Help! I Think My Phone’s Been Hacked

Tips & Advice

“My phone’s been hacked!” Words you probably don’t want to hear or say. Ever. 

Your phone gets to be like an old friend after a while. You have things laid out the way you like, your favorite apps are at the ready, and you have the perfect home screen and wallpaper all loaded up. So, if you unlock your phone one day and notice that something is a little … off, you’ll know pretty quickly. And it could be a sign that your phone may be hacked.  

How to know if your phone is hacked? 

It’s often pretty easy to tell when a piece of your tech isn’t working quite right. The performance is off, things crash, and so on. While there are several cases where there’s a legitimate technical issue behind that, it could also be the sign of a hacked device.  

Many hacks and attacks involve the installation of malware on the device, which eats up system resources, creates conflicts with other apps, and uses your data or internet connection to pass along your personal information—all of which can make your smartphone feel a little off. 

A few examples follow. Note that these may be signs of a hacked phone, yet not always. 

Performance hits and battery drain 

A suddenly sluggish phone or one that simply can’t hold a charge anymore are often attributed to phones that are getting a little old (these things happen). Yet, those same behaviors can also be signs of a compromised phone. For example, malicious bitcoin miners can run in the background and cause all types of performance issues because they eat up battery life and take up resources that your phone could otherwise normally use. In a way, it’s like having a second person using your phone at the same time you are. 

Your phone feels like it’s running hot 

Similar to the performance issues mentioned above, malware or mining apps running in the background can burn extra computing power, battery life, and data. Aside from a performance hit, they can cause your phone to physically run hot or even overheat. So if your phone feels like it’s been sitting in the sun, this could be a sign that malware is present. 

Popups suddenly appear on your phone 

If you’re seeing more popup ads than usual or seeing them for the first time, it could be a sign that your phone has been hit with adware—a type of malicious app that hackers use to generate revenue by distributing ads without the consent of the user. Furthermore, those ads may be malicious in nature as well (which is a good reminder to never click on them). Such ads may lead to bogus products and services or pages designed to steal personal information. All in all, malicious adware is what hackers prop up to make money off unsuspecting people. 

Mysterious apps, calls, or texts appear 

A potential telltale sign that your phone has been hacked is the appearance of new apps that you didn’t download, along with spikes in data usage that you can’t account for. Likewise, if you see calls in your phone bill that you didn’t make, that’s a warning as well. 

You run out of data or see unknown charges pop up 

Big red flag here. Like seeing an unknown charge or payment in your bank statement, this is a possible sign that a hacker has hijacked your phone and is using it to transfer data, make purchases, send messages, or make calls via your phone.  

What to do if your phone is hacked? 

  • Install and run security software on your smartphone if you haven’t already. From there, delete any apps you didn’t download, delete risky texts, and then run your mobile security software again. 
  • If you still have issues, wiping and restoring your phone is an option. Provided you have your photos, contacts, and other vital info backed up in the cloud, it’s a relatively straightforward process. A quick search online can show how to wipe and restore your model of phone. 
  • Lastly, check your accounts and your credit card statements to see if any unauthorized purchases have been made. If so, you can go through the process of freezing those accounts and getting new cards and credentials issued. Further, update your passwords for your accounts with a password that is strong and unique to prevent further theft.  

Five tips to keep your phone from getting hacked  

To help keep your phone from getting hacked in the first place, there are a few relatively easy steps you can take. Inside of a few minutes, you can find yourself much safer than you were before.  

1. Use comprehensive security software on your phone. Over the years, we’ve gotten into the good habit of using this on our computers and laptops. Our phones? Not so much. Installing security software on your smartphone gives you the first line of defense against attacks, plus several of the additional security features mentioned below. 

2. Stay safer on the go with a VPN. One way that crooks can hack their way into your phone is via public Wi-Fi, such as at airports, hotels, and even libraries. These networks are public, meaning that your activities are exposed to others on the network—your banking, your password usage, all of it. One way to make a public network private is with a VPN, which can keep you and all you do protected from others on that Wi-Fi hotspot.  

3. Use a password manager. Strong, unique passwords offer another primary line of defense. Yet with all the accounts we have floating around, juggling dozens of strong and unique passwords can feel like a task—thus the temptation to use (and re-use) simpler passwords. Hackers love this because one password can be the key to several accounts. Instead, try a password manager that can create those passwords for you and safely store them as well. Comprehensive security software will include one. 

4. Avoid public charging stations. Charging up at a public station seems so simple and safe. However, some hackers have been known to “juice jack” by installing malware into the charging station. While you “juice up,” they “jack” your passwords and personal info. So what to do about power on the road? You can look into a portable power pack that you can charge up ahead of time or run on AA batteries. They’re pretty inexpensive and can prevent malware from a public charging station.  

5. Keep your eyes on your phone. Preventing the actual theft of your phone is important too, as some hacks happen simply because a phone falls into the wrong hands. This is a good case for password or PIN protecting your phone, as well as turning on device tracking so that you can locate your phone or even wipe it remotely if you need to. Apple provides iOS users with a step-by-step guide for remotely wiping devices and Google offers up a guide for Android users as well.  

Phone acting funny? Follow up. 

A phone that’s acting a little funny may indicate a run-of-the-mill tech issue, yet it could also be a tell-tale sign of a hack. At a minimum, following up on your gut instinct that something isn’t quite right can take care of a nagging tech issue. But in the event of a possible hack, it can save you the far greater headache of unauthorized charges and purchases, and even identity theft. If you spot a problem, it absolutely pays to take a closer look. Follow up with tech support for help, whether that’s through your device manufacturer, retailer, or your antivirus providers. They’ll help pinpoint the issue and get you on your way. 

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