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Police warn of criminals using Apple AirTags to track people, cars

Apple AirTags
Posted at 8:23 AM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 15:29:45-05

Apple AirTags were designed to help people keep track of valuables — keys, wallets, even a pet's collar. They work using the Bluetooth signals put out by iPhones, so when an AirTag device is close by, the owner can tap into that signal and see its location.

But now, police say people are using the devices to commit crimes.

Police in Dearborn, Michigan, say they have received five reports in the last two weeks about criminals sticking AirTags on cars in an attempt to steal them.

Authorities also worry that the quarter-sized devices are also being used to stalk people. In a now-viral video, model Brooks Nader said someone slipped an AirTag in her coat and tracked her from a bar all the way to her home.

Emily Holman also says she was tracked by an AirTag. The woman from Sterling Heights, Michigan, was on a family trip to Walmart when she got a notification from her Find My app, letting her know that an unknown accessory was linked to her iPhone's network and could see her location.

It's a terrifying situation that Holman had seen all over the internet, so she called the police.

Police say that anyone who gets that notification should look through their pockets, bags and car — especially in hidden places, like a car's undercarriage or in the gas cap.

"They'll throw it in there and end up tracking that vehicle wherever it gets parked, and then they come back later and end up stealing the vehicle," Sterling Heights Police Lt. Mario Bastianelli said.

The devices are small and can be hard to locate. However, a feature in the Find My app gives users the option to play sound out of the AirTag, so it's easier to find.

Experts say that oftentimes, the notifications can be false alarms.

"These engineers set a threshold somewhere, and right now, it's dialed to give you more false alarms so that you have a way higher chance of catching the actual alarms," computer science expert Dave Wentzloff said.

According to an online Apple forum, dozens of people receive the alerts. Sometimes, they're triggered by nearby Apple AirPods or an Apple Watch.

Wentzloff said he's even received the eerie notification. But he says people shouldn't let their guard down. He says people should call the police if they think someone may be after them or their valuables.

"We want to go out there and put our citizens at ease," Bastinelli said. "Say, 'Hey, listen, we know what's going on, we are aware of the problems going on,' and whether it's actually something really to be concerned about or not."

Police say anyone who spots an unfamiliar AirTag should leave it where it is and have officers check it out.

This story was originally published by Alex Bozarjian on Scripps station WXYZ in Detroit.