Apple AirTags being used by criminals for stalking, Dearborn police say

Apple AirTags being used by criminals for stalking, Dearborn police say

For as little as $29, you can buy one Apple AirTag to keep track of important things – like your keys, your bike, or even your car in case you lose it in a parking garage. But criminals are also tapping into this cheap tracking and are using it to track cars they want to steal or worse. According to police in Dearborn, they’re seeing an increase in the number of people using the cheap gadgets to stalk someone else.

The Apple AirTag is a device created to help people keep track of their misplaced items. But the seemingly harmless tool is being used by some to track people and commit car thefts. As authorities investigate these incidents, the devices are raising privacy and security concerns. 

What is an Apple AirTag?

An Apple AirTag is a coin-sized device used to help people locate personal items. AirTags can be attached to a key or backpack and consumers can track down their belongings with relative ease.

AirTags require the following Apple products to operate: An iPhone SE, iPhone 6s or later, an iPod touch with iOS 14.5, iPad Pro, iPad, iPad Air 2 or later, an iPad mini 4 or later iPhone to be on iOS 14.5.

The starting price for AirTags is $29 for a basic model. More expensive versions of the device are available in the form of an AirTag Hermès with prices ranging from $299 to $449. 

Using Apple AirTags for stalking

Over the past few months, more and more people are reporting being tracked by someone using an Apple AirTag that has been unknowingly placed on their belongings, including their cars. A Novi man told FOX 2 in December that he was alerted to an AirTag on his 392 Scat Pack 2018 Dodge Charger. 

“If they want it bad enough, they’re going to take it,” John Nelson said. 

But now Dearborn Police are saying it’s not just someone trying to steal a car.  Sgt. James Isaacs said, ever since the fall of 2021, his department has seen an increase in people reported they are being stalked. 

“In a traditional stalking case, typically you have people who are making contact or unwanted contact with a victim, repeatedly. They’re following them where they work, where they go to school, where they are going to eat. Using the AirTag is just another way for them to do that in more surreptitious way,” Isaacs said.

RELATED: Apple AirTags: How the device works and why it’s raising security concerns

While his department is seeing more reports, the crime of stalking someone with a GPS on their vehicle or with them is not new. What is new is the affordability of the AirTags.

“People have been using GPS trackers to stalk and harass people for a long time. The reason why this one has become so increasingly apparent now is, I think, due to the cost, the cost is significantly less than a traditional GPS tracker that people would get. Therefore, the ease of access is much higher,” Isaacs said.

How Apple AirTags work

Apple AirTags are created to prevent unwanted tracking. According to the Apple website, the AirTag will send out a Bluetooth signal that is detected by devices in “Find My network.” These devices send the location of an AirTag to iCloud. Apple users can visit “Find My app” and view it on a map. 

They’re supposed to actually help you keep track of some important things – like your car keys or your teenage driver. 

“The intended purpose of them, through Apple, is to use Apple AirTags to track things of value to you. Whether it be your car keys, your purse, or even your own vehicle – that way, if it does get stolen, they can find it much faster,” Isaacs said.

The owner of the AirTag will be able to find exactly where the device is using the ‘Find My’ function of their iOS device.

“It will report that Bluetooth signal back to the iCloud. Then the registered owner can pull up the find my iPhone application on their device, look at it and see the location of their devices, live. that’s how they can then use that to track where the AirTag is at and where the vehicle is at,” Isaacs said.

How to find an Apple AirTag

If you someone has placed an AirTag on your car or in your purse, iOS users will get a notification that an unknown AirTag is tracking them.

“It will alert you on your phone that an AirTag has been traveling with you. And then, on your phone, once you get the alert, you’ll be able to see how long it’s been traveling with you, what track it has taken with you, and then it will also give you the serial number for the device, which is what we need in law enforcement,” Isaacs said.

But that may cause some to think they’re not protected, particularly if you have an Android. However, Apple thought of that too.

“Android users can download from the Google Play store an app called Tracker Detect. This app was specifically designed by Apple. It functions in the same way that the ‘Find My’ application does in the Apple Store. It will also alert you, if you have an Android device, if an Apple AirTag or another device is following you,” Isaacs said.

Places to check for hidden AirTags are pockets, bags, and luggage, and behind license plates, in wheel wells or crevices on a vehicle. 

Where are AirTags found?

The reason AirTags are so popular is their price. They’re just $29 for one or $100 for four. And they’re tiny too – just a bit larger than a quarter – and that makes it easy to be hidden and hard to spot, even if you get a notification you’re being tracked.

“We’ve found them in between license plates and the actual car. We’ve found them in between seats. We’ve found them underneath seats, we’ve found them in people’s personal affects, like their purses. They’re very small, slightly larger than a quarter, and they can really fit just about anywhere,” Isaacs said.

What to do if you find an Apple AirTag

If you get a notification on your device that you’re being tracked by a device you’re not familiar with, call police. 

When you get that notification open it and you’ll see a serial number. Prepare to give that information to police as they’ll need it track down the owner.

“When somebody turns in an Apple AirTag to us, we can get the serial number from it and then we can send out a search warrant to Apple, requesting the registered owner’s information and then get that information back,” Isaacs said.

Is it illegal to put an Apple AirTag on a car?

In the state of Michigan, there is a law that makes it illegal for someone to unknowingly track another person with a GPS tracker.

This doesn’t apply to private investigators or law enforcement with the proper legal authority.

More Apple AirTags being placed

Isaacs said in the past week, they’ve had four cases alone of people being unknowingly tracked – but that’s only in Dearborn. He said that departments everywhere are seeing more cases.

“I’ve spoken with several officers from other agencies who are seeing this as well. Really, the only way to stop it is through information to the public. Making them aware of the crime pattern that’s going on so that they can be more aware in their surroundings to notify us within law enforcement. We’re always going to have these issues when it comes to technology and criminals finding ways to use them nefariously, but making people aware is the best way to stop it,” Isaacs said.

Dearborn is now working alert more people in the city about criminals planting the devices and is launching a PSA campaign.

“We want to be as transparent as possible with all of our citizens in ensuring that they are getting information that may affect their lives as quick as possible. With the increase that we’re seeing in the trend of these being used, we wanted to make sure that we get that information out to them so that they can be aware of it. If they get an alert on their phone that they’re possibly being followed by one of these AirTags, to immediately call 911, especially if they think that they are in danger,” Isaacs said.

What cars most often have Apple AirTags on them?

For whatever reason, Isaacs said Dodge Chargers are among the most often that get AirTags placed on them. 

“I don’t know what makes them so attractive, other than that they are easy to steal right now”
 



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