How to Track a Cell Phone

Category: Mobile

There are many reasons you might want to locate a cell phone and track its movements. Perhaps you lost your phone and would like it back. You might be an anxious parent, an employer, or you could be part of a group of friends who want to keep tabs during a night on the town. Whatever your reason for tracking a cell phone, there are several ways to go about doing it. Here's the scoop on cell phone tracking...

How To Track or Locate a Cell Phone

Even if you're not a spy, you might have a perfectly legitimate need to track the location of a cell phone. Maybe you lost your phone. Maybe you want a friend or family member to know the location of your own phone. Fortunately, there are ways to do so, and some are even free. Here's a roundup of tools to track a cell phone location.

Google Latitude is one free service that keeps track of your contacts by locating their cell phones and displaying their whereabouts on a Google Map. You have to download and install a Google App on your phone or computer to do this, and each person whose phone number you provide must agree to be tracked by you. Note that you don't need a GPS-enabled phone to use Latitude. The service can use GPS, wifi access points, or cell towers to determine the location of your phone.

If you receive an invitation to allow one of your contacts to track you via Google Latitude, you may wonder whether to accept and allow it. Google Latitude lets you control when your phone is tracked, so you can turn off permission to track you when you want to travel to parts unknown. The danger, of course, is that you may forget to turn off Google Latitude when you no longer wish to reveal your location.

Track a Cell Phone

Glympse is a similar app for Android, iPhone, and Blackberry phones. Glympse solves the privacy issue by putting the user of the phone in control of the location sharing. After downloading the app, you can send a link to family, friends or co-workers that allows them to track you on an interactive map, but only for a specific period of time that you control.

If you have access to a GPS-enabled cell phone you can install software on it that enables tracking, sometimes without telling the user you've done so. A number of services such as Accutracking offer such software and tracking services for a fee. The obvious legitimate application is a parent who wants to keep tabs on children. Employers increasingly want to know where employees are during business hours, so company-issued GPS phones equipped with tracking software are one solution. But you might also find it handy if your phone is lost or stolen.

AccuTracking is the only cell phone tracking system I know of that that will work with a regular cell phone (feature phone). Unfortunately, it can't be used with ANY feature phone, only certain models. It also works with Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile phones, but not iPhones. The AccuTracking service lets you see the real-time location and speed of the phone being tracked, and will send email or text message alerts if that person moves outside of a designated boundary or exceeds the speed limit. An AccuTracking starter kit, which includes a compatible Motorola iDEN phone, costs $99. The additional service fee will cost about $16 per month.

Other Mobile Phone Tracking Software

If you have an Android-based phone you can install a free app called Pintail that will help you locate a mobile phone. If your phone is lost, just send it a text message from any other phone, with a special PIN code. Pintail will do a little magic to pinpoint the location of the phone, and then send a return message, containing the location and a link to Google Maps. That's cool. Prey is a similar app that can help you track a phone, tablet or laptop. Prey uses GPS or wifi to triangulate the location of your device, but it can do much more. Take a picture of the person using your phone, grab a screenshot, sound an alarm, zap your stored passwords or lock down the device. You can download Prey or Pintail via the Google Play Store on your phone. Both are free.

For more information about finding and retrieving lost phones, see my related article Find a Lost or Stolen Phone.

Did you know that GPS enables very precise tracking, down to as little as one meter (roughly 39 inches). But GPS is not the only way to track a cell phone. Older phones not equipped with GPS can be triangulated. A phone's signal, received by any three nearby cellular service towers, pinpoints its position within a relatively small area. But this type of cell phone tracking would require the cooperation of your service provider and law enforcement.

Phone Tracking Scams

Can you track a phone just by entering its number on a Web site? Not unless you're in law enforcement with access to sophisticated equipment and (in the United States and many other countries) a court order authorizing that phone's service provider to assist you. Don't be fooled by Web sites that say, "just enter any phone number to pinpoint its exact location." They are hoaxes, one and all. Some are harmless jokes, but many are collecting phone numbers to sell to telemarketers. Some may attempt to download malware to your computer.

While we're dealing with ethics, or the lack thereof, consider this. If the possibility of being tracked via your cell phone bothers you, then maybe it's not something you should do to someone else without his or her permission. In certain places, there are laws against secretly installing tracker apps on other people's phones. At least one bill in the US Congress would prohibit cyberstalking -- the covert monitoring of a person’s location.

Do you have something to say about cell phone tracking? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Posted by on 15 Feb 2013


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Most recent comments on "How to Track a Cell Phone"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

snert
15 Feb 2013

Then the battery goes dead...


Posted by:

Cell user
16 Feb 2013

Why didn't you mention Lookout Mobile Phone Security? It locates a phone on a Google map, can sound an alarm on your phone if you misplace it even with the volume turned off, lets you lock or wipe your phone if it's stolen, AND has a virus scanner. It has a new feature that enables your phone to send a signal when the battery is about to die, so you can find it on a Google map if the power dies completely and it's lost. Most of the features are free. Prey is great for a lost or stolen phone, but Lookout is better for day-to-day locating.


Posted by:

Nigel
16 Feb 2013

If I was a parent, I would only use tracking to find my daughter when her car broke down. Never to check whether she went to the library like she said. And never to see if she's visiting Brad even though I told her to stay away from him.

And if I were the young woman, I would never thick to call my Dad if my car broke down. Or to turn the phone off when I didn't want to be tracked. And I would know my Dad was only concerned about my safety and not a snooping control freak who does not trust me.

Yes, this could only turn out in the best possible way.


Posted by:

Mike
16 Feb 2013

Thanks for the article. You've mentioned some I've never known about. I've been using one you've mentioned before- Lookout, which also is supposed to give some protection against viruses. It has worked well for me, and the other day it sent me an email when my battery was dying (when I didn't even realize it!) It's been very accurate in locating a misplaced phone.


Posted by:

DJRosen
17 Feb 2013

This cellphone tracking article has to be the most damaging piece yet written. There's enough intrusion from other sources. Why make it worse?


Posted by:

Judyth Lapomme
18 Feb 2013

Please let me add a small but important point: the wide use of cellphones has attracted attention from people many users seem unaware of--that is, those who use geolocation for their own commercial ends. They range from the relatively benign (the maker of an app that tells you which restaurants are nearby) to the obtrusive (the sender of SMS spam to local consumers) to the downright nefarious, who collect your location and other personal information from your phone with malware and use it or resell it to others for criminal purposes.

One reason I have not traded up from my old Samsung flip-phone is that I can turn off the internal GPS for general purposes but easily turn it on if I'm unlucky enough to need emergency services. (I also don't use it for banking or web browsing.) "Smart" phones are tempting but they're increasingly infested with adware, malware and unpatched security holes.

BTW, Bob, I owe you a lot: I was a complete newbie in 1991 when I discovered your Tourbus and learned what a freelancer needed to know about the Internet to make a go of it. Thank you for starting me off on the right foot!


Posted by:

Lee McIntyre
19 Feb 2013

DJRosen opined, "This cellphone tracking article has to be the most damaging piece yet written."

Really? Every single app Bob mentioned requires the informed consent of the cell phone user ... or it requires a particularly careless cell phone user who would leave their phone unlocked and unattended.

People who frequently leave their phones unlocked and unattended should perhaps consider whether they're responsible enough to handle a cell phone.

I'm not addressing you with that admittedly snide remark, DJRosen. I'm addressing people who frequently leave their phones unlocked and unattended.


Posted by:

Heyjude Cooper
22 Feb 2013

We are offering phone tracking software to track the GPS location, it can be used for all smartphones.
http://www.spy-mobile-phone.com/track-mobile-phone-location.html


Posted by:

Lowell Smith
10 Mar 2013

You said..."have to download and install a Google App on your phone or computer to do this."

I tried to download Google Latitude to my Windows 7 computer and but it seems to be only for smartphones. What am I missing???

EDITOR'S NOTE: On PCs, it's a web based service. Nothing to download.


Posted by:

Bodntur
23 Apr 2013

a Better way is to use http://www.3nus.com/locator, no need to install anything, just enter the other side phone number and send him link in SMS, all he has to do it click on the link, and you'll get his location.


Posted by:

jv
04 May 2013

my phone was stolen and i know his number and mine as well. im pretty sure he has a smartphone but mine is not. i need an online program to find this person and my phone. please help with a website or link that will work.


Posted by:

Marcus
05 Oct 2013

Hi,
How can I use this if the phone is offline?


Posted by:

John
28 Oct 2013

I am using a free tool downloaded from truspy.net. It can track your phone 24/24 and does not require internet connection nor GPS turn on.
Great tool, indeed.


Posted by:

lisah
02 Dec 2013

Use some trusted cell spy tracker apps like phone sheriff: http://www.adiguo.com/phone-spy-reviews.html
it helps track cell gps and sim change once stolen.


Posted by:

randy wagoner
03 Dec 2013

i need a past triangulation of my cell phone to prove i was not somewhere at a certain time on a certain date for court how do i get this?

EDITOR'S NOTE: If the mobile phone company can't help you, maybe the NSA?


Posted by:

John
05 Dec 2013

Hello, Is this software can record calls? I wish I could listen to my phone calls and save them on my hard drive. I always use this software http://gpsonphone.com/spybubble/looking-for-a-way-to-track-phone to this. Thank you.


Posted by:

John Rogers
11 Jan 2014

Just for the record Bob it seems that Google latitude has been taken down and you now have to use Google + and that is not going to happen in my lifetime. Thanks for all the great info on your site. I am a tired old geek so when I get questions now I just send them a link to your site :-) Much easier that way.
Thanks
John


Posted by:

Kahn
28 Jan 2014

Track phone by SMS: http://www.truspy.net/send-sms-commands.aspx


Posted by:

John1978
25 Feb 2014

I have been using truspy for years to read whatsapp message in real-time. So far so good.


Posted by:

Kim
03 Jun 2014

Google Latitude was retired on August 9th, 2013. Products retired include Google Latitude in Google Maps for Android, Latitude for iPhone, the Latitude API, the public badge, the iGoogle Gadget, and the Latitude website at maps.google.com/latitude.


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