HARRISBURG, Pa. — Apple AirTags are designed to help you find lost items, like your keys or wallet. They are cheap and easy to buy online, but in recent months, criminals have been using the tracking devices to stalk people and steal cars.
Nationwide, people are finding Apple’s AirTag hidden on their cars or in their belongings. Unsuspecting victims got an alert on their iPhones that said a device has been moving with them for some time and that the AirTag was first spotted at least one hour earlier.
Some people reported that they did not receive a notification until hours later. There have been at least two cases of unwanted Apple AirTag tracking in Pennsylvania.
The Lower Providence Township Police Department is actively investigating an incident that happened on January 14. A victim believes an Apple AirTag was pinned to their car while at the Movie Tavern in Upper Providence Township. When they returned home from the movies, they received an alert that an unknown accessory had been detected with them and the owner of the item could see their current location.
The victim looked out their front window and saw an unknown vehicle sitting down the road. The car drove away once the victim started to approach them. The victim received another notification on their phone that the device was currently driving eastbound and then eventually disconnected once the vehicle was out of sight.
"They’re about the size of a quarter so you can put it in a gas cap. There’s a case recently out in Bethlehem. The tracking device was actually put on the inside of a bumper by duct tape,” said Corporal Brent Miller of the Pennsylvania State Police.
In October, the suspect brazenly kidnapped the mother of his children and used an Apple AirTag tracking device on the victim’s car, Bethlehem police said.
Ruben Carrion Melendez, 27, is facing charges of Kidnapping, Unlawful Restraint, Terroristic Threats, Recklessly Endangering Another Person, and Simple Assault. Melendez also has an active protection from abuse (PFA) order for stalking the victim.
Mary Quinn, President and CEO of YWCA Greater Harrisburg, said tracking devices like this pose a serious threat to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
“We do know that as technology evolves these issues come to the forefront. Historically, we are very aware that a lot of our victims can be tracked by their perpetrators through their phones. We don’t see as many stalking situations that are random, that are perpetrated by a stranger or individuals who don’t have a relationship,” Quinn said.
Between July 2021 and February 2022, 49 cases of domestic violence handled by the YWCA Greater Harrisburg involved stalking. This is a 16 percent jump from the year before. FOX43 Reveals that there is not much protection for victims.
Rachel Yonkunas: Is it illegal to track somebody or does it really just come down to intent?
Corporal Miller: Stalking cases are very unique. Right now, there is currently nothing in the law that specifically is focused on Apple AirTags or a tracking device of that nature.
State Representative John Galloway, a democrat who represents parts of Bucks County, plans to introduce a bill to prohibit remote stalking with Apple AirTags. The proposal is being circulated for co-sponsors and it is unclear when it will make it to the House.
“Since Apple AirTags were introduced in April 2021, I have seen many articles about predators placing AirTags onto victims’ vehicles, purses and even coat pockets to track their location,” said Rep. Galloway. “My legislation would protect Pennsylvanians by making sure that this unwarranted act is addressed by updating our Crimes Code to prohibit someone from tracking one’s location or their belongings without consent.”
FOX43 Reveals put an Apple AirTag to the test to see how easy it is to track someone and how quickly unsuspecting victims are notified. We drove all around Lancaster County with the device in our car. The AirTag’s owner stayed more than six miles away. The owner could see a map of our exact path zig zagging around the county, in real time. We did not receive an alert that our location was visible until an hour later.
Apple has since added safety features to prevent abuse. The company also plans to update their unwanted tracking alert system to notify users earlier that an unknown AirTag or Find My network accessory may be traveling with them.
Rachel Yonkunas: Now, there’s a concern from Android users who don’t have an iPhone. Will they get that notification? Will they know that they’re potentially being tracked by somebody?
Corporal Miller: They will not.
Google and Apple worked together to create an app called “Tracker Detect.” Android users must download that app and proactively use it to scan for nearby AirTags.
Turning off Bluetooth or location services will not prevent unwanted tracking. FOX43 Reveals that the only way to disable the device is to find the AirTag, tap instructions to disable and follow the steps on screen. Only then will the AirTag owner no longer get updates on its current location—and yours.
“If you find an Apple AirTag that doesn’t belong to you that seems really suspicious, contact your local law enforcement agency immediately,” said Corporal Miller.
Every AirTag has a unique serial number and paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID. Apple said they can provide those account details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement and they have partnered with them on cases that led to an arrest and charges filed.
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