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Apple AirTag Allegedly Hot New Tool for Car Thieves

Over the last few weeks, there has been an influx of news articles linking Apple’s AirTag tracking devices to car theft. Apple released the coin-sized device in April as a way to help people keep tabs on their keys, luggage, any number of other personal possessions. But reports have emerged claiming that thieves are now using them to mark and track vehicles they later want to steal.

The scenario usually begins with a person who has parked their automobile in a public lot when a thief spots a model worth taking. The device is then affixed to the vehicle in an inconspicuous spot and the criminal waits until the owner is fast asleep. However, some version of the story also involves crooks targeting high-end automobiles in the hopes that it resides at a home with similarly high-end goods worth robbing. Since there are similar devices on the market, it’s odd that Apple would be singled out. But the AirTag was updated by the company to reduce the length of time the trackers would need to be away from its owner before it began to alert iPhone users who have been traveling in close proximity to the device as a way to prevent stalking attempts. This resulted in a number of them being found out before cars were stolen. 

“Since September 2021, officers have investigated five incidents where suspects have placed small tracking devices on high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them,” Canada’s York Regional Police stated earlier this month. “Brand name ‘air tags’ [sic] are placed in out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when they are parked in public places like malls or parking lots. Thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim’s residence, where they are stolen from the driveway.”

“Thieves typically use tools like screwdrivers to enter the vehicles through the driver or passenger door, while ensuring not to set off alarms. Once inside, an electronic device, typically used by mechanics to reprogram the factory setting, is connected to the onboard diagnostics port below the dashboard and programs the vehicle to accept a key the thieves have brought with them. Once the new key is programmed, the vehicle will start and the thieves drive it away.”

The tracker not only gives the thief an opportunity to scout vehicles they want to take, but it also provides some extra time to set up the necessary equipment for that specific model. But the connection to Apple seems to be a result of their being easier to find, provided the driver of a targeted car happens to have an iPhone or downloaded a third-party application for their Android. While we’ve seen reports of other trackers being used to swipe automobiles, the (typically more expensive) AirTags are the ones that keep getting found on people’s cars.

Fox 5 News reported that an Atlanta Police Officer found an AirTag wedged beneath a car in November after the owner said she was getting alerts from Apple.

“I went out with my siblings. I searched the car. We took everything out. We emptied purses. We emptied the car out. We looked underneath, behind the license plate, in the gas tank but we couldn’t find anything,” she said.

More recently, Fox 2 News in Detroit posted an article about a man who found one on a 2018 Dodge Charger 392 Scat Pack he purchased just two days prior. Owner John Nelson stated that he had visited Great Lakes Crossing shopping center in Auburn Hills for a couple of hours and then drove over to a friend’s house.

“When I got out I had a notification on my phone, and it said I was as being tracked by an unknown AirTag,” Nelson explained. “I was able to click on that notification and it gave me an option to have the air tag emit a sound and I heard it underneath my vehicle.”

The person had apparently unscrewed the drain plug in the trunk and tossed the device inside.

Incidents like these are becoming increasingly common, with police departments all over North America receiving calls from drivers who cannot find devices after getting a notification from Apple. But we’re inclined to believe there are just as many thieves using similar devices to keep tabs on target cars, making the solution a lot more complicated than telling everyone to go out and buy an iPhone.

Unfortunately, the only good solution is to fall back on immobilizer devices (kill switches, data port locks, etc) while making sure you’re vehicle spends as much time as possible in a place that’s difficult to get into. You could also opt to buy a manual-transmission car, as most thieves don’t seem to understand how to operate them, and upgrade your home surveillance system (though those can have privacy problems of their own if you’re not sure how to secure the network).

Otherwise, you’ll be having to go over your vehicle like the cops searching for smuggled heroin in the French Connection (or, better yet, Police Squad!) if you want to have the maximum peace of mind. Though dismantling an entire vehicle seems like a lot of work, especially since it would need to be done every time you got back from the store.

[Image: Daniel Jedzura/Shutterstock]

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