Can You Retrieve Deleted Text Messages From a Cellphone?

Though it's not commonly known, once an SMS, or short message service, message -- also known as a text message -- has been deleted, it's not necessarily gone for good. Some messages can be recovered, depending on the type of phone, the service provider and the technique used to retrieving the information.

Woman holding cell phone
Read text messages, even if they've been deleted.
credit: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

SIM Cards

Phones in the United States basically operate on one of two networks -- GSM or CDMA -- although a few smaller networks, such as iDEN, also provide service. Phones that run on GSM networks, used by providers such as AT&T and T-Mobile, use SIM cards. If your phone has a SIM card, usually located beneath the battery, you may be able to recover deleted text messages yourself.

Retrieving Texts On Your Own

Remove the SIM card from the phone and insert it into a recovery device such as the "SIM Card Spy," "Cell Phone Spy" or "SIM Recovery Pro." Insert the device into one of your computer's USB ports and upload the software that came with it. After your computer recognizes the device, click "Start," followed by "Computer." Then double-click the device icon. Click the "Deleted SMS Messages" or "Deleted Text Messages" button to view the messages you've just deleted.

CDMA Networks

If your phone doesn't have a SIM card in it, it's probably on a CDMA network, which includes service providers such as Sprint/Nextel, Verizon and Metro PCS. Unfortunately, you won't be able to retrieve the deleted text messages yourself on a CDMA phone because it stores the deleted text messages itself. Contact your service provider; if they're unable to help you, take your phone into a computer forensics lab near you.

Time Is of the Essence

Regardless of the network your carrier uses, time is of the essence when retrieving deleted text messages. After you delete messages, they're originally stored on the phone's SIM card or on the phone itself, as is the case for CDMA phones. As time goes on, however, the phone automatically deletes the oldest information to make room for new information. Although you can recover deleted messages from up to two years ago, the messages must be a year old or younger. The number of messages you send and receive is also a factor. Someone who sends a lot more text messages, for instance, will be less likely to recover very old texts, since the phone will delete information to make room for new information.