Just like computers, smartphones are susceptible to cyberattacks. Hackers can gain entry to your phone in a variety of ways in order to glean the personal information needed to commit identity theft and financial fraud. To prevent a cell phone cyberattack, use biometric authentication whenever possible and consider investing in antivirus software and a secure VPN.

Your smartphone holds personal images and emails, texts and apps, making it one of your most prized and utilized tools from day to day.

Unfortunately, this wealth of personal and financial information also makes cell phones enticing to malicious hackers and identity thieves.

Hacking a smartphone is particularly appealing to bad actors because multi-factor authentication notifications typically arrive via text message. So, if an identity thief has your phone, they have access to your texts ––and can log into your most sensitive accounts, from banking sites to investment apps to social media accounts.

How your phone can be hacked

Just as computers are vulnerable to cyberattacks, both Apple and Android smartphones can be susceptible to malicious hacking.

There are a few ways fraudsters can hack into a cell phone, including:  

  • Physically stealing your phone through pickpocketing, snatching, or stealing from your workplace or home 

  • SIM swap scams, in which a hacker hijacks the SIM (subscriber identity module) card associated with your phone, effectively putting your phone number in their hands 

  • Phishing and smishing scams, which can infect your phone with malware or spyware that can be used to track and even control your device 

  • Infecting your device with malware while it’s connected to an unsecured network like public Wi-Fi

Once a hacker has access to your phone, they can peruse its contents like your images, notes, text messages, and emails, gleaning any and all sensitive data and personally identifiable information, or PII (like your Social Security number, address, birth date, driver’s license number, etc.), stored within.

How to know if someone is hacking your phone

Unless your phone is physically stolen, it can be tricky to tell that something’s amiss with your device. Fortunately, there are a few red flags to watch out for:  

  • Your device is suddenly inundated with pop-ups — pages that appear on your phone without your prompting — while you surf the web.  

  • You spot apps that you didn’t download on your home screen.  

  • You see outgoing calls and/or text messages that you didn’t make or send in your call log and SMS app.  

  • Your phone starts acting odd; for example, the battery is zapped faster than usual, your data is suddenly full (or close to it), and/or your apps start glitching. 

What to do if you suspect that your phone has been hacked

Because of how interwoven our devices are with our lives, you must act fast if you suspect your phone is being hacked. Take immediate action by: 

  • Changing your phone’s passcode.  

  • Deleting apps you didn't download. 

  • Check your banking and credit card accounts for charges you didn’t make (and freeze — or replace — your cards, if needed). 

 And, as a follow-up, consider: 

  • Downloading reputable antivirus software, which can identify certain malware and boot a hacker using it out of your device.  

  • From a different device (in case yours is being monitored by spyware), changing your passwords to important accounts, such as your email, online banking accounts, and social media.  

  • Resetting your phone to factory settings, which will uninstall any spyware or malware your device may currently harbor. Hopefully you backup your phone to a digital cloud or external hard drive regularly; if not, you may lose photos or data during this process.  

How to proactively protect your device and identity from hackers

To ward off cell phone cyberattacks, keep your phone up to date with the latest software updates, which often contain improvements to malware protection.

You can also invest in additional antivirus software (yep, programs are available for cell phones too) as well as a VPN — like the one we offer on certain Allstate Identity Protection plans — which lets you safely connect to public Wi-Fi.

It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of phishing and smishing scams, and, in general, to avoid clicking unsolicited links or digital downloads, especially those from unknown numbers, email addresses, or accounts on social media. And whenever biometric authentication is available (like using your face, retina, or fingerprint scan to verify your identity), it’s a good idea to opt in.

Lastly, check with your cell phone service provider to see if there are ways to safeguard your SIM card. You may be able to add a PIN to your account, which can minimize your risk of a SIM swap scam.