How to Find Spy Devices in Your Home, Car, Cell Phone, or Computer
Reasons You Might Be a Target for Spying
How do you know if you are being watched? How do you know if you aren't? These days, private surveillance is becoming more and more common. Reasons that someone may be spying on you include:
- You own a company.
- You have an important, responsible, or secretive job.
- You have attended confidential interviews or meetings.
- You are a scientist, politician, journalist, witness, attorney, judge, police officer, or local government official.
- Your partner or spouse believes you are having an affair.
- You are getting divorced.
- You are petitioning for sole custody of your children.
- You are a suspected activist or terrorist.
- You have logged in to certain websites.
- You file for disability or workers compensation.
- Your neighbor hates you.
- Your friend, neighbor, or relative is under suspicion.
- You have recently made a substantial insurance claim.
- You are very wealthy or possess something valuable.
- You are a celebrity.
- You are the victim of a stalker.
- Someone believes they can get ransom money out of you if they access or capture your personal information.
- Someone wants to take and use photos of you or members of your family—perhaps for profit or revenge.
Of course, our personal data and behavior is constantly being tracked by the government, search engines, social media, websites we visit, and possibly by our employers, but this article is intended for individuals who suspect that they are being singled out and targeted for a specific reason in a personal privacy threat.
How to Detect Hidden Cameras in Your Home
These days, cameras are so small they might be hidden anywhere to spy on you. They can be as small as a fingertip and hidden in tissue boxes, books, bookshelves, clocks, stuffed animals, potted plants, or anywhere. Although the camera will likely be well-hidden, its lens has to be visible, even if it's behind glass. A simple, cost-effective method to detect hidden spy cameras is to use a flashlight or the light on your phone to find them.
Most cameras have green or red lights. These might have been covered, but if there wasn't time to install it properly, you might be able to find the camera by these lights.
How to Make a DIY Camera Detector
- Wait until dark and turn off all the lights and block out any light from outside.
- Grab a cardboard tube—a roll of paper towel is ideal. Hold the tube up to one eye and close the other.
- Turn on your smart phone's flashlight, or use a regular flashlight.
- Now slowly scan every inch of the room. You are looking for a tiny light with a halo, which is the reflection of the camera lens.
If you don't see any lights, that doesn't mean there aren't any cameras. Maybe the person who installed them hid them carefully.
How to Use Your Cell Phone to Find a Hidden Camera
- Call a friend, put them on speakerphone, and ask them to hold the line open (stay on the phone).
- Walk around the room and listen for electric interference (snaps, pops, cracks, or buzzing).
- These noises may indicate hidden electronic devices.
Use an RF (Radio Frequency) Detector
These devices are readily available and range from $10 to $200. You can use one to scan for hidden wireless devices and signals in your home. Turn it on and follow the instructions, which include moving or sweeping slowly and listening for feedback. You may need to test each room on several of the device's frequencies.
What Does a Hidden Camera Look Like?
What Does a Listening Device Look Like?
Like cameras, eavesdropping devices come in many sizes and shapes and are easily obtained by anyone. Sometimes, your own devices' mics can be accessed remotely to listen in on you or your conversations.
How to Find Hidden Mics, Bugs, or Listening Devices
Anyone can buy apps to eavesdrop on you. Many require access to your device to install. Sometimes they're hidden on the SIM card rather than on the operating system. However, some might be installed OTA (over-the-air, remotely).
- One thing to think about is the bug's power supply. Some run on batteries, and as a result, they have a limited lifespan. If someone wants to listen to you constantly, they'll need a device with a steady and dependable power source, so always pay attention to visible wires that may indicate a hidden bug.
- A bug might steal power from other devices. For example, some can hide in a USB cable and draw power any time the cord is plugged in.
- When the house is empty and traffic noise outside has subsided, walk around and switch off all electrical appliances, such as the refrigerator and computers. Be still and listen. Walk around the house quietly and listen out for any soft buzzing or bleeping. Track down the source.
- Electric switch plates are a favorite place for bug installations. Check every switch plate and wall socket by first looking at it and then trying to move it. If it has been recently disturbed, may be visually out of alignment or loose. Turn off the power, unscrew the plate, and see if there's anything behind it that shouldn't be there.
- Check your smoke detectors, wall and ceiling light fittings, ceiling tiles, clocks, and lamps. Warning: Don't go poking screwdrivers anywhere near live electrical wiring.
- Look out for paint discoloration on walls or ceilings. A small, circular mark may be an indication of a micro-camera or listening device. Check the baseboards for bumps or signs of disturbance.
- Use your flashlight and hands to thoroughly examine every piece of furniture. Run your fingers along out-of-sight edges. Turn the furniture upside down. Look carefully for small holes in upholstery.
- Take notice of tiny patches of white dust from dry walls on baseboards or on sills. See if you can determine where it came from. It could be debris from the installation of a tiny pinhole camera.
- Examine every ornament and other innocuous objects in a room–pictures are good places to hide devices, and so are pillows.
- Try all the door locks to make sure they feel and work the same as usual. A lock that has been tampered with may exhibit stiffness, sticking, or feel very loose.
Remember, installing an external device to listen to your private conversations isn't necessary if the device already has a microphone (like your cell phone or computer, for example).
How to Tell If Your Car Is Bugged or Tracked
Check your car for listening devices the same way you'd check your home or office: A hand-held RF device might help.
While you're at it, you'll probably also want to check both the exterior and interior of your car for GPS trackers, which often look like small two or three inch boxes with magnetic strips to hold them to the body of the car. There are two types to look for:
Monitored. These send real-time information about where you are right now to a computer or a smartphone. These work like cell phones transmitting data either constantly, while the car is being used, or at pre-set intervals. Some are hardwired into your car's power supply, but they might also be battery-operated. These are more likely to be found inside your car.
- Unmonitored. These cheaper models collect and store data inside the device to be accessed later. When your car is moving, the tracker collects information about where you go to be downloaded manually later. These are more likely to be found on the exterior of your car.
How to Find a GPS Tracker on Your Car
- Check the exterior. This is the most likely spot for a tracker, since it's the easiest place for a person to place a device. Use a flashlight and a mirror on a pole to really observe every part of your car's exterior: in wheel wells, under the chassis, behind the bumpers, behind the side mirrors, etc.
- Check under the hood. It's less likely a device will be there since it's not as easily accessed and the device will be exposed to higher temperatures, but check everywhere: on the underside of the hood itself, behind the radiator, around the battery, air ducts, etc.
- Search the interior. The first thing to notice is if there are any mysterious wires connected to your data port. Check the glove compartment and under your seats. Use the flashlight and the mirror to look inside vents.
- Check the trunk. Look around the spare tire and elsewhere. Don't forget to check for something attached to the underside of the door itself.
Use an Electronic RF Sweeper
You can use an electronic RF sweeper to find out if there is any inexplicable wireless or cellular activity that could lead you to a bug. Turn it it on and walk slowly around and inside your car, sweeping it in all the places listed above. The sweeper might emit a noise, a light, or a vibration if it detects any wireless transmissions.
How to Find Out If Your Cell Phone Is Being Monitored or Bugged
- Is your battery losing its charge? If you see sudden drops in your phone's charge when you have not been using it, or if you find yourself suddenly needing to charge it more often, this may mean that the battery is being depleted by someone who's remotely activating your microphone or accessing voice or text messages.
- Does your phone seem to have a mind of its own? If it turns off and on by itself or won't shut down (or hesitates before it will), makes noises (especially a pulsating, static noise that hints that the mic or speaker is active), randomly starts installing apps, or if the light is still lit after you shut it off, this may mean someone is controlling it remotely.
- Do you hear a lot of interference on the line? This could be caused by a bad connection, but it's also a sign someone is listening in, as some call recording software mimics a conference call.
- Do you hear blips and pops from computers, phones, televisions, and radios? Since phone transmissions often interfere with other electronic devices, and many phone tapping devices use frequencies that might interfere with your electronics, if you hear electronic echo or static coming from devices when you're not on your phone, it might indicate remote activity.
- Is your phone warm, even when you haven't been using it? This is a sign that the phone is working and depleting the battery.
- Do you get SMS text messages that look like random, meaningless strings of numbers and symbols? This may indicate fumbled attempts at coded transmissions.
- Have you seen an unexplained jump in the cost of your data? If your phone bills shoot up for no apparent reason, someone else may be running up your data bill.
What to Do If Your Cell Phone Has Been Hacked
Keep in mind that these signs might only mean that you need a new battery, regular transmission of data is being interrupted by a poor connection, you need to call your provider and argue about the cost of your plan, there was a glitch in the hardware or software, or your phone is on the fritz.
On the other hand, you might have a good reason to be suspicious. See the instructions below for finding and deleting spyware. There are many useful apps that help you monitor your battery use. For a quick fix, if you take the battery out of your phone when it's not in use, this can deter unwanted activity.
Who Is Tracking Your Cell Phone?
How to Find Out If Your Cell Phone Is Being Tracked
1. Check for Signs of Jailbreaking
"Jailbreaking" is when someone manages to install tracking or spyware apps on your iPhone by bypassing Apple’s strict built-in rules against using software from other sources. There's no easy way to know if someone has jailbroken your phone, but if they were in a rush, they may have forgotten to cover their tracks and neglected to delete the software they used to do it.
- Swipe right on your home screen (since the app probably won’t necessarily show with an icon).
- Look for suspicious software or apps. Common jailbreaking tools to look for are Icy, Installer, Cydia, Installous, or SBSettings.
- If you use a file explorer app like ES File Explorer, look in your message, email, and image folders.
- Jailbreaking apps often use GPS to monitor your location and send reports via data roaming, so huge data bills are another thing to look for.
- Before you delete anything suspicious, double-check to make sure what it is.
2. Block Spy Apps With an Antivirus App
Even if you already have antivirus apps, it may be time to upgrade or find a better one.
3. Do a Factory Reset
Resetting any phone to its original factory settings will get rid of any spy software there might be, you must make sure to back up your data first, or you'll lose it all.
4. Check Data Usage
Spyware apps take data from your phone and send it to someone else (the person who's spying on you). One way to find out is by keeping track of data that's being used by the apps installed on your phone. Go to Settings —> Data Usage, and look through the entries in App Usage to see if any unfamiliar or unknown apps have recently been using a lot of data. You might install a data monitor app to monitor usage, as well.
How to Find Spy Software on Your iPhone or Android Cell Phone
Since smartphones are almost always connected to the internet, they can be remotely hacked. The hacking doesn't have to be remote, either: Maybe someone physically got ahold of your device and installed a keystroke logger or some other kind of tracking app.
Spy apps and programs often disguise their file names so you won't notice them, but sometimes they're daringly honest and use terms like "spy," "stealth," "monitor," etc. So if you see anything you don't recognize and don't remember downloading, you should investigate it.
It's hard to hijack an iPhone, but it's still possible. Someone might download your personal data via a shared network, for example.
Dig around in your iPhone directory. If you see any suspicious files, ask an Apple store consultant about them or simply upgrade to the latest iOS version. Make sure you back up all your data first.
To check your files to see if there's anything suspicious...
- Go to Settings –>
- Applications –>
- Manage Applications or Running Services
- Investigate any files or apps you don't recognize. Don't delete or remove anything before you know what it is, though, and if you're not sure, then get advice from an expert on proper deletion methods. It's a simple matter to look up the purpose of any file/app on the web.
Signs Your Landline Is Bugged
- Do you hear small noises on your phone during a conversation? Indications of a line tap are volume changes, minor drops (i.e. tiny gaps in the other person's speech), static, popping noises, hissing, or any other unusual sounds. These occur when two connectors are hooked up, such as a wiretap to a phone line. Listen for anything unusual as you hang up the phone.
- Is your telephone making odd sounds when it not in use? This would indicate that the phone itself is being used as a listening device. In other words, it is acting as a microphone and will pick up any conversation in the room.
- If you can hear a dial tone even when your phone is on the hook, this is a sign that it may have been tapped.
- Silent phone calls (when you pick up but it sounds like no one is there) may mean that the phone has been hooked up to a slave device. Listen out for electronic sounds like buzzing or high-pitched beeping. At the same time, silent calls are common these days and usually caused by computer error, so by themselves, they are not cause for concern.
What to do: Locate the B-Box or cross-connect box for your phone and check the two wires ("cable pair") associated with your landline. Are there any extra cables or devices attached? A service technician can help you, or you can hire a company to do a wire tap connection sweep.
Is Your Computer Being Monitored by Someone Else?
Five years ago, if you wondered if someone was watching you, people would think you were paranoid. But we should all know by now that we're being watched online: by the government, by search engines like Google, by sites like Amazon and Facebook, and probably by the companies we work for. Today, any jealous boyfriend, concerned parent, or nosy neighbor can easily purchase commercial snooping software to spy on anyone they want.
If you have reasons to suspect that your connections or conversations are not private and that someone is watching your activity or your data is being sent to someone else (you might notice suspicious battery depletions or internet history, or mysterious lag times and other clues), then you'll want to look for leaks.
Signs Your Computer Is Being Spied On
- It suddenly starts working very slowly, and functions that once happened quickly are taking a lot more time. This in itself is not an indication of spying malware; most older computers slow down over time.
- Your mouse moves with a mind of its own: opening, scrolling, and closing apps and docs.
- Your online banking accounts show missing funds or charges you don't recognize.
- You get confirmation emails from stores about payments for things you did not order.
- Apps open randomly or you find things open that you didn't open yourself.
How to Find Spyware on Your Computer
Scan for malware. Scanning your computer with anti-virus, anti-malware, and anti-rootkit programs can help find data leaks. Really sneaky spyware might add itself to the exception list on your anti-virus program, so use more than one program.
- Check your recent items/activity to see if any third-party software—also known as remote control software or virtual network computing software—is being used that you did not install yourself. These programs allow someone to view your activity on your computer, see your desktop, run applications, change your settings, and access your data. These were designed to allow IT administrators to manage and oversee a company's computers, but anyone can use them. Look for anything with "VNC" in its name, LogMeIn, or GoToMyPC. If you find something you don't recognize, do a search to find out what it is, and also search for proper methods for uninstalling them.
- Check where your iCloud backups are being sent. If they're being sent to a third party, you'll want to know about it.
- Check your History. On your search browsers, you can look at the History to see which sites have been visited. You can look at History to see if anyone else has been using your computer to look things up, and you should also know that anyone who has access to your computer can see where you've been on the internet. Saving this record of your viewing history allows web pages to load faster when you return, but deleting the History means no one can see where you've been. Google "how to view browsing history on [insert name of your device]" or "how to delete browsing history on [insert name of your device]" to learn more.
- Open your Task Manager. If you're on Windows, you can open your task manager by keying Ctrl+Alt+Delete, then clicking "open task manager" and scrolling down the list of applications and processes that are running. If you see something that looks unfamiliar, Google it to find out what it is. For example, Lanschool (which is listed as Student.exe) uses a Chrome extension to collect and store your browsing history, and Eaglesvr takes and stores screenshots of your screen every three seconds. To stop it temporarily, you might be able to right click to end the process, but usually it needs to be uninstalled properly in a multi-step process.
- Look for keyloggers. Keyloggers record everything you type, including passwords. Check your Task Manager or Activity Monitor.
- Check your ports. Ports are virtual data connection points through which computers share information. If someone is monitoring you remotely, there will be an open port enabling the data transfer.
- Identify the TCP connections. Identify outbound connections by using a Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) which shows all the connections from your computer to others. You can download a TCPView program to make the process easier.
Computer Counter-Surveillance Techniques
- Reset your wireless router. Anyone who can access your wireless router can also monitor your activity. It’s one of the easiest ways to hack your computer.
- Use a different network. Sometimes, a person hopes you'll do the same things you always do. They might be using a keylogger program that can only upload data to someone else on the same network.
- Use end-to-end encryption. With E2EE, only the communicating parties can read the messages. No third parties can decode the data.
- Install your own email-tracking software. Use counter-spy tactics by installing programs like ReadNotify or GetNotify to see when and where each of your emails was opened and for how long, or if it was forwarded without your knowledge.
- Use encrypted email. Switch to an encrypted email client so that only the people you send email to will be able to decode it.
- Put a sticker over your camera and keep a cordless jack inserted into your mic port.
- Change your passwords.
Warning Signs That You're Being Watched
If you believe you may be a target for a covert operation, the first thing to do is look for evidence that someone is watching or listening to your private conversations. Here are the warning signs to look out for:
- Someone you know (your partner, a colleague, or neighbor) may inadvertently let slip something that you said in privacy, that they could only have overheard. If you question them, they will glibly deflect you by saying they guessed, that someone else told them, or that they made an assumption. Don't argue or pursue the point.
- If information appears in the press that no one except you and your trusted friends/personnel have access to, that's a major sign that you are under surveillance.
- A stalker likes his victim to be aware that he has access to private conversations—it adds to the fear-factor—and he will often find ways to let you know you are being watched, followed, or listened to.
- If your home was broken into or burgled, even if nothing significant was taken. You may not even notice if a door was left open or a window forced and you won't ever notice that someone has been inside your home. Make sure your children tell you if they discover an unlocked door that isn't usually left unlocked, or an open window downstairs.
Use Technical Surveillance Counter-Measures (TSCM)
TSCM (technical surveillance counter-measures) is the list of things you can do to search for and prevent bugs, cameras, GPS, and other devices from spying on you. The lists included in this article are TSCM.
You can look for surveillance devices yourself or hire an expert to help you. The device used most often for TSCM is a radio frequency (RF) detector which are cheap and easy to buy online. Any spy device that uses electricity or a battery might be detected with a RF detector, including hidden cameras, bugs, or GPS devices.
In order for it to work, you must first turn off all the electronic and wireless devices you know about. This will help the scanner locate the ones you don't know about.
If You Believe Someone is Entering Your Property
Some commenters have mentioned that they believe someone is entering their property when they are not at home, or at night. If you think this may be the case, you need to collect proof. The easiest way of doing this is by installing one or two small surveillance cameras on your property.
These easy-to-set-up cameras can be remotely monitored by a smart phone app. They also have SD cards to record activity. Choose a motion detector camera like this . While I have never suspected anyone of entering our home, these little devices are also excellent for monitoring our dogs' behavior when we are out. Kamtron security camera
The Kamtron can also pick up activity in the dark up to 20 feet in distance, so most rooms are covered.
Other reasons for installing a security camera are monitoring the activity of people you do allow into your home: carers, dog walkers, baby-sitters, etc.
If you are concerned about unauthorized people, such as an ex partner or stalking landlord coming into your home, install at least one surveillance camera for proof and protection.
Bug, Camera, or GPS Detector Devices
Any spy device that transmits wirelessly might be detected with a RF detector, including hidden cameras, bugs, or GPS devices. You carry it around your home, office, or car and it gives an audible warning when it is within 10 meters of any source of transmission. Ensure you turn off all 'innocent' devices and remove cellphones, laptops, etc. prior to scanning a room or else you'll get a false signal.
Bug detectors can usually find audio or video transmitters as they operate on simple RF (radio frequencies). This is why your FM radio is capable of detecting such devices. However, these bug detectors are much more sensitive so it may well be worthwhile investing in one for your peace of mind.
How to Check for Spy Devices With an FM Radio
Even without buying a fancy device, you might use your radio to find electronic surveillance devices. The radio will emit feedback if there's any electronic transmissions. You may be familiar with this feedback phenomenon when it happens with speakers. Well, when it occurs with an FM radio, it's because of the same thing–the radio is picking up transmissions from the bug and can often lead you right to it.
- Tune your radio in to a silent spot at the high end of the FM band.
- Carry the radio around the room. If it begins to make odd sounds such as a high-pitched squeal, move it until the sound reaches its loudest pitch. That should be the source of the transmission.
You can also do a similar sweep with a small hand-held TV. Check channels 2, 7, 13, 14, 50-60, and 66-68 for marked interference. It works with analog or digital.
Is It Against the Law to Spy on Someone?
In most countries and jurisdictions (but laws and policies vary from place to place)...
- You don't have any right to privacy in a public space. However, a private citizen is usually not allowed to record another person without their knowledge or consent. It is illegal for a private citizen spy on someone via a hidden camera in a private space.
- A person is allowed to hide cameras in their own home or property, even if they don't warn you about their presence. If they have a valid reason for installing a camera, it will likely be deemed legal.
- In many states, it's legal to record a conversation in which you are involved without the consent of all the others involved in the conversation. However, in many states it is illegal to record private conversations unless everyone involved gives consent.
- It's legal for someone to place a GPS device on a vehicle they own or on their own property.
- It is illegal to install spyware on someone's phone or computer, but there are exceptions to this rule. If it's a work computer, your employer might be allowed to install certain types of IT software, for example. If you ever gave that person permission to use your phone, computer, or car, and you discover later that they installed spyware after you gave them access to your device, it may not be deemed illegal.
- If you ever give someone your password, then you basically lose the right to claim they behaved illegally by using it.
- It's legal for someone to hire a private eye to watch, follow, or listen to you, as long as the spying is done without breaking any laws.
For more information, read I'm Being Watched—How to Deal With Stalkers and Spies.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Can a listening device be triggered or alert the owner of the device if certain words are picked up or spoken?
I'm pretty sure that's the case, given the fact that smart home speakers operate on a similar basis. Apps certainly can be activated in that way--voice recognition 'wake up' has been around for years.Helpful 25
My child’s father is a stalker and has had at least three victims that I am aware of (case files). He has mentioned cloning phones and even spoke about private conversations that I have had. He is getting supervised visits for our child and sends the child back with toys, lunchbags, etc. and then later asks about the items. I exchanged one but kept the lunch bag. Is it possible for it to be bugged? He has referenced information that would otherwise be private.
He has probably bugged the gifts he's given your child. They are so small they can be hidden in linings without you noticing. He may also have installed an app on your cellphone remotely. If it's feasible, I'd buy identical toys and carefully swap them out without the child knowing.Helpful 24
I think that a friend of mine has bugged my room. She has been known for going through people's things and has been diagnosed with a personality disorder. Recently, she brought up a conversation with me that only happened once in my living room about a particular topic. The person that I had the conversation with did not tell anyone about it. Did she install a listening device? What should I do?
If she is your friend, then why don't you ask her? It's far more likely that she left her phone lying around with a voice-activated recording app on it. It seems like the kind of thing she might do on impulse. Installing a device involves a little more planning.Helpful 15
I hear there's an app for smartphones that can detect spying devices. Is it worth trying?
Yes, there are apps for both Android and iPhone that can detect the magnetic pulse of a device and the tiny light of a hidden camera. However, I haven't used them so don't know how effective they are. Search on your preferred app platform for 'Hidden Device Detector'.Helpful 6
I moved into my place a couple of months ago. Late at night, I hear electronic noises--beeps and clicking sounds. Could this mean my apartment is bugged?
It is very possible that there are hidden devices in your apartment. It's becoming increasingly common for landlords, neighbors, or previous tenants to install cameras or microphones. Get yourself a scanner and do a bug sweep.Helpful 5
© 2012 Bev G