Is My Phone Hacked? 5 Warning Signs + Expert Recovery Tips

Smartphones and their users are at an increased risk of a security breach. Here’s how to protect your data and phone from a hack.
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Spotting a hacked phone is essential for protecting your private data. A successful breach can expose you to financial loss, spying, and even identity theft.

Look for red flags such as unusual activity, high data usage, unknown apps, and lag. Staying vigilant, adopting good security habits, and using a good antivirus program will help protect your phone.

Keep reading to learn how to prevent phone hacking, what to do if you’re attacked, and how to recover from a hack.

In this article
How can my phone get hacked?
Five critical signs that your phone has been hacked
How to handle a phone hack
How to protect your smartphone from hackers
Is my phone hacked FAQ
Bottom line

How can my phone get hacked?

A hacked phone can result from vulnerabilities in the phone’s operating system or human carelessness. Either way, the consequences can be devastating and will likely take a long time to roll back.

Here are some common ways your phone can get hacked:

  • Clicking malicious links: If it looks suspicious don’t open it. A malicious link is usually a phishing attempt designed to download malware to your phone. Phone hackers use malware to access your device and private information.
  • Downloading infected or malicious apps: Before downloading a potentially malicious app, check its developer and verification. Using unverified third-party apps can expose you to malware, spying, and data leaks.
  • Using weak passwords: Create strong passwords without easy-to-find info (like your birthday). Brute force attacks can crack simple passwords in seconds. Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers.
  • Jailbreaking the phone and sideloading apps: Jailbreaking your iPhone or rooting your Android opens you up to cyberattacks. It prevents all automatic updates, including security patches.
  • Missing critical system updates and using older operating system versions: Keeping your operating system (OS) up to date is crucial for your phone’s security. System updates often patch known bugs and security issues and improve performance. You should install them as quickly as possible.
  • Falling victim to zero-day exploits: Hackers can exploit an OS vulnerability before a vendor is aware and can patch it. You can protect your phone by installing software and system updates as soon as they are available.
    • Using unsecured public Wi-Fi networks (e.g., at coffee shops, bars, airports, or hotels): Hackers can easily hijack public networks and steal your data using software or technical know-how. Some common tactics include evil twin and man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks.

Five critical signs that your phone has been hacked

There are several red flags indicating your smartphone might be compromised. The five most common ones include:

  • Poor Performance: A quick-draining battery is common in older phones but could indicate a hack in newer models. Overheating, lag, and screen or apps freezing are also common red flags.
  • Unusual Activity: If your contacts receive strange messages from you, a hacker might have sent them a phishing link.
  • High Data Usage: Watch for sudden spikes in data usage, especially if you haven’t changed your phone habits.
  • Unauthorized account activity: Review your settings for any devices linked to your account. If you don’t recognize them, remove them.
  • Unrecognized apps: If you see an app you didn’t download, remove it immediately.

How to handle a phone hack

If phone hackers got to your device, switching to recovery and damage-control mode is important. Even if some damage has been done, the faster you act, the less harm they might cause. We’ll outline eight ways to handle a phone hack.

Run a phone malware scan

Regular virus scans let you detect and stop malware before it ravages your phone and sends sensitive info to its owner. Our top picks include:

  • Norton 360 Security protects you against malware and identity theft. It also includes parental controls and a VPN. You can download apps for iOS and Android.

Get Norton 360 Security | Read Our Norton 360 Security Review

  • McAfee provides phishing and spyware protection, a VPN, and covers up to five devices.

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  • Total AV is an affordable and user-friendly antivirus program that delivers real-time malware and phishing protection, deep scanning, and a VPN.

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Delete the apps you don’t remember installing

If you see apps you haven’t installed, they’re likely masking malware. You should remove them as quickly as possible. It’s essential to actually delete the app and its data, not just remove the shortcut from your home screen.

Here are the steps to delete suspicious apps from your iPhone:

  1. On your home screen, press and hold the icon of the unfamiliar app.
  2. When the icon displays a drop-down menu, choose Remove App from the list of options.

Removing an app on iPhone

To remove unfamiliar apps on your Android:

  1. From your home screen, go to Settings.
  2. Select Apps.
  3. Choose the app you want to remove and tap Uninstall.

Freeze your credit

Identity theft occurs when criminals steal and use your personally identifiable information, including your banking info, passwords, Social Security number, and other data. They can steal your money, hijack your online accounts, commit crimes in your name, and more.

They can also request credit in your name. However, lenders can’t see your file and extend credit when you freeze it.

To freeze your credit, contact the three major credit bureaus by phone or their official websites:

Cancel linked credit cards

If your credit card is linked to accounts on your phone, cancel it immediately. When hackers have access to this information, they will be able to make unauthorized purchases.

Contact your credit card company right away to cancel your card. The cancellation process may vary by financial institution.

Check your app permissions

Removing unnecessary app permissions can stop hackers in their tracks. We recommend limiting them to the bare essentials. Not every app needs access to your photos, messages, microphone, camera, and location to function.

Follow these steps to review and manage app permissions on your iPhone:

  1. From your home screen, tap Settings.
  2. Scroll down and tap Privacy and Security.
  3. Tap on one of the features, such as Photos, Bluetooth, or Microphone to see the list of apps that have access to that function.
  4. A green toggle indicates permission is granted. Swipe left to restrict access.
  5. To manage the photo permissions, tap the app name to change the permission.

Follow these steps on your Android:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap Apps.
  3. Tap the app you want to change. Or tap See all apps and select the app.
  4. Tap Permissions.
  5. To change a permission setting, tap it, then choose Allow or Don’t Allow.

Clear your cache and browser history

Your phone apps, browser, and OS all store cached data, which ensures a more efficient user experience. However, hackers can also exploit outdated and corrupt files in your cache.

We recommend clearing cache and cookies regularly. Each browser and system requires different steps to clear it.

Follow these steps to clear your Chrome cache on an iPhone:

  1. Open the Chrome app.
  2. Tap Settings.
  3. Go to Privacy and Security.
  4. Select Clear browsing data.
  5. Select the period you want to clear.
  6. Review the items you’d like to delete.
  7. Tap Clear browsing data.
  8. Tap Done.

Here’s how to clear your Chrome cache on Android:

  1. Open the Chrome app on your phone.
  2. Tap the three dots in the top right corner.
  3. Tap History.
  4. Tap Clear browsing data.
  5. Select the data you want to remove.

Factory reset your smartphone

In the worst-case scenario, you may need to wipe your phone and restore it to its original factory settings. This will erase all data and settings and install the latest OS version. However, it may not remove all malware from your device. Malicious software can be embedded in your device's hardware or system files, but a factory reset does remove the bulk of standard malware.

To factory reset your iPhone:

  1. From your home screen, tap Settings.
  2. Select General, then Transfer or Reset iPhone.
  3. Tap Erase All Content and Settings.
  4. Select Back Up Then Erase when prompted to update your iCloud backup. If you’ve already backed up your data, select Erase Now.
  5. Enter your passcode and tap Erase.
  6. Tap Erase again to start the reset.

Factopry Resetting iPhone

To reset your Android phone, follow these steps from the Settings menu:

  1. From Settings, go to Backup and Reset. Select Factory Data Reset.
  2. Tap Reset.
  3. Enter your passcode if you have one. Otherwise, enter the generic code sent by your device. Then select the Erase Everything button.
  4. Your Android will factory reset and restart.

Report the hack

You should always report hacks and identity theft. You can report a hack to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. To file an identity theft report, visit the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. You should also report the hack to your phone's manufacturer.

How to protect your smartphone from hackers

Good security habits can help protect your smartphone from hackers. Here’s how to stay safe safe:

  • Install the latest software updates: Operating system updates deliver critical security upgrades and patches to protect your phone from vulnerabilities.
  • Set up multi-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication (2FA), such as biometrics, passkeys, PINS, or patterns, adds an extra layer of security.
  • Use a VPN: A reliable VPN like Surfshark offers a great balance of performance, affordability, and security.
  • Update your auto-lock and passcode: Check that your auto-lock feature is active. Reset your passcode at least annually. Use complex passwords for your accounts.
  • Don’t jailbreak your phone or sideload third-party apps: Many unvetted apps carry malware. Jailbreaking/rooting your phone and installing questionable third-party apps leaves it wide open to a hack.
  • Ignore, delete, or report suspicious emails, messages, calls, or calendar invites: Anything suspicious can be a phishing attempt to steal your personally identifiable information.
  • Enable the Erase Data option: This will erase all data on your iPhone after ten failed passcode attempts.
  • Turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it: Disabling this feature prevents unknown malicious devices from connecting to your smartphone.

Is my phone hacked FAQ


+

Can you tell if someone has access to your phone?

Whether you use an iPhone or an Android, if you notice unusual activity on your device, a hacker may have remote access to your phone. Unusual activity could be messages, calls, or apps you didn’t install.


+

How do I check my phone for viruses and hackers?

Running a malware scan on your smartphone to check for viruses is the best way to keep your data secure.


+

Can you remove a hacker from your phone?

There are several ways to remove a hacker from your phone. You can remove suspicious apps, delete unknown devices, or perform a factory reset.


+

Can hackers see you through your phone camera?

Yes. When hackers install mobile spyware, they can see anything within your camera’s view.


+

How do I know if my phone has been hacked?

Several red flags can indicate that your phone has been hacked. These signs include sluggish performance, slower speed, frozen screens, or quickly draining battery. You should also look for unusual data usage and suspicious apps and devices you didn’t download or connect to.


+

What is the code to check if your phone is monitored?

You can find your IMEI by dialing *#06#. You will need this code if you file a police report for a hack. You can also use:

  • *#67# to check call forwarding and ##002# to turn it off
  • *#21# to check for phone tracking and tapping
  • ##4636## to check unknown connections
  • ##7780## to perform factory reset
  • 27673855# to clean all data

Bottom line

Maintaining consistent and good security habits can help protect your personal information and data from hackers. It’s vital to be proactive in protecting your smartphone from a potential breach.

To stay secure, you can take some simple steps, such as reviewing app permissions, staying off public Wi-Fi, using a VPN, creating strong passwords, and employing robust authentication methods.

Finally, using a good antivirus program is a solid first step toward stopping malicious scams and hack attacks.

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Author Details
Callander Turner is a seasoned writer with more than a decade of writing experience. Holding a B.A. in English from the College of William and Mary, she began her career in tech policy and specializes in topics such as hacking, antivirus software, and password managers.