In 2013 Luis Toledo installed a tracking app on his wife’s smartphone because he suspected she was having an affair.
The tracking app called SMS Tracker allowed Toledo to see text messages and photos on Yessenia Suarez’s phone confirming his suspicions of an extra-marital affair.
Fast forward to the early morning hours of October 2013, when Toledo murdered Suarez and her children. In 2018 he was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the murders. Their bodies have never been found.
The Proliferation of Tracking Apps for Personal Devices
There are more than 200 apps and services available today that act as surveillance tools with capabilities ranging from basic location tracking to intercepting texts, secretly recording videos, and various other forms of digital monitoring. Early apps were designed for keeping track of one’s children or finding a lost phone. Now many of these tracking apps are being used to stalk people surreptitiously, tracking their whereabouts, reading personal messages, secretly recording their phone conversations, and stealing passwords to financial and social media accounts, among other nefarious uses.
As these apps grew in numbers they flung the door wide open for abuse. Because there are no federal laws against location tracking apps, it is difficult to know if the person being tracked has consented. In many cases, people are unaware their phone has a tracking app on it. Many of these spying apps are promoted as a way of catching your cheating spouse or lover since the “technical and legal ambiguity has created a market for legal and illegal use of the technology often with no repercussions.”
While strangers looking to steal passcodes to access your bank account are something to worry about, in most cases tracking apps are installed by people in a relationship or are familiarly involved in some way. Most cases of abuse and illegal stalking via technology involve men and women who are or were intimate partners.
Tips to Secure Your Personal Devices
Create a secure passcode– while somewhat less convenient than facial recognition a longer passcode of hard-to-guess numbers makes it difficult for just anyone to access your phone. Don’t use your birthdate, kid’s birthday, or 123456. Make the effort to create a unique-to-you-passcode that would be difficult for anyone to guess. Consider changing it now and then and be suspicious of anyone who wants to know what your passcode is.
Lighten Your Load – keep the number of files, photos and messages on your phone or tablet limited. Store photos, documents, and confidential emails in folders on your computer or in the cloud.
Use two-factor authentication – it can be an annoying extra step to access your info but two-step authentication is a great extra layer of protection for sensitive information on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Someone may get your user ID and passcode but if they try to access your account the authentication code will go to your device. This will thwart would-be hackers and alert you that someone is trying to access your data.
Regularly update your device – stop hackers from using older versions of software to bypass your security and keep your device and apps updated with the latest software. Many manufacturers offer updates to protect against the constant release of new spyware.
Turn your phone off – every now and then restart your device. Most people leave their phones and tablets on all the time. A lot of tracking and spy apps take advantage of this. Just restarting your devices can stop some apps from spying on your personal information and whereabouts.
Turn off pre-installed location apps – Google Maps and Find My Phone can reveal your location with the touch of a button. Shutting these off makes you and your device more secure. Use a search engine or consult your device’s user manual to learn how to shut off location software
Use common sense – stop “checking in.” By refraining from geotagging photos or posting your location status on social media you can greatly limit anyone’s ability to stalk you.
Avoid public wi-fi – whenever possible avoid using your phone on public wi-fi networks. Also, consider a VPN (a virtual private network). This digital tool can help to encrypt traffic between your device and the internet whether it is a website, social media platform, or email account you’re visiting.
Check for spyware regularly – Certo offers anti-spyware scanning tools that illuminate glaring weaknesses in your phone’s security and how to shore up your defenses. Check the app store for your device for spyware scanning tools and purchase one.
Until law enforcement and technology catches up to those hell-bent on doing you harm by installing tracking apps on your electronic personal devices it is up to you to provide your own cybersecurity. Most victims of spyware and tracking apps are preyed on by people they know who have access to their personal devices. Companies that create these apps are complicit but rarely held accountable. Protect yourself by taking a few simple steps to keep your private information private.