CLEVELAND — An Apple AirTag is a quarter-sized, Bluetooth tracking device. They are relatively cheap and are advertised as a “super-easy way to keep track of your stuff,” you just attach it to your keys or purse and you can find the item using an app.
But AirTags can also be used as a way to stalk people and track their location unknowingly.
It happened to a 29-year-old West Park woman, Monday.
“I was leaving Target in Fairview Park when I got the notification that an unknown device was tracking me and that the owner of the device could see my location,” she said.
News 5 is not sharing the woman’s name because she is still feeling uneasy about the situation.
Around 1:00 p.m. Monday, the notification that popped up on her iPhone said “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.”
But she said the disable feature didn’t work.
Alex Hamerstone is a tech expert at TrustedSec. He said this is happening more and more and law enforcement throughout the country are aware of the growing problem.
“People are using these AirTags to track somebody without their knowledge,” he said. “It's something about the size of a quarter and if you think about that, I mean, you can really hide a quarter just about anywhere. It can be slipped into a pocket or a purse, could be stuck to a car if you want to track someone's car,” he said.
The woman said through location settings in her phone, she could see how long the AirTag was tracking her.
“The tracker was put on my car at 8:00 in the morning and I wasn’t notified until 1:15 p.m,” she said.
That morning, she parked in Crocker Park’s garage to go work out at her gym.
“It followed me from Westlake to Elyria to North Olmsted and then back to Fairview,” she said.
She suspects the AirTag fell off on Center Ridge Road on her way home and when she got home, her boyfriend searched her car up and down. He couldn’t find the AirTag but did find double-sided tape underneath her back bumper.
Hamerstone said there are safeguards against stalking using AirTags, but not many. One safeguard is the alert that the woman received on her iPhone.
“If it notices an AirTag is traveling with you, that's not yours, it will provide an alert and the AirTags will also start beeping after somewhere between eight and 24 hours of it not being near its owner,” he said. “You can download an application to be able to identify if these are nearby.”
Apple published an AirTag safety guide here with a link to the app.
Android users won’t get a similar notification automatically, but they can download Apple’s Tracker Detect App.
Hamerstone said you can also take out the AirTag’s battery which will turn off its tracker right away, but the best advice he can give: go to the police.
“Apple works with law enforcement and they can see the serial number of this device and hopefully find out the owner,” he said.
In hindsight, the woman said she should’ve driven straight to the police department instead of her home, but she’s thankful the tracker was off by the time she got to her house.
“Just be informed about the dangers of what this can be, especially for little kids and teenagers and women traveling by themselves like I was. It’s just a really scary time right now, it’s a very, very uneasy feeling,” she said.