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AirTags stalkings, thefts are on the rise across the country: what you need to know

Strange chirping noises and alerts on iPhones have left some Americans on high alert for the past year and a half as they try to figure out why an unknown device is tracking their every move. It’s one of the latest crime trends that tech-savvy criminals are using to pull off auto thefts and stalkings, leading police departments across the country to warn residents to watch out for the new tactic.

“In a traditional stalking case, you usually have people making repeated or unwanted contact with a victim,” Dearborn, Michigan, police Sgt. James Isaacs told UKTN 2 earlier this year. “They follow them where they work, where they go to school, where they eat. Using the AirTag is just another way for them to do that in a more stealthy way.”

Dearborn is one of several law enforcement agencies that have been warning the public since last year to be on the lookout for criminals using Apple AirTags to steal or illegally track people.

Apple released AirTags in April 2021 as the latest way to find lost personal items like keys or handbags, and billed it with instructions to “Ping It. Find it.” AirTag owners can clip the little disc-shaped device to something they tend to lose, and simply ask Siri to track the AirTag, which has a built-in speaker that beeps when it’s on, or use an iPhone to track its exact location.

Criminals use Apple AirTags to commit thefts and stalk people.
Christopher Sadowski

But criminals have turned to the device to carry out plots to stalk their exes or even steal cars.

Last December, a handful of Nashville women raised the alarm that they were being tracked by suspected criminals based on unknown devices placed in cars.

“I was helping a friend leave her apartment and the trunk of my car was open and unlocked, and I was going in and out with boxes and loads of her stuff,” Ellie Tindall told News 2 last year.

She said she then believed suspected criminals had placed an AirTag in her car. She was made aware of the problem after returning home from helping her boyfriend move and saw an alert on her phone about “an unknown accessory was following her”.

Airtag tracking.
Several people have raised the alarm that they were being tracked using devices placed in their cars.
Facebook/Susan O’Neill

“I went out to check it out because I saw this on TikTok that this is something criminals do for robberies or sex trafficking. When I went out to look for the label, there were two men in hoodies waiting by my car, and as soon as they saw me open the door with three men, they turned and ran down the street,” Tindall said.

Another man in Nashville said he kept hearing a chirping noise coming from his car in February. His BMW was then stolen, WSMV reported at the time.

The man’s car was eventually recovered and the owner, Eric Johnson, was determined to find out if there was an AirTag in the car and possibly the reason why the vehicle was stolen. Johnson made the risky move of tearing apart a car door in search of the small device – he then found it in the door on a small ledge.

“It was quite a good feeling to find him and get him out of the car,” Johnson said at the time.

Airtag tracking.
Police departments across the country are warning residents to watch out for AirTag tracking.
Facebook/Susan O’Neill

It’s unclear if the AirTag was used to steal the car, but similar stories are playing out in other parts of the country and even abroad.

A man in Michigan had just bought a Dodge muscle car last December when he took it for a ride to run errands at a mall and hang out at a friend’s house.

“When I got out, I got a notification on my phone and it said I was being tracked by an unknown AirTag,” John Nelson told UKTN 2 last year.

Nelson said he could connect his phone to the AirTag and play a sound. Then he discovered that someone had unscrewed a drain plug under the trunk of his 392 Scat Pack 2018 Charger and placed an AirTag.

“If they want it bad enough, they’ll take it,” Nelson said.

The crime trend has even spread to Canada, where Toronto authorities warned residents about the trend earlier this year.

“These little things are used to mark a vehicle. What thieves do is they walk around, “shop” outside in parking lots, and when they find a car they like, they tape it to the car or put it on the car in some way,” Officer Marco told Ricciardi from Toronto. City news this summer.

For others, especially women, the use of AirTags by criminals is terrifying.

A Cincinnati police officer was sentenced to probation this fall after pleading guilty to stalking a woman. According to court documents, Darryl Tyus placed an AirTag on the woman’s car and was able to track her for weeks without her knowledge.

Last week, an Iowa man was arrested and charged after he allegedly placed an AirTag on a woman’s car and followed her. The victim in the case was reportedly alerted to the AirTag by a telephone call and found the device in a spare tire. The victim then drove the device to a police station in West Des Moines, according to WHO Des Moines.

The suspect, 63-year-old Carl Steven Shawver, then tracked the device to the station and told officers he placed the device on the car of a woman he claimed was his wife because he believed she was having an affair . At least three AirTags were found on the victim’s personal belongings, the local news center reports.

Brooks Nader on Airtag satlking.
Swimsuit model Brooks Nader came forward last year about stalking with an AirTag.

Court documents show that Shawver and the victim never had a relationship and that the victim had blocked Shawver from contacting her.

Swimsuit model Brooks Nader said earlier this year that she was followed by a stranger who put an AirTag in her jacket while she was in New York City. And another woman in the Philadelphia area said a trip to the movies became terrifying when she got home and was warned by phone that an “unknown accessory” was “going with you for a while,” the Philly Voice reported in January.

“Stalking and stalkerware existed before AirTags, but Apple made it cheaper and easier than ever for abusers and attackers to track their targets,” Albert UKTN Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told Motherboard earlier this year. “Apple’s global device network gives AirTags the unique power to stalk around the world. And Apple’s massive marketing campaign has helped bring this kind of technology to the attention of stalkers and abusers who would otherwise never know about it.”

Apple sent UKTN News Digital in February an update posting on its website about additional security measures the company is taking in light of “reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes” and becoming aware “that individuals may be using unwanted receive tracking alerts for benign reasons.”

In addition to working with “various security groups,” Apple is also working with law enforcement departments on crime issues surrounding the devices.

“Each AirTag has a unique serial number and linked AirTags are linked to an Apple ID. Apple may provide the associated account information in response to a subpoena or valid law enforcement request. We have successfully worked with them in cases where the information we provided was used to trace an AirTag back to the perpetrator, who was subsequently apprehended and charged,” Apple said on its website.

Two women filed a class action lawsuit against Apple earlier this month alleging that AirTags made it easier for them to be stalked and harassed.

“What sets the AirTag apart from any competitor’s product is its unparalleled accuracy, ease of use (it fits seamlessly into Apple’s existing line of products), and affordability,” the lawsuit said. “At just $29, it has become the weapon of choice for stalkers and abusers.”

One of the plaintiffs in the case said she discovered AirTags on personal belongings months after she divorced her husband. The other accuser, identified as Lauren Hughes, said he began stalking her after breaking up with a man. After blocking him and living in a hotel to stay safe and anonymous, she was alerted that an AirTag was near her.

“In addition, there is a gross imbalance between the protections available to iOS/Apple users and those with Android devices, leaving Android users almost defenseless to tracking/stalking using an AirTag,” the lawsuit said. .

Apple told UKTN News Digital that it does not comment on pending lawsuits when asked about the lawsuit.