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My phone is secretly texting people without my input!
September 20, 2009 7:51 PM   Subscribe

My mobile phone seems to have sent a text message to my girlfriend without my knowledge. I don't understand how. More details inside.

This afternoon, I was walking through a park here in Washington when I got a message from my girlfriend saying "Thanks?". I replied: "What?", wondering what she was referring to. She then sent a message back stating: "You sent me a text 5 mins ago?". I hadn't - my phone had been in my pocket for the previous hour - yet when I checked the previous message it showed that I'd sent one saying "How are you?I love you!Thanks" to her five minutes beforehand. Note the lack of a space between phrases; I've never typed a message like that.

My first thought was that it had been a "pocket text" - that somehow the cellphone had rubbed against something else in my pocket and sent a text to her. But I think the keypad was locked. Then I tried to work out how such phrases could have been entered in a text message and thought it must be some kind of "insert quick phrase" feature on the phone. But when I look closer at that feature and how it works it would have been highly unlikely that the phone could have navigated to it as it's quite convoluted to get to and, besides, the store of saved "quick phrases" is empty (it allows you to add some).

So I am baffled, though quite relieved it wasn't a more inappropriate message to someone else like my boss. Does anyone have any idea at all what might have happened? Is there some way to "spoof" a text message from a phone? Are these phones hackable? Could it have been something to do with Bluetooth (though I have never turned it on to the best of my knowledge)? Could someone have hacked my voicemail account and done something? My Verizon account on the website perhaps - can you send texts from there as if it's coming from the phone?

It's a Samsung U450 and is on Verizon Wireless. Other pertinent details: my girlfriend's name begins with K so she doesn't appear at the top of my contacts list and therefore wouldn't (I'd have thought) been the default recipient of a random pocket text - that'd surely be Adam. She's also on Verizon Wireless here.

I am really puzzled by this, and I understand technology fairly well, so if anyone can offer any insights I'd be very grateful.
posted by uk_giffo to Technology (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Some mobile phones have an assortment of pre-written texts that you can send pretty easily/carelessly... is there a chance a couple of these got put together and sent? That might not have taken many key presses. Check if your phone has these.
posted by setanor at 7:54 PM on September 20, 2009


I don't know, but today, my Blackberry Storm on Verizon started playing a song while the phone was locked in my pocket.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:00 PM on September 20, 2009


Thanks for your answer Setanor. That was the first thing I looked for and was what I was referring to with the "quick phrases" comment above. The phone has this feature but the pre-written text list is empty and ready for me to add my own custom phrases.

JohnnyGunn: it wasn't at 5.10pm was it? Maybe all phones on Verizon had some hiccup at the same time!
posted by uk_giffo at 8:01 PM on September 20, 2009


Well, if not that, I don't know... Verizon can be strange. I wouldn't be shocked if hitting the numerical keys for "HRU" or something creates a text with "How are you?" but I suppose it's not that likely.
posted by setanor at 8:03 PM on September 20, 2009


I assume your carrier probably supports some manner of email gateway, a la 1115550202@verizon.com or whatever (assuming your number is that random 111... stuff I just typed), so it's possible that the text got sent to her from someplace else and she just assumed it came from you.

Theoretically it's also possible the text was sent by someone else (and TO someone other than your girlfriend) but some perfect combination of errors caused it to appear to be from you (and likewise wires crossed in such a way to deliver the text to her). I wouldn't like to place odds on that scenario, short of saying they're astronomical. But not impossible.
posted by axiom at 8:06 PM on September 20, 2009


Erm, I meant to add, the odds are terrible but probably not that far from 'my phone has has learned human language and is unilaterally macking on my girlfriend from my pocket.'
posted by axiom at 8:07 PM on September 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


axiom: the message appears on my own handset as having been sent from the handset, if you know what I mean. It is indistinguishable from the other messages I've sent apart from the fact that I know I didn't write and send it.
posted by uk_giffo at 8:13 PM on September 20, 2009


Sorry, kind of skimmed past the bit where you got the message from your own outbox. It definitely suggests that your phone was the originator of the message. A couple of other questions:

1) Was your girlfriend the last person you sent a text to (or called)? I don't know about your phone, but my phonebook remember who I last contacted and will default to that when reopened (not necessarly to whomever is alphabetically first in the book). This may explain how it picked her to text. Does your T9 or whatever equivalent you have happen to know those phrases (don't ask me how to determine this, I hate T9 with the fiery passion of a thousand suns and always have it disabled)?

2) Have you recently added any kind of custom software to the phone? It's possible your phone now has some sort of (apparently harmless?) malware.

That, or your phone really has become sentient. I, for one, et cetera.
posted by axiom at 8:20 PM on September 20, 2009


Just thought I might chime in...

This same thing happened to my brother today. The message was one he did not send that went to his wife's phone. Both are on AT&T. I thought it was unlikely that I would hear of two separate incidents, seemingly similar in nature (and message), to be totally coincidence. Wonder that might be going on?
posted by bkeene12 at 8:33 PM on September 20, 2009


bkeene12: that's interesting, and all the more intriguing that it's an entirely different carrier.

axiom: no software added lately except the official email client downloaded directly from Verizon.

Maybe it is some kind of malware I got from browsing the Internet on the phone. But then I haven't been on any sites aside of The Guardian, BBC, MeFi mobile etc. If it happens again I could try and reset to factory settings or something.
posted by uk_giffo at 8:44 PM on September 20, 2009


Why are you ruling out a faulty memory? It seems just as likely that you malfunctioned as the phone did.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:55 PM on September 20, 2009


Meatbomb: I can remember exactly what I was doing at the time the message was sent. I was wandering around listening to my iPod and my phone was untouched in my pocket for a good hour before the phantom text was sent.

Incidentally if the message had have been "How are you? I love you." then I probably would've put it down to an old text message that I might've sent her ages ago which had just got lost in the ether and finally been delivered. But "How are you?I love you!Thanks" - no way I would send something like that.
posted by uk_giffo at 9:03 PM on September 20, 2009


Stupid question: Have you gone through older texts on you phone? Is there something similar?
posted by tcv at 9:22 PM on September 20, 2009


Btw, I hope you didn't tell your girlfriend it was an accident. Take the credit.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:45 PM on September 20, 2009


The only thing I can think of is that I've had text messages get stuck in the outbox for a while for no apparent reason (I have Sprint.) Maybe it was an older text that you didn't realize didn't get sent. So, you typed it at some point, but it didn't get sent until later. The "Thanks" could have been a T9 glitch that got stuck on the end. When I text in my phone, it will guess a word and if I backspace and don't pay attention, the extra word sometimes gets pushed to the end. The problem I have with this theory is that there is not a "T" in your text, but check and see - if you type a question mark, does the phone fill in "Thanks" after it? (If there was a previous text like: "Can you pick up lunch? Thanks." Then the phone will automatically fill in "Thanks" after a question mark. )
posted by artychoke at 9:57 PM on September 20, 2009


Recently it was discovered that with a certain version of the jailbreaking software in use on iPhones, when MMS was enabled (against AT&T policy) it was possible that a text sent by one jailbroken user would be simultaneously sent AND received by every other jailbreak user on the network. Not saying the same thing happened; just pointing out that it's both possible and rather easy for these types of odd snafus to occur where wireless phones are concerned.

I thinks it's plausible the network burped and your girlfriend got the same text everyone else got on her part of her network. Either that, or SkyNet is friendlier than we thought.
posted by littlerobothead at 10:43 PM on September 20, 2009


Occam's razor suggests Verizon network got its wires crossed -- every other explanation is wildly improbable. The least improbable of those is that it's some sort of malware, but I've never heard of malware that sends love notes.
posted by cj_ at 11:26 PM on September 20, 2009


Also, to expand a bit on something mentioned above.. someone could possibly spoof a text from you by sending an email to number@vtext.com or number@vzwpix.com and spoofing the FROM header as yours. I have no idea if this would be logged in such a way as your phone would add that to its outbox -- possible if it's managed externally. This seems unlikely to me, but just throwing that out there.
posted by cj_ at 11:31 PM on September 20, 2009


Let's cut through all of this straightaway: The real occam's razor answer is that your phone pocket-entered some templated text (whether or not it's currently stored in your templates list, or if there are other ways to invoke T9-weird-predictive stuff) and sent it. Verizon didn't get their wires crossed--the phone shows in your LOCALLY POPULATED outbox. Check again through all your options and see if the template exists, or see if you start re-typing that message, if there's any kind of word completion that kicks in. (My phone will start on the next word if you use the same pairs of words frequently.)

Moreover, it is NOT too strange to be coincidence. I'm guessing this happens hundreds of times a day. My phone once managed to pocket dial 911 once. That requires the EXACT RIGHT four keys being pressed in sequence, with nothing pressed before. And this sort of thing happens every. single. day. for 911 operators. So let's demystify things a bit and reckon that it HAS to be a series of templated responses--the phrases are EXACTLY like most phone's pre-built templates.
posted by disillusioned at 12:36 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Everyone referring to network glitches and Occam's Razor are missing the vital point that the sending phone has the message in its outbox. No network fault can place messages in a phone's outbox that didn't originate from that handset. Spoofing and email-to-SMS gateways are irrelevant for the same reason.

I can't answer the question but the one thing we know for sure is that the text came from your phone somehow, not from anywhere else.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:39 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't believe no one's asked what kind of phone you're using yet. There are now a number of mobile phone viruses that use malformed SMS to spread, and that was my first thought reading this.
posted by awesomebrad at 6:03 AM on September 21, 2009


awesomebrad: "I can't believe no one's asked what kind of phone you're using yet."

uk_giffo: "It's a Samsung U450 and is on Verizon Wireless."
posted by turkeyphant at 6:26 AM on September 21, 2009


Someone with a bluetooth hacker was playing games?

But the unsent message suddenly getting sent explanation makes the most sense.
posted by gjc at 6:44 AM on September 21, 2009


When you say your phone was "in your pocket", is that a trouser pocket, or a jacket/bag pocket? Did you leave that pocket unattended at all shortly before the text was sent?

Some people have weird senses of humour and no boundaries about other people's technology, is what I'm saying.
posted by Hogshead at 7:08 AM on September 21, 2009


Thanks everyone for your ideas.

There's no way the message was an old message that finally got delivered. The style and content is just not right. As I mentioned I've never typed out a text in that style, without using a space after full stops or question marks. And I just never would use "I love you!Thanks"!

I agree that the spoofing explanation is very unlikely because, as someone pointed out, the message appears in my Sent folder exactly as if I'd sent the message from my phone.

I believe the U450 runs on a platform called BREW (though I should probably check that). It's not a Java compatible handset. But I don't know whether this would make the phone any more or less likely to be susceptible to some kind of malware/virus.

The phone was in my pocket, in my jeans. As in tightly, securely in my front jeans pocket. I was on my own, so no friends were with me and decided to play some kind of practical joke or something. The phone was in that pocket for a full hour before I apparently sent the phantom text.

Having slept on it, the explanation I'm feeling right now is that it is either some oddly harmless malware, or it was a pocket text that typed out some templated phrases and then somehow deleted the list of phrases afterwards, leaving it empty. I realise this is unlikely but so is every other explanation.

I don't know. As I said I'm also quite relieved it could have been a lot worse... could have sent a message to someone I'd just met with something incredibly obscene rather than just telling my girlfriend I love her (and "thanks") so I might just put it down to weirdness and make sure I keep an eye on the phone for any future weirdness.
posted by uk_giffo at 8:10 AM on September 21, 2009


Have those three phrases been sent from your phone individually before, and present in your SMS outbox?

Maybe a phone OS bug concatenated some previous sent texts into a "message" that the phone's OS then saw as a "new" message pending delivery. So the phone then sent the message. Concatenation could explain the lack of spaces, and the messages are otherwise mundane ("How are you?", "I love you!", "Thanks!" could be hanging around as distinct sent messages).
posted by galaksit at 10:08 AM on September 21, 2009


Do you believe in ghosts? No? Take another look at your phone. Clearly, the text was sent from your phone when no one else had access to it, which explains why I ask again... do you believe in ghosts?

...eh, me neither... but I had to ask.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:00 PM on September 21, 2009


I'm gonna go with Bluetooth - google for your phone + bluetooth + hacks & see what's out there.

http://www.google.com/search?q=Samsung+U450+bluetooth+hacks

(and do so from a browser you trust not to get hijacked by malicious websites).
posted by MesoFilter at 2:48 PM on September 21, 2009


but I've never heard of malware that sends love notes.

*cough*
posted by dhartung at 9:05 PM on September 21, 2009


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