Can Someone Track My Phone? Take the Right Precautions

By: Stephanie Crawford & Talon Homer  | 
Illustration of a man trying to stalk a woman through her smartphone.
Our smartphones have opened us up to the world. But have they also made us more vulnerable? Visual Generation Inc./Shutterstock

Connected devices like smartphones offer you a world of knowledge and convenience at your fingertips. But they can also create vulnerabilities that allow hackers and scam artists to take advantage of you. This fact leaves many smartphone users asking the same question: Can someone track my phone?

Indeed, they can. In some cases, deceitful third parties can use your phone's native GPS tracking to keep tabs on your location data. They could also sell that data to advertising companies looking to turn a profit on your personal information.


Now what about a stalker? Could one really use the information from your smartphone to track you — or even worse, find you? In this article, we'll delve into the smartphone stalking and whether your data is secure. Plus, we'll review some precautions that can help keep you safe.

How Stalkers Achieve Cell Phone Tracking

Potential stalkers have two primary ways they can track you via your smartphone. One way is through social engineering, which requires little or no technical expertise.

You could be voluntarily giving away personal information or access to your smartphone to someone you know or who gains your trust. If that person chooses, he or she can exploit that information to track where you are and what you're doing, even if you don't want to be tracked.


Another way stalkers can track you is to steal information from your smartphone. This requires they have more technical experience to gain access to your smartphone or install tracking software or malware.

They can then use those suspicious apps to download your address book, log on to malicious websites, or even track your location. If your smartphone has a GPS, a stalker could pinpoint the phone's precise location any time the GPS is enabled. Fortunately, you can take a few precautions and avoid potential problems.


Social Network Stalking on Smartphones

Illustration of woman being hounded by animal-like men.
Posting things on social media, whether it's a status update or photos from last night's dinner, could reveal a lot of information to a stalker. GoodStudio/Shutterstock

When you voluntarily tell the world where you are and what you're doing, you make it easy for stalkers to track you. Social media apps like X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram are built around us posting messages from our smartphones.

Even if you don't say where you are, you could give it away in your photos. But anything that can be identified in your photos — think street signs, buildings, and even license plates — could reveal things about who and where you are. Plus, most smartphones geotag photos, embedding them with the latitude, longitude, and even altitude data of where they're taken.


That data is uploaded, along with when the photo was taken. Check the settings on your smartphone to disable geotagging and perhaps even location services, if you want to be supremely careful. Be aware of how different social network sites use and reveal geotags in photos uploaded to their sites.

In short, if you want to avoid being stalked on your Android device or iPhone, treat your smartphone as an extension of your social networks, and never post anything you don't want the world to know.


Smartphone Stalking Apps

Illustration of woman being stalked via her phone.
There are signs to look for if you think your phone has been installed with stalkerware. Aleutie/Shutterstock

Even if you're cautious about what information you reveal online, it's possible someone could stalk you via location tracking apps installed on your smartphone. Stalking apps (also known as spyware and stalkerware) are apps that someone can download onto your phone to secretly track you.

If a spy app is installed, it can provide detailed information about what you do on your phone, right down to your account passwords. Some can even turn on your phone's microphone or camera giving remote access to the person to see and hear from your phone.


How to Prevent Phone Tracking

How can you tell if your phone has stalkerware installed? It might not be that easy. Even antivirus software may not detect it. But there might be signs to look out for:

  1. An abuser has had physical access to your phone.
  2. Your phone's battery drains faster, without any difference in your usage.
  3. There is an unexplained increase in your data usage.
  4. There are unexpected changes in your phone's settings.

If you notice anything suspicious—like unknown apps—don't delete it immediately. You may need it as evidence if you report the abuse to law enforcement.


Instead, change your password and enable two-factor authentication. This can prevent the hacker or abuser using stalkerware from logging back into your phone. Once you do contact law enforcement, update your phone's software or go back to a factory reset. These updates can remove stalkerware. Then erase all the data from your phone and start fresh.


Smartphone Signal Interception

Illustration of man sending money to someone who's phishing them.
Phishing is a common tactic hackers use to con unsuspecting victims out of money. Julia Sweet Cosmo/Shutterstock

Smartphone hijacking and theft of your personal information may not be exclusive to stalking, but these are ways a stalker can find you. As we discussed earlier, a stalker could use location tracking software to target your smartphone and intercept personal calls and messages. But he or she could also stage a non-targeted attack on your smartphone using signal interception.

Your smartphone has a combination of radios and signals it uses to communicate. For phone calls, text messaging and internet browser, your smartphone uses one or more cellphone network protocols like 4G LTE and 5G. Depending on the smartphone, you might also have a short-range Bluetooth radio, a GPS receiver, and one or more radios for connecting to different Wi-Fi networks.


Stalkers Monitor Nearby Wi-Fi Networks

Open Wi-Fi networks, like those used at cafes and airports, are especially vulnerable to hacking. The unencrypted data sent into the wireless router can be easily intercepted by hacking software, potentially laying claim to your location data, banking info and online passwords. Hackers may also install their own Wi-Fi access points around public locations to make this process even easier.

The best method of combating this is simply to never use public Wi-Fi, but we all face times when that is our only option to get online. While connected to an open network, avoid logging into online banking and other secure services. You can also add a layer of protection to your device by installing a virtual private network (VPN).


Avoid Unofficial or Unfamiliar Apps

The apps you've chosen to use on the phone can also have an impact on security. Many apps access personal information on the user such as photos, cameras, contact lists and location. On Android and iPhone, these permissions must be requested and manually approved by the user. They can also be revoked later in the phone's settings.

For safety, it's best to grant data access to apps that have been downloaded from official app stores. You should also only give these permissions if they are an integral part of the app's function. For instance, a navigation app (like Google Maps) requesting to know your phone's location makes perfect sense, but a calculator app doing the same should be a red flag.


Always question whether the function of the app needs access to your phone's location, and if it doesn't, don't hesitate to disable location services. Even for apps that require location tracking, they might not need to see your location anytime the mobile device is powered on. It's wise to read carefully over each permission request.

Scams That Don't Require Your Phone Location

Scammers could also use two common hacking tactics, spoofing and phishing, to access your data or con you out of money. Spoofing disguises the true number of an incoming call. Usually, the number will appear local to you, but it can really be from anywhere on the planet.

Once you pick up the phone, the scammer uses phishing techniques like telling you that they work for your bank or the IRS. Then they'll say you owe money or your account is compromised. They'll use that as a pretense to coax you into giving up personal info, or to transfer money over to them.


Never give your bank information to a stranger who has called you. If you're unsure of the legitimacy of the call, consider hanging up and calling the company or agency they claim to represent at a verified phone number. Phishers will also commonly request that money be transferred to them in the form of traveler's checks or gift cards, so such a request over the phone should immediately ring alarm bells.

Is a Stingray Close to Your Phone's Approximate Location?

Third parties can also attempt to scrub your personal data using a device called a stingray, also known as a cell site simulator. The stingray is a short-range wireless device that can disguise itself via cell tower signals. The target's phone then connects to the device as it would a legitimate network. Any texts, photos, location and other data sent in the stingray's vicinity will be compromised without you knowing.

Stingrays are often employed by the U.S. government to survey and scrape data from civilians. Many federal and military agencies have access to the devices, as well as some state and police forces. The nature of the stingray makes it incredibly difficult to even identify if an attack is happening. If you suspect you may be in range of a cell simulator, power down your phone completely. Remove the battery if possible. You may also want to use a faraday cage to block any data from leaving the phone.


Be Your Own Dedicated Mobile Security App

At this point, you're probably ready to rid your life of mobile phones altogether! It takes a lot of vigilance to look out for spyware apps, regardless of whether you're using an iOS device or an android phone.

You can still enjoy your smartphone while avoiding stalkers and hackers. Just use these four tips as your defense: Know your smartphone, know its weaknesses, know how to keep it secure, and keep your personal information personal.

Phone Stalking FAQ

What does it mean to stalk someone on social media?
When someone is stalking a person on social media, it means that they are scrolling through that person's posts and pictures to track them and their activity. Stalkers can easily get private information from posts, photos and geotags to determine a person’s whereabouts.
Can someone stalk me through my phone?
Yes. Potential stalkers have two primary ways of stalking you through your smartphone. One is through social engineering, in which someone uses information that you’re voluntarily putting online to stalk you. The other way is through stalkers stealing information from your smartphone, which is more technical.
What is a stalking app?
Stalking apps and commercial tracking software for smartphones are spyware that secretly monitors smartphones, including the information on them, the location using GPS and so on. This software allows stalkers to read sent and received text messages and listen to phone calls.
How do I prevent my phone from being tracked?
Precautions include keeping your smartphone with you or in a secure place, setting a passcode on your phone and configuring the phone to prevent bypassing that code. You should also keep your security up to date by installing software updates as they’re released.

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • American Civil Liberties Union. "Stingray Tracking Devices: Who's Got Them?" (7/12/2022)
  • Apple. "Control Access to Information in Apps on iPhone" (7/12/2022)
  • Bacon, Brittany, and Michels, Scott. "Cellphone Stalkers Harass Washington Family." ABC News. June 25, 2007. (Feb. 16, 2010)
  • Bates, Philip. "5 Wars Hackers Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Your Identity" Make Use Of. (7/12/2022)
  • Dorfman, Zach. "Protest Responses Raise Domestic Surveillance Concerns" Axios. 6/10/2020 (7/12/2022)
  • FCC "Caller ID Spoofing" (7/12/2022)
  • Google. "Change App Permissions on Your Android Phone" (7/12/2022)
  • Internal Revenue Service. "Tax Scams/ Consumer Alerts" (7/12/2022)
  • Kushner, David. "The Boy Who Heard Too Much." Rolling Stone. Aug. 21, 2009. (Feb. 16, 2010)
  • Nelson, Brooke. "Top Security Threats of Smartphones" Reader's Digest. 1/06/2022 (7/12/2022)