Getting your own phone records should be easy: you simply call up the phone company. However, problems arise when you want someone else’s phone records. In that situation, there are different methods you can use. If you want to see who your child has been talking to, you can install monitoring apps on the phone. Or if you need phone records as part of a lawsuit, then you can request them. Nevertheless, you must be careful to avoid breaking the law. Curiosity is not an acceptable reason for hacking into someone’s phone or opening their mail.
Asking the Phone Company for Your Records
Call your phone company.
Identify the months you want to see and then call the phone company. Ask them if you can get a copy of the phone records and tell them the dates.
- You’ll probably be asked questions to prove that you are the owner of the account. For example, you might have to provide your account number, phone number, address, and PIN or Social Security Number.
- You can’t get the records for someone else. For example, you can’t call up your boyfriend’s cell phone provider and request his records. However, if your name is on the plan, then you can request the records.
Pay a fee.
Ask ahead of time how much the company charges for you to get a copy of the records. You may be charged for the records, especially if you request paper copies. However, you might be able to get a scanned PDF for free.
Request records online.
You might be able to request phone records through the phone company’s website. You should log in and check for a link that will let you request them. The link might say “usage,” “records,” or something else.
- For example, T-Mobile lets you log into your account and then download your usage records.
- You’ll have to create an account first before you can make an online request. Typically, you need to create a username and password. Make sure to have your account number handy.
Monitoring Your Child’s Phone Use
Install a monitoring app.
You can search online or ask another parent what they use. Options include TeenSafe, mSpy, and The Spy Bubble. You can download it to your child’s smart phone and then gain access to their data. Compare the prices for these monitoring devices.
- Apps like TeenSafe can also track the location of the phone, so you can know where your child is.
- Install TeenSafe on a phone you own, which you then let your child use. Don’t sneak into your child’s bedroom and download the app onto a phone your child paid for. Children do have property rights in things they purchase.
Tell your children you are monitoring them.
If you don’t tell them, then they’ll be shocked if you find something objectionable and confront them. These “I caught you!” moments destroy trust. Ask yourself: do you like to be spied on?
- By telling your children upfront, you can begin a dialogue about digital safety and appropriate behavior on the phone.
- Of course, by telling your children, you tip them off that they will be monitored. Savvy teens could go buy a disposable cell phone. However, this is a risk you should take.
Monitor the phone usage every day.
You should set aside a specific amount of time to look at phone usage. If your child uses the phone a lot, you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of information to scroll through. Some teens send hundreds of texts a day. However, by spending some time each day, you can make the process manageable.
- Typically, you’ll have to log into a webpage, which will contain the information you can browse.
Request phone records from the phone company.
If you own the phone and are paying for the service, then the phone records should be sent directly to you. Open them up and check the phone numbers your children have been calling.
- Also look at texts. You can’t read the message of the text, but you can note the time it was sent and the recipient.
- Promptly raise questionable calls with your children. For example, if you don’t recognize a phone number, ask your child who they were talking to.
Requesting Phone Records in a Court Case
File your lawsuit.
Probably the only way to get someone else’s phone records legally is to request them as part of a lawsuit. You must have a lawsuit already going on, and you can’t file a lawsuit simply because you’re curious about what’s in someone’s phone records. Instead, phone records are usually requested as part of the following:
- Divorce proceedings. You might claim that your spouse has been unfaithful, which could impact whether you get alimony. You can request phone records.
- Criminal trials. For example, the prosecutor might try to connect a defendant in a bank robbery to the driver of the getaway car. They can help establish a relationship using phone records.
- Business lawsuits. In any lawsuit, it might matter whether two people talked. For example, in a fraud lawsuit, you might want to prove someone spoke to you on a certain date.
Make a request for production
In most lawsuits, there is a phase called “discovery.” The purpose is to let each side request documents and information from the other side. As part of discovery, you can request production of the other person’s phone records.
- Ask for specific records. For example, identify the months or date range. If you make an unreasonable request—“all phone records in your life”—then the judge won’t allow the request. You should always have a reason why these records are important to the case.
- If you don’t know how to make a request for production, then you should work with an attorney. You can find an attorney by contacting your local or state bar association and asking for a referral.
Subpoena phone records from the phone company
If the other person won’t hand over their phone records, then you can subpoena them directly from the phone company. A subpoena is a legal command to turn over documents. To request documents, you will need a subpoena duces tecum. Because it can be complicated to request and serve properly, you might want to consult with a lawyer.
- You should find out the name of the person in charge of the phone company’s records department. Call up and ask. You will need to serve the subpoena on this person.
- There should be a request form you can fill out. Check with the court clerk for the courthouse. You can also search online, since some legal service organizations publish forms.
- The process for getting the subpoena authorized will vary by state and even court. Often, you’ll need to file the subpoena request with the court clerk and wait for the judge to sign off on it.
- You also must serve the subpoena properly, depending on the law. Acceptable service might be personal hand-delivery, first class mail, certified mail, or another method.
Avoiding Breaking the Law
Do not hack into someone’s account.
It is illegal to use someone’s password and username to access an online account. You may be committing identity theft and/or computer fraud. Accordingly, you should resist the temptation to access someone else’s phone records.
- There are no exceptions to the law because you suspect your spouse is cheating on you or think your business partner is trying to steal money from you.
- If you are convicted of computer fraud in the U.S., then you could go to prison for up to 20 years and pay a fine.
- A better strategy is to ask to have a conversation and explain what is bothering you. If you are afraid someone is cheating, then raise those concerns. Say, “Can we find some time to talk? I’m afraid we’re growing apart.”
Avoid opening someone’s mail.
It’s also illegal to take someone’s mail and open it yourself. Stop yourself before you pinch someone’s phone records and review them. You could go to jail for five years for intentionally opening someone else’s mail.
- There is no exception because you live in the same apartment or house with the person or because you gave them the phone.
- However, someone can give you permission to open their mail. Opening mail is illegal only when done without permission.
Don’t steal someone’s phone.
Another way to find out who someone has been talking to is to look at their call logs. Most cell phones and smart phones store this information. You might be tempted to pick up someone’s phone and scroll through to see who they have been talking to.
- Avoid taking someone’s phone, even for a brief period of time. You could be breaking multiple laws.