phone may be tapped.

You can check for inaudible sounds on your phone by using a sound-bandwidth sensor on a low frequency. A sound-bandwidth sensor is a noise detector app from another phone that could be used to measure sound from the one you think is tapped.

If it finds sounds several times in one minute, your phone may be tapped.

If your landline phone emits a dial tone when it's on the hook, this may be a sign that it's been compromised.

Diminished Battery Life

If your phone’s battery life is suddenly is a lot shorter than it used to be, or if the battery warms up when the phone is being used, it’s possible tapping software might be running silently in the background, consuming battery power. 

If your phone's battery is over a year old, it may be less capable of holding a charge. In that case, there are steps you can take to improve your cell phone battery life.

Consider how often you've been using your phone. Have you been making more voice calls or using apps more often than usual? If so, that may be the reason your phone's battery is draining more quickly than usual.

If you can't think of anything you've been doing differently, you can use your phone's settings to get detailed information on what's hogging the battery and why it's running out so quickly. Use one or more of them to get a clearer picture of what's going on.

  • For an iPhone, tap Settings > Battery, then scroll down to Battery Usage. Or, use an app like Battery Life or Coconut Battery to find out what's consuming your battery life and how to extend its life.
  • For Android devices, either search Settings for battery usage or go to Settings > Device > Battery to see which apps are using the most battery.

Finally, check your app usage using the techniques mentioned and then do it again a few days later to see which ones changed a lot. If you used those apps often, then that's likely why they're using so much battery. But if you didn't, then something strange may be going on, like a virus that has tapped your phone. Deleting the app would be recommended.

Woman holding a smartphone with a battery running low.
 Prykhodov / Getty Images

Trouble With Shutting Down

If your smartphone has suddenly become less responsive or has difficulty shutting down, someone may have gained unauthorized access to it. When shutting down your phone, check to see if the shutdown fails or the back-light stays on even after you've completed the shutdown process. If that's the case, it could be malicious software or the cause could be a glitch due to a recent phone update.

Suspicious Activity

If your phone begins turning on or off or even starts to install apps on its own, someone may have hacked it with a spy app and could be attempting to tap your calls.

Another major sign that someone may be attempting to tap your phone is if you receive weird SMS text messages containing garbled series of letters and numbers from unknown senders. (This phenomenon happens because some tapping apps receive their commands via coded SMS messages.)

Strange pop-up ads and unexplained performance issues could also point to the presence of malware or a tapping app (although it could also just be an annoying ad trying to push products on you and not necessarily be a phone-tapping app).

When you're not using your phone or purposely downloading/uploading something, the network activity icons and other progress bars at the top of the screen shouldn't be animated. Moving icons that indicate activity could mean someone is remotely using your phone or sending data in the background.

Another way to tell if your phone is being tapped is if private data that's stored only on the phone has been leaked online. Notes, emails, pictures, or any other item that you've secured on your phone should remain there unless you release it to the public. If your phone is tapped, a hacker could remotely extract your data and post the personal files online.

Man using his smartphone near his laptop
Richard Theis / EyeEm / Getty Images 

Electronic Interference

It's not uncommon to encounter interference with your phone when it's around other electronic devices, such as a laptop, conference phone, or television.

It shouldn't happen when you're not actively using your phone, so check to see if you notice any static or interference when you're not on a call. Place your phone close to another electronic device and, if you hear unusual sounds, it may be a sign that someone is listening in on your calls.

Some tapping devices use frequencies that are near the FM radio band. If your radio emits a high-pitched sound when it's set to mono and dialed to the far end of the band, your phone might be tapped and interfering with it.

The same is true for TV broadcast frequencies using UHF (ultra-high frequency) channels. You can check for interference by bringing your phone into close proximity with a TV that has an antenna.

Higher Than Usual Phone Bill

If your phone bill shows a spike in text or data usage that's out of line with what you would normally expect to see, this is another potential sign that someone may have hacked your phone. 

If you just downloaded a new app that uses a lot of data, that could be a legitimate reason for the sudden uptick in data usage. Similarly, if you've allowed children to use your device while you're out of the house and not connected to Wi-Fi, that may be another cause for the increased data consumption.

Woman checks her phone bill for unusual charges
 Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

But spyware and other malicious apps can use your cellular data plan to conduct their secretive transactions without your knowledge, so if you see a sudden burst in data activity on your phone bill and don't have another explanation, call your carrier to get help checking it out.

Third-Party Apps

Finally, third-party apps are a potential source for malware and spyware. If you've recently downloaded apps from anywhere other than the App Store or the Google Play Store, that's another cause for alarm.

Even if you're using the appropriate channels to download your apps, some scammers copy well-known app names and icons when creating fake apps. So, before downloading, it's a good idea to run a Google search of both the app and its developer to make sure they're both legitimate.

Be cautious with any apps, particularly games, that request permission to access your call history, address book, or contacts list. If you have children, you may also want to enable parental controls to keep them from accidentally downloading malicious apps.

The information in this article should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

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