How to Legally Track a Cell Phone

Tracing a cell phone location isn't as hard as you think

Illustration of a phone with a map and location markers on the map

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A cell phone tracker lets you keep tabs on another person's phone. You can watch the location live wherever he or she goes, always knowing when they leave or arrive at a particular area.

The idea behind a cell phone location tracker is simple: install software on the mobile device that sends its location back to you to monitor. To track non-smartphones requires a different method involving contacting the carrier.

Why Track a Cell Phone?

Perhaps the most common reason to want to track a cell phone is to see where your friends or family are located. Maybe you want to keep tabs on your kids or spouse to make sure they arrive at school or work on time.

Another common reason to use track a phone's location is if it's been stolen. If you have no idea where your cell phone is, you can use a phone tracker to locate it.

Or maybe you're in a completely different scenario where you've received a call from a number you don't recognize, and so you want to track the phone number location to see where the caller is from.

Is It Illegal to Track a Phone?

Generally speaking, yes. It's illegal to track, access, or modify someone else's cell phone. Only officials who work for law enforcement can do that, and only if they have a warrant to do so.

What is legal, however, is tracking a cell phone location if you have explicit permission from the owner. This includes tracking a cell phone that's your own or locating a cell phone that a family member uses but that you are responsible for. To avoid legal repercussions, just make sure to get the owner's go-ahead to track their phone remotely.

If you're using a cell phone tracker tool that identifies the location of the number and shows you where in the world that number is registered, you can rest assured that it's completely legal. Area code locations are well established and completely legal to look into.

How to Locate a Cell Phone Location

The easiest way to track a smartphone is with a location-sharing app. Basic phones require a totally different method, explained below.

Most phone trackers won't work if the device is using a fake GPS location.

Install a Location Tracking App

A app that tracks a phone's location is simply a GPS program that connects to another user's phone so that they can monitor the other phone. Usually, the location sharing goes both ways so that both phones can track the other.

Life360 and Google Maps are great for long-term phone tracking. To track a cell phone location temporarily like during a trip or for just a couple hours, try Glympse or a messaging app like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Find My Friends is another phone tracker just for iPhone. See these Find My Friends alternatives for Android for similar options for that platform.

If your phone has been stolen and a location tracker isn't installed on the device, you might have luck locating the phone using a built-in mechanism, such as Find My iPhone or Find My Device for Android.

Use the Carrier

Major telecom companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile come with a paid feature — Verizon Smart Family, AT&T Secure Family, and T-Mobile FamilyWhere — that lets you track cell phone numbers that are connected to your account. This is completely legal and a good way to keep track of kids or family members while they're away.

Mobile phone providers generally use cell phone towers to triangulate the geographical position of a phone. This technology doesn't require a GPS facility and can, therefore, work just fine even on basic cell phones.

Locate the Phone Number Details

A cell phone number tracker is different from an actual device tracker. Tracking a cell phone number involves looking into the number itself to see who owns it or which country the number is registered in.

For that, you need a reverse phone number lookup service, something you can do with Google. Another option is a website like Whitepages or Truecaller, which can show the city and state the number is registered in and who the current owner of the phone number is.