How To Tell if Your Phone Is Tapped

A tapped phone
Wiretapping allows people to listen to the phone calls of others.
2008 HowStuffWorks

The phone system is extremely simple, and it's possible — relatively easy, even — for someone else to tap into your line. If someone has access to the wire, they can connect a phone to it and use your line. So, you're probably wondering how to tell if your phone is tapped.

Phone tapping is pretty rare — for one thing, the penalty for doing it is stiff. It's also relatively easy to detect and, in general, phone wires are not that easy to get to because they are hidden inside walls. With that said, secure communication is important. Let's take a look at how to spot a phone tap on landlines and cell phones.


Catching a Phone Tap

When it comes to wiretapping traditional phone lines, there are two possibilities:

  • The perpetrator can create a permanent splice into your wire, in which case you would be able to see the splice if you can trace the entire length of the wire.
  • The perpetrator can clip in intermittently at a junction box. This is what a telephone repair person does when testing your line. In that case, there is no physical evidence.

It is fairly easy to catch someone doing this. One thing you can do is get a tape recorder for phone calls. The recorder is completely automatic and starts recording as soon as anyone picks up any extension (which would include an extension tapped into your line). It captures both sides of the conversation. You could listen to the tape and probably get a good idea of who has tapped in.


­The other alternative is to buy a phone with a light that turns on whenever any extension is in use. Then you would know when another person is making a call, and you could pick up your phone and listen in. The tape recorder option is better because it produces physical evidence.


Identifying a Tapped Mobile Phone

Mobile phones, unlike traditional landlines, offer a broader array of avenues for potential tapping or monitoring. This could be due to malicious software, unauthorized call forwarding, or the installation of spy apps. Here are some signs that might indicate your mobile device has been compromised:

Increased Data Usage

One of the most straightforward indicators of a phone being tapped by spy apps or malicious software is a significant and unexplained increase in data usage. Spy apps need to send the data they collect from your phone, such as call logs, text messages, and even location tracking information, to the person spying on you. This transfer of data can often lead to noticeable spikes in your monthly data usage.


Battery Power Drain

Malicious software running in the background can consume a lot of battery power. If you notice your cell phone's battery life suddenly decreasing faster than usual, without a change in your usage habits, it could be a sign of unwanted software operating on your device.

Strange Text Messages

Receiving strange text messages containing random sequences of numbers or characters can be an indicator of command messages sent to a bugged cell phone. These messages are meant for spy apps installed on your device and are often coded instructions to carry out specific actions.

Call Forwarding

Unexplained call forwarding could indicate your calls are being redirected without your consent. On Android devices, you can check for unexpected call forwarding by going to the Phone app settings and reviewing any call forwarding options that have been activated. For iPhone users, navigate to Settings > Phone > Call Forwarding to see if this feature has been turned on without your knowledge.

Decreased Performance and Unusual Behavior

A tapped phone may exhibit decreased performance, such as slower speeds or unexpected crashes. This can be due to the additional strain spy apps place on your phone's resources. Additionally, if your phone starts acting strangely, like making noises during calls, it could be a sign of interception.


Protecting Your Mobile Device

To mitigate the risk of having your cell phone tapped:

  • Regularly update your mobile device's operating system and apps to protect against security vulnerabilities.
  • Install secure communication apps designed with strong encryption to safeguard your calls and messages.
  • Be cautious of the permissions you grant to any phone app. Review and understand why an app needs specific permissions before agreeing.
  • Use reputable anti-virus and anti-malware software on your mobile devices, especially on Android devices, which are more open and customizable.

If you suspect your cell phone is tapped, consider resetting your device to factory settings after backing up important data. However, remember that this should be a last resort as it will erase all data from your device. Taking these steps can help ensure your communications remain private and reduce the likelihood of unauthorized access to your mobile phone.


The Bottom Line

Hooking into a phone line or bugging a cell phone, as you would expect, is a federal offense. Once you have evidence that it has occurred, turning it over to the phone company or police department for prosecution is the correct path to follow.

We updated this article in conjunction with AI technology, then made sure it was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.