Police warn of criminals using Apple AirTags to track people; here's what to look out for

Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 08:27:29-05

(WXYZ) — People are using a new Apple tracker technology to commit crimes. They are called Apple AirTags, and police departments across metro Detroit say criminals are sticking them on cars in an attempt to steal them.

In Dearborn, police say more than five cases were reported in just the past two weeks. The quarter-sized devices are also being used to stalk people.

In a now-viral video, model Brooks Nader said someone slipped one in her coat and tracked her all the way from a bar to her home.

The AirTags were designed to help people keep track of valuables. You can stick them on keys, wallets, or even your pet's collar.

It works by using the Bluetooth signals put out by phones, so when one is close by, even if it's not yours, the owner can tap into that signal and see your location.

Emily Holman, from Sterling Heights, was on a family trip to Walmart when she got a notification. Her "find my" app was letting her know 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 police.

If you get that notification, police say you should look through your pockets and bags, and the car, especially in hidden places.

"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," Lt. Mario Bastianelli from Sterling Heights Police said.

He added 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 and sometimes, they're triggered by nearby Apple AirPods or an Apple Watch.

Wentzloff said even he has received the eerie notification, but he's not suggesting you let your guard down. If you think someone is after you or your valuables, call the police.

"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."

There is a feature in the "find my" app that gives you the option to play sound out of the AirTag so it's easier to find. If you do happen to spot one, it's better to leave it where it is and have police check it out.