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22 Red Flags Someone Is Spying on Your Phone

Your phone is the center of your life, making them the ideal target for identity theft and financial fraud. Watch for the signs you've been hacked.

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Why do criminals want to hack your phone in the first place?

“Understanding the signs of your phone being hacked begins with an understanding of the treasure trove of data that is on your device. Our phones and computers are the two main communication devices we use every day. Therefore, if someone hacks your phone they would have access to the following information: email addresses and phone numbers (from your contacts list), pictures, videos, documents and text messages. Additionally, if the hacker uses a keylogger, they can monitor every keystroke you type on the phone’s keyboard. That means they can steal passwords, personal information, credit card information, bank information, as well as any corporate information. Furthermore, they would be able to track every website that you visit as well as the information you enter into that website.” –George Waller, CEO of BlockSafe Technologies and StrikeForce Technologies, Inc.

 

Smart phone addict and Healthy lifestyle concept, Hand of Overuse body Woman sleep while holding mobile phone on the bed, Low battery and need to charge or restBlack Salmon/Shutterstock

Your battery drains fast

“One obvious sign your phone was hacked is that you lose battery power very quickly. Phone spyware is on all the time, so it uses a lot of power and drains your battery in the process. If you consistently experience losing power it is possible you have been hacked.” –Dr. Tim Lynch, Psychsoftpc.com

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Your phone is hot

“As well as the phone’s charge going down more quickly, a device feeling hot even when it hasn’t been in use is a possible sign that internet data is being consumed more quickly than usual. If consumers notice that they keep exceeding their data limits someone may be ‘piggybacking’ on their sessions.” –Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at BestVPN.com

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You get creepy messages

“An unknown party reaches out to you demanding money stating they will release pictures and messages that could only have come from your phone.” –George Waller, CEO of BlockSafe Technologies and StrikeForce Technologies, Inc. Here are some signs that you are vulnerable to a cyber attack.

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You clicked a weird link in a text

“It could be a text claiming to be from your mom, friend or someone you know asking you to open maybe a pdf file or a photo, once it opened, some Trojan (horse programs) embedded in the file corrupts your entire system or you grant them access to steal your files. A very good example of phishing can be seen during this FBI hack attack. So when you get an email message from someone you don’t know asking you to click to view a picture or click to watch a funny video, don’t click unless you are sure of the source.” –Emmanuel Eze, www.techcopp.com

Close up on charger outlet under seat in the airportND700/Shutterstock

You used public charging stations

“This technique takes advantage of our obsession to always charge. Malicious charging stations take advantage of the fact that USB is used for both transferring files and charging. Some hackers can monitor your every keystroke while plugged in, so you think you’re charging while you’re being hacked. So don’t hurry to plug in your phone on any outlet you see.” –Emmanuel Eze, www.techcopp.com. Make sure you know these 8 places you should never charge your phone.

African american girl in sunglasses sitting at cafe and holding mobile phone at hand.AS photo studio/Shutterstock

New apps are appearing on your screen

“Hacked users may spot unusual new apps popping up in their menus or within settings. Always check to see which apps are running, and, if anything seems untoward, check to see if an app that is draining the battery is known to contain malware or other malicious exploits.” –Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert at BestVPN.com. Your phone isn’t that only thing that can be hacked—learn about the everyday items that can cause you to become a victim of cybercrime.

Close up of a Mobile Phone CameraSkoda/Shutterstock

Your phone is live streaming

“One way that a cybercriminal can monitor and eavesdrop on your activities is if your phone is live streaming without you knowing. This would show all your phone’s activities to the criminal by broadcasting what’s happening on your phone over the Internet. You can detect this if your phone constantly runs hot or runs out of battery too fast. Check for your Internet bandwidth to see if there’s a spike somewhere.” –Jamie Cambell, a cybersecurity expert and founder of gobestvpn.com. Here’s how the Internet is keeping tabs on your every move.

Cropped image of businessman holding phone in hands while having phone conversation during walk to office, close up male person in suit calling mobile in roaming using tariffs, people communicating GaudiLab/Shutterstock

You’re experiencing poor overall performance

“As the old saying goes, ‘Timing is everything,’ and that statement applies here as well. Delays in sending and receiving texts, dialing out of the phone, checking voice mails—all of these things should not take too long, yet they will when and if a phone hack has taken place. These are the easiest to pick up on yet the most difficult today in the cyberage because everyone is rushing and multi-tasking and not paying close enough attention to pick up this subtle details.” –Alexis Moore, Esq, author of Surviving a Cyberstalker. Did you know that charging your phone like this could ruin your battery?

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There’s an overall spike in data usage

“An app like the appropriately titled ‘Data Usage’ (available for Android and iOS) can display how much data is being sent out from your device. The trick then is to look for anomalies or exceptionally large periods of uploading. Your device is always going to be sending some data out. It can’t sync email, post selfies on Instagram, or chat without uploading data, but most users are fairly consistent in their monthly activities. A large spike or increase in uploaded data that persists without a real-world explanation could be an indicator that monitoring has been installed.” –Allan N. Buxton, Lead Forensic Examiner of Secure Forensics

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You learn about calls or texts you didn’t make

“You might also notice calls and texts that you haven’t sent to numbers in your list of contacts. Ensure that you monitor this activity closely as some of these could be premium-rate numbers that malware is forcing your phone to contact with all the proceeds landing in the pocket of the person who has compromised your phone.” –Rob Webber, mobile expert, and CEO and founder of MoneySavingPro.com

Internet social network addicted young married couple using their mobile phone in bed ignoring each other as strangers. Relationship and Communication problems conceptUfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock

You get spammy pop-ups

“Another sign of a compromised smartphone is spammy pop-ups or weird screensavers. While not all pop-ups indicate that your phone has been infiltrated, an increasingly high number of pop-ups could be a sign that your phone has been infected with a form of malware called adware that forces devices to view specific sites that drive revenue through clicks.” –Rob Webber, mobile expert and CEO and founder of MoneySavingPro.com

Young slim woman in a beige coat walks down the street and checks the mobile phoneprogressman/Shutterstock

You are getting security messages

“If your phone has been hacked you might notice some unusual activity, such as security messages notifying you that your email or social media account has been accessed using a new device, password reset links, or verification emails saying that you have signed up to new accounts that you are unfamiliar with.” –Rob Webber, mobile expert and CEO and founder of MoneySavingPro.com

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Your phone was left unattended in public

“Never leave your device unattended in public. While many threats exist online, you still have to be aware of real-world threats, like someone grabbing your device when you’re not looking. Keep your smartphone on you, or within view, while in public. If you have a ‘phone visibility’ option, turn it off. This setting allows nearby devices to see your phone and exchange data with it. Also, remember not to save password or login information for banking apps and other sensitive accounts. You don’t want a hacker to be able to automatically log in as you if they do gain access to your device.” –Gary Davis, Chief Consumer Security Evangelist at McAfee. Read about these bizarre things that thieves have stolen.

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You’ve downloaded a malicious app

“This is becoming a bigger problem for consumers, as criminals are hiding malware or malicious capabilities inside of apps that appear legitimate or may even perform some legitimate service, like a mobile game. Google Play is more likely to have infected apps than Apple’s App Store because Google does not vet these apps as vigorously. It’s also possible to hit the phone with a remote exploit, but this is very unlikely unless some foreign government is after you.” –Alex Hamerstone, GRC practice lead at TrustedSec

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You’ve lost your signal

“There are several notable signs that your phone might have been hacked: You receive a text message or an email notification from your mobile carrier about an account change you didn’t make and, thirty minutes later, your cell phone has no signal, even after a reboot. You can’t log into your email. You’re locked out of your bank account.

“This is called a number porting attack, and it’s effective against Androids and iPhones on all mobile carriers. Typically, threat actors only need a date of birth and an account number for this attack to succeed.

“If you think you’re a victim of a number porting attack you should immediately call the police and let them know that your mobile number has been ported out and that you’re a victim of identity theft. You must call your mobile provider, of course, and may need to show them a police report to prove that you are a victim of identity theft.

“Next, request free copies of your annual credit report before freezing your credit with the three major bureaus.

“Last, but not least, plan on spending days changing the passwords for all the accounts where you used your mobile number and even more days working with banks and creditors where the threat actor set up fraudulent accounts using your stolen identity.” –Kayne McGladrey, IEEE Member and Director of Security and Information Technology at Pensar Development

Beautiful african woman is talking on a mobile phone while sitting in the office with a laptop. Young freelancer girl is calling to the clients and reading emails on a portable computer.JKstock/Shutterstock

You hear unusual background noise

“While common, humming, static, or other weird noises could be a sign that someone is tapping your line. Though all phones might have strange noises from time to time, you should check if there are other signs if you notice them. This is especially the case if you hear them when your phone is not in use.” –Robert Siciliano, Security Awareness Expert, and CEO of Safr.Me. Learn these red flags that someone is spying on your computer.

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Your phone won’t shut down

“If something seems weird with your mobile phone, try shutting it down. Watch how it reacts when you shut it down. Phones that have been hacked often won’t shut down correctly or never shut down, even though you tell it to.” –Robert Siciliano, Security Awareness Expert, and CEO of Safr.Me Your phone isn’t the only device at risk: Here are 17 everyday things you didn’t know could be hacked.

close up of african american man using mobile deviceRCH Photography/Shutterstock

Your Gmail or iCloud accounts are acting weird

“This is more common than you might think and a very serious risk. Both of these services keep a lot of information about you, such as passwords, photos, your current location, messages, and calls.

“You might think no one would want your photos, but it’s common for them to hold your photos ransom. You might also think there’s nothing in your email, but your email address is likely the backup for every online account you have. With enough information in your email, it would be easy to steal your identity.

“One way to notice this is happening is if you start getting password reset emails. That could mean a number of things, but changing your email password and checking the security on your account is a good idea. Always create a strong password, enable login notifications for new computers or locations, and enable two-factor authentication. This makes it so that your account can’t be accessed without access to your cell phone. Both of these services have easy security check features that should be used regularly.” –Matthew Woodley, Woodley Digital Marketing

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You’ve been lazy with passwords

“If someone’s iCloud account is hacked, the hacker would be able to see where all their devices are, see all their data stored on iCloud, lock their devices via anti-theft features, etc. This kind of thing generally happens when a person re-uses a password on multiple sites, and one of those sites is compromised. The best way to prevent that is to use unique passwords on every site, which are stored in a password manager and enabling two-factor authentication on every account possible.” –Thomas Reed, Director of Mac and Mobile at Malwarebytes

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You’ve used free WiFi to access sensitive information

“Free, unsecured WiFi at your local coffee shop is awfully convenient. Unfortunately, it’s easy for someone to spy on everything you do on there. If you are going to use unsecured WiFi, the best way to do it is to use a VPN (virtual private network) service to keep your connection secure. These are inexpensive and keep you safe. If you’re not going to do that, then be sure to never sign on to a bank website, and try to stay off your email as well. If you are going to check your email, always watch the address bar. Is the website correct? The website should say ‘https://’ instead of ‘http://’ as that added ‘s’ indicates a secure connection. There should also be a green lock symbol next to the URL. If you don’t have those indicators of a secure connection, do not put in any of your login information.” –Matthew Woodley, Woodley Digital Marketing

Young female runner taking a break and listening to music during the run outdoors. Young woman with headphones looking at mobile phone.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

You’re getting blocked

“You may also see your legitimate emails get blocked by other parties’ spam filters because your communications now look like they’re coming from a suspicious source.” –Mike Tanenbaum, Cyber Head for Chubb North America. Protect yourself further by not falling for these tech myths that you need to stop believing.

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You’re getting charged for transactions you didn’t make

“Your bank sends you an SMS alert about a transaction that you didn’t do. Or you get a statement from your credit card company stating that you bought something that you never actually purchased.” –George Waller, CEO of BlockSafe Technologies and StrikeForce Technologies, Inc. Here’s how to tell if someone rejected your call.

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It’s up to tech companies to do the right thing

“Companies should move away from aggregating and collecting data about their users. The future of security must lie in a privacy-centric architecture where users can maintain the same ease of use—without friction—while having control over their data. This is crucial to fighting identity theft and privacy attacks.” –Mathias J. Klenk, Co-founder, Passbase. Make sure you know the secret iPhone setting that could save your life.

Close up woman hand holding smartphone while entering the passcode.oatawa/Shutterstock

3 things to do if you suspect you’re hacked

Matt Wilson, Chief Information Security Advisor at BTB Security, advises taking these steps:

  1. Change important passwords: However, the key point here is to NOT do it from the device you believe to be compromised or you could give the bad guys your new password.

  2. Enable Multi-factor Authentication. Actually, everyone should do this now, wherever they can, and not wait for a compromised device. Many popular apps and services allow this (FaceBook, Google, major banks). While it doesn’t necessarily help you once your device is compromised, doing so now lessens the impact should your device get hit.

  3. Restore your device. This can be a challenge, but it’s far easier today than it ever has been. The process depends on your device, but Apple and Google have straightforward and easily discovered directions for backing up (something else you should do regularly!) and restoring your device. And watch out for the clear signs you’re about to be hacked.

 

Joe McKinley
Joe McKinley is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering cars, careers, tech and more.