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As if there weren’t enough things to worry about, here is a new one. There have been several reports of people finding button-sized Apple devices, called AirTags, in their cars, purses, and pockets before realizing that they are being stalked. In this GKIS article, we will be discussing what AirTags are, how they are being utilized for stalking, what happened to Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, Brooks Nader, when she was being stalked, and how to keep yourself and your kids safe. For more information on technology and useful tips about how to make the internet a safer place for your family, check out our Screen Safety Essentials Course to get parenting and family coaching information, support, and other valuable information.

What is an AirTag?

AirTags are button-sized Apple devices that are supposed to help you locate your keys when they end up in your couch cushions. The idea is that you can use your phone to locate lost or stolen objects. This sounds great unless you are me and you are always losing your phone as well. Due to their small size, AirTags can be placed just about anywhere.

Here’s the Issue

Due to the small size, AirTags can be difficult to spot if some shadowy figure slips one of these into your pocket, purse, or car. There have been multiple reports of these coin-sized buttons being non-consensually used to stalk someone. They can be used to find out where someone lives or to find out where they go in real-time, which is frightening and potentially dangerous. They have also been used for other nefarious purposes like tracking nice cars to steal when they are in a more opportune location.

Strange iPhone Alerts

Recently, there have been multiple reports of people finding out they are being stalked through strange alerts coming from their iPhones. Brooks Nader, who is a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, recently discovered she was being stalked for several hours.[1]

While going about her day, she received a notification on her iPhone that said, “Unknown Accessory Detected,” with a warning that the item was moving with her for a while and the owner can see its location. She instantly took a screenshot and shared it on her social media asking her followers if they knew what was going on. With their help, she learned it was an AirTag. She eventually found that someone had slipped the AirTag into her pocket and tracked her location and followed her in their car for over 5 hours. They not only learned where she was going, but by stalking her they also discovered her regular routine and where she lived.

Kidnapping

One woman kept hearing a noise coming from her car. She pulled over and began looking for it but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. After going to the police, they took her car to a garage and located an AirTag wrapped in duct tape and stuck to the inside of the rear bumper. It turned out to be the father of her children whom she had a restraining order against. He later used the technology to locate her, run her off the road, and kidnap her.[2]

Finding Strange Devices

Other women have also found these items through security alerts or by finding the tags themselves. One woman found an AirTag on her car after leaving a bar. Another woman found an AirTag in her handbag, and her and her husband had to go online to find out what it was. Dr. B recently rented a car and discovered the car was being tracked by its owner. She received the notifications on her iPhone, but wrongly assumed it was somehow an alert about her iPad. Apparently, the notifications don’t make intuitive sense without doing extra research.

Car Theft

While the AirTags can be used to find a stolen object, thieves are using them to steal as well. There have been several reports of car thieves placing Bluetooth trackers on cars in parking lots or at dealerships. They then use these devices to wait until the cars end up in a location that is more suitable for auto theft. By doing this, they can reduce their risk of getting caught.

Apple Update

Apple has become aware of this problem and has put out several statements. They recently changed the item description to say it was “designed to discourage unwanted tracking.”[3] The iPhone Airtag alert notifies users when an AirTag is a certain distance away from the owner and has been travelling with the tracked person. In another effort, they try to discourage stalkers by requiring that it be linked to the purchaser’s Apple account.

There are still other issues as well. These alerts only go to iPhones. Therefore, if a user has a Samsung or any other type of phone, they will not be notified. Also, linking these to specific Apple accounts will not discourage criminals who can make a fake account. They can also use VPNs and other software to mask their location and identity.

Staying Safe

Here are some GKIS tips how you and your family can stay safe and avoid AirTag stalking:

  • Pay attention to iPhone alerts.
  • Stay vigilant and practice good situational awareness.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Stay informed.

Dr. B is in a unique position to help you to learn more about the potential dangers that your family could face when engaging with technology. She can help you to navigate safely throughout your journey as a practicing psychologist, university professor, and mother. In Dr. B’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time, she discusses and attacks the issue of raising a family while safely integrating technology rather than fearing it. Also, you can download the free GKIS Connected Family Agreement simply by creating a GKIS account on our website home page. Finally, Dr. Bennett’s Social Media Readiness Online Course for tweens and teens will give you the answers you are looking for and help you to navigate through these ever-changing waters!

Thanks to CSUCI intern, Michael Watson for researching AirTags and the issues surrounding them.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
GetKidsInternetSafe.com

Works Cited

[1] Court, A. (2022). Model stalked in NYC after stranger slips AirTag into her pocket. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2022/01/07/sports-illustrated-model-is-latest-victim-of-airtag-stalker/

[2] Cassi, S. (2022). Kidnapping suspect previously used tracking device on victim’s car, Bethlehem cops say. Lehigh Valley Live. https://www.lehighvalleylive.com/bethlehem/2021/10/kidnapping-suspect-previously-used-tracking-device-on-victims-car-bethlehem-cops-say.html

[3] Apple. (2022). AirTag. Apple. https://www.apple.com/airtag/  

 

Photo Credits

Photo by Đức Trịnh  (https://unsplash.com/photos/CXZz1NJgpO8)

Photo by Mael Balland (https://unsplash.com/photos/wcBFtctph_M)

Photo by Jonas Elia (https://unsplash.com/photos/72BTeQn3uX8)

Photo by Tamas Tuzes-Katai (https://unsplash.com/photos/rEn-AdBr3Ig)

 

Thanks to Kent Williams for the beautiful painting used for the thumbnail. (https://www.kentwilliams.com/paintings/2018/8/16/2018/8/16/m-w)

Picture of michael.watson507@myci.csuci.edu
michael.watson507@myci.csuci.edu
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