Police say a person used an Apple AirTag to stalk a victim in Montgomery County, the latest incident in a disturbing nationwide trend of criminals utilizing the popular tracking device.
On Friday at 8:44 p.m., the victim told police they had just returned to their home in Lower Providence after visiting the Movie Tavern in Upper Providence Township when they received a message on their iPhone from Apple.
The message stated, “Unknown Accessory Detected – This Item Has Been Moving With You For A While.”
When the victim went inside their home, they looked at their phone again and received another message that read, “Safety Alert, Your Current Location Can Be Seen By The Owner Of This Item. You May Be Carrying This Item, Or It Could Be Located Closely. If This Item Is Not Familiar To You, You Can Disable It And Stop Sharing Your Location.”
The victim then received a map of the area showing that at 7:19 p.m. that night, the device was activated near the Movie Tavern and then traveled with the victim until they returned to their home at 8:38 p.m.
The victim then looked out of their front window and spotted an unknown vehicle sitting just down the roadway outside the home. When the victim approached the vehicle it slowly drove away. As the vehicle drove away, the victim received another message on their phone stating the device was driving eastbound before it was disconnected once the vehicle was out of sight.
Police described the vehicle as an older model, light gray or silver hatchback, possibly a Subaru.
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Investigators later determined an Apple AirTag was used on the victim’s vehicle.
AirTags are tracking devices created by Apple last year that are normally the size of a quarter. The devices are relatively inexpensive and a popular way for Apple users to keep track of their belongings, such as keys and wallets. Law enforcement officials say criminals are now using the device to stalk victims or track vehicles they want to steal however.
“The battery life of an Apple Air Tag can last for more than a year before needing to be replaced,” a spokesperson for the Lower Providence Police Department wrote. “Even though Apple Air Tags are designed to discourage unwanted tracking, it can still occur. We urge everyone to be vigilant of their surroundings and if you get a notification like the one reported in this incident, call 9-1-1 immediately.”
If you have any information on Friday’s incident, call the Lower Providence Township Police Department at (610) 539-5901.
What should you do if you discover you’re being tracked by an Apple AirTag?
“Law enforcement experts say don't go home — that could reveal where you live to the bad guys,” NBC News senior consumer investigative correspondent Vicky Nguyen told the Today Show.
Apple's product page for the AirTag says the device "is designed to discourage unwanted tracking." For example, your iPhone will ping you if an unrecognized AirTag device is found to be moving with you over time. If that alert goes unnoticed, the AirTag itself will eventually start making a sound.
“We take customer safety very seriously and are committed to AirTag’s privacy and security,” the company said in a statement. “AirTag is designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking — a first in the industry — that both inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them, and deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes.”
Don't have an iPhone? Apple released an app for Android users that allows people to scan for AirTags. Android owners can download the Tracker Detect app from the Google Play store.
However, unlike iPhones, Android phones will not automatically alert you to the presence of AirTags; users must actively open and use the Tracker Detect app if they suspect they are being followed.