It's distressing when it suddenly occurs to you, “My house is bugged!” When you believe that your home may be electronically bugged, it’s difficult to feel safe and at ease. A bugging or recording device allows eavesdroppers to learn intimate details about your life and even to use those details to their own advantage.
There are apps to detect recording devices as well as listening device detector mobile apps. However, to truly put your mind at ease, you may find more reassurance by carefully checking your home for signs of electronic eavesdropping. This will help determine whether your home is actually bugged.
Outside Disclosure of Sensitive Information
Ironically, one of the most sure-fire signs that your house has been electronically bugged isn’t necessarily found in your house at all. Rather, it takes place in other locations, when you discover through verbal communications, workplace developments and digital messages (such as email, text messages and social media) that secret or private information is no longer secure.
If a third party, such as a coworker with whom you are not close or a business competitor, mentions a piece of information that you discussed only in the privacy of your home or over the telephone with trusted advisers, then there’s at least a significant likelihood your home conversations may no longer be secure, thanks to a listening or recording device.
Being aware of the disclosure of sensitive information is the first step. Once you have reason to suspect your home may be monitored for private communications, the next step is to look for direct physical evidence of bugs or recording equipment.
Burglary, Theft or Other Unusual Occurrences
One of the first clues that someone may have installed an electronic bugging device in your home is the realization that a burglary has taken place there, but nothing was taken. If a door or window shows signs of forced entry, an alarm has been disabled, a landline connection has been cut, or furniture has been moved or disturbed, it’s important to first call the authorities to report the break-in. Unless you’re certain that the premises are secure, it’s generally safer to leave the premises and wait for the police outside.
Once the premises are known to be safe, conduct a thorough visual inspection throughout the house. If nothing has been taken, it’s possible that the real purpose behind the unlawful entry was to install listening or recording equipment. Check along baseboards, window frames and around smoke detectors and lighting fixtures for any sign of drywall dust or other debris that could indicate someone has been working there. Also, visually inspect the locks on each window for any sign of disturbance or unusual tool marks.
Audio Artifacts and Other Phone Interference
Your landline telephone may develop a pop, crackle, static or scratching noise when you use it. Alternatively, you may notice odd drops or sudden changes in volume. These audio artifacts are commonly caused by two conductors being wired together, which creates an electric discharge in your phone's handset. You may also detect some noises, including a dial tone, from your phone when it's on the hook.
Cellphones typically do not exhibit the same kind of audio interference. The best way to tell if your cellphone has been cloned is to pay careful attention to usage records and statistics. If your message history has been altered in any way, or voice mail messages have been deleted mysteriously, you may have a cloned cellphone. You might also receive error messages when you attempt to connect to your network.
Interference With Radio or Television
Smart TVs and other home devices that are connected to the internet may be a source of eavesdropping. Hackers can infiltrate such systems in much the same way that they can gain unlawful access to your social media or email accounts. Keep an eye on all financial accounts and payment sources connected through these devices, and make sure your password is a strong one that you change regularly.
If you still use or have access to a radio, listen for odd interference in a radio that can't be corrected by moving the antenna. Many bugging devices use frequencies that can interfere with radio reception. When a radio comes close to a listening device, you may hear a high-pitched sound emanating from the radio’s speakers.
When antenna CRT TVs were more prevalent, sudden, unexplained interference problems with such devices could also signal the presence of electronic listening devices that may be positioned near the set. A TV antenna attracts radio frequencies (RF), which electronic bugging devices use. You may notice a line or white spots on the TV screen. Such interference occurs primarily with a television that's connected to an external antenna, however, high-frequency bugging devices can cause the same symptoms with cable TV.
Unusual Holes in Small Devices
Look carefully at each smoke detector, clock and lamp for evidence of small new holes that you haven’t noticed before. Many electronic bugging devices require eavesdroppers to drill a tiny hole in such an item. This improves the reception of the microphone they have installed inside it. Also, turn each item over to look at surfaces that usually are hidden from view, including the inside of lampshades and the underside of devices connected to intelligent digital assistants, such as Amazon Alexa devices.
- Granite Island Group: Warning Signs of Covert Eavesdropping or Bugging
- NOAA Western Regional Center: Detecting and Preventing Eavesdropping
- Bearden Investigations: Top 5 Signs of Covert Eavesdropping & Bugging
- TechWalla: How to Know If Your Cell Phone Has Been Cloned
- USAToday: Is your smart TV too wise? The FBI warns your screen is watching you
Annie Sisk is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York. She holds a B.A. in Speech from Catawba College and a J.D. from USC. She has written extensively for publications and websites in the business, management and legal fields.