March 8, 2010— -- Technology makes it easier to connect with the people in your life, but it can also enable others to connect to you without your knowledge.
People can learn all about your private life through your cell phone, and one woman said she was stalked for three years because of it. Susan, who asked that her real name be kept private because of worry over her safety, said her ex-boyfriend tormented her using only her cell phone to do it.
"He knew where I was all the time," Susan said. "If I was at dinner somewhere. He would text me and ask me how dinner was. I had no idea how he knew where I was."
Most people know that the GPS in a cell phone can track your every move, but that's just the beginning. Widely available software that can be installed on almost any cell phone can track not just your whereabouts but also your private conversations and personal information.
"I thought I was going crazy," Susan said. "It's just unnerving knowing that somebody 24/7 knows where you're at, what you're talking about, what's going on, everything about you."
At the time, Susan didn't know that her ex-boyfriend installed spying software on her phone when she wasn't looking. Once installed, he could be anywhere -- even in a different state -- and follow her every move.
But what was worse, it didn't just track her whereabouts. He could listen in on her phone calls, read her text messages and turn her personal cell phone into a bugging device. From anywhere, he could activate her speaker phone and listen to everything she was doing.
"He would text me, 'How was dinner? Was the date good?'" she recalled.
Susan's ex-boyfriend would also show up places where she was. She feared for her life and called the police, who put her in protective custody. When her ex-boyfriend violated the restraining order, he was put in jail on felony stalking charges.
"He had every intention of killing me," she said. "Within 20 minutes of getting out of jail, he was outside my hotel room."
Security expert Robert Siciliano says he gets countless e-mails from victims of cell phone spying.
"When somebody remotely activates your phone, you're not going to know it and they can use that phone to monitor the conversations in the room you're in," he said. "Your phone could be sitting next to you while you are watching TV, and somebody can actually log into your phone and can actually watch what you are watching on television."
Cell Phone Spying Software Affordable, Powerful
A 2009 report from the Department of Justice found that one-quarter of the 3.4 million stalking victims in the U.S. reported cyberstalking, and GPS technology and other forms of electronic monitoring were used to stalk one in 13 victims.
"GMA" found thousands of sites promoting cell phone spying software, boasting products to "catch cheating spouses," "bug meeting rooms" or "track your kids." Basic cell phone spying software costs as little as $50, but for a higher price the software enables anyone to do exactly what Susan's ex-boyfriend did.
"Someone can easily install a spyware program on your phone that allows them to see every single thing you do all day long, via the phone's video camera," Siciliano said.
"GMA" spent $350 to get the features that remotely activate speaker phones, intercept live calls and instantly notify you every time a call is made.
We installed the software on a colleague's phone, with her permission, and sent her out to see how it worked. We were able to intercept and listen in to a live phone call without her knowledge, and she didn't even have to be on the phone for us to spy on her. We could also turn her phone into a remote listening device no matter where she was. If the phone was on, we heard everything she said.
"This is no sci-fi flick," Siciliano said. "This is the real thing and it's happening to people right now."
It's perfectly legal to sell the software but not necessarily legal to use it, although that's in the fine print.
For people like Susan, the laws, which vary from state to state, haven't caught up to the technology. Police say there aren't specific laws on the books to address this type of stalking, as opposed to the physical stalking that led to the restraining order.
When it comes to cell phone spying, "The cops kept telling me there's nothing we can do," Susan said. "He's not breaking the law."
Protect Yourself from Cell Phone Spying
Susan changed her number 10 times, but it didn't help because the spyware was on the phone itself.
"I'd go and change my number at the cell phone store, and he would be calling me on my way home on my new cell phone number."
After three terrifying years, Susan realized the software was on her phone. She got a new one and it seems the nightmare has ended.
"You're never the same after this," she said. "I think you become a lot more aware of your surroundings, you're not as trusting. You just make it day to day and keep living."
Safety experts say that if you believe you've been the target of cyberstalking, trust your instincts and ask for help. Organizations such as the National Center for Victims of Crime's Stalking Resource Center and the National Network to End Domestic Violence's Safety Net Project advocate for victims.
Indications that spyware might be on your cell phone:
For more information on combating all forms of cyberstalking, CLICK HERE.