PHOENIX - In recent months, reports of people using Apple AirTags to allegedly "stalk" people have surfaced around the country, and now, we are hearing similar reports in the Phoenix area.
We reached out to several law enforcement agencies in the Phoenix area to see if they're seeing reports of people being tracked by AirTags unknowingly, and so far, only Glendale Police department officials say they have an active domestic violence case involving an AirTag.
While we may not be seeing many reported cases, we are hearing from people alerted by a strange notification.
AirTags were described in an 2021 Associated Press article as a "coin-sized devices that can be attached to keys, backpacks, purses and other items to help people track them down via iPhone if they’re misplaced."
The product, which costs about $30, was officially released for sale by Apple on April 30, 2021.
While many people use the device to track down their own items, there are some people who are now using it for nefarious reasons.
Victims of alleged 'AirTag stalking' speak out
There are now people who claim they have been unknowingly tracked by an AirTag after their iPhone notifies them, saying that a device is detected near them.
"It just made me really scared. Like I didn't want to leave the house, and I didn't want to go anywhere, especially at night or by myself," said Cyndi Miles.
Miles, who is 19, is from Glendale. She said she was tracked late at night, going from a convenience store to a fast food store, then to a relative's house, and then back home. By the time she was notified about the AirTag, it was hours later.
Miles claims a man and a woman watched her as she went into a store.
"While I’m in the store, he's still looking at me, so I just kind of like went to the whole opposite side of the store, and the lady got out, but she never came in the store, so I kind of figured it was them," said Miles.
Several hours later, Miles was alerted to an unknown accessory detected near her. The experience left Miles uneasy for days.
"I didn't do anything for Christmas. I didn't go out for New Year's. I didn't do anything," said Miles.
Another woman, identified as 'Katie,' said her teenage daughter was with friends last month when they got tracked by an AirTag.
"I got a frantic phone call from my daughter who said that she had picked up a notification that there was an AirTag with them," said Katie. "They had been at an escape room around the Scottsdale and Shea area, and it had tracked them all the way up to Cave Creek, where they made their first stop. So it had tracked them around the parking lot, and the detail on these trackers are pretty incredible."
Katie's daughter is only 16.
"She was a little bit shaken up. I think that it was a distressing idea that she’s not necessarily invincible at 16. There’s that idea that nothing is going to go wrong, and so, I think having a little bit of a wake up call made her see the world a little bit differently, but hopefully, it’ll allow her to keep her eyes out as well," said Katie.
Katie was asked how concerning it was for her, as a parent, to learn about what happened.
"It's pretty concerning," Katie replies. "I think that we're very fortunate that she has the technology and received the notification to begin with, but I can't imagine somebody who has an Android phone or isn’t looking for this type of tracking device."
‘Stalking,’ as defined in Arizona law
According to state law, stalking is committed when a person intentionally engages in a course of conduct directed toward another person, causing the victim to suffer emotional distress, fear their property will be damaged or destroyed, or fear that they will get injured or even die. The same concern goes for someone or something they care about.
The statute does mention use of any electronic device surveilling a person for 12 hours or more, or on at least two occasions over time without permission.
AirTags also used to track cars
Alleged stalking is but one illicit act that has been linked to AirTags. In Detroit, Michigan, a man said he recently discovered an unknown AirTag on his new Dodge Charger. He believes car thieves targeted his ride to steal and scrap the parts.
"It could be an inside job, a friend of a friend. ‘Hey, you wanna make a quick buck'" said the man.
Meanwhile, a police department in New York has already warned its community about unknown AirTags placed on vehicles. In Canada, police have also documented instances where AirTags were used to follow and locate luxury cars to steal.
Tracking abilities demonstrated
To demonstrate the tracking abilities of an AirTag, we put a tracker on one of our FOX 10 staff members, Alexa.
"It's about 5:40. I just got to Target. I'm gonna walk around, grab a couple things. I got my purse with me with the Apple AirTag, so we'll see if Justin can track me," said Alexa.
Just three minutes later, Alexa was tracked to the Target she was at. She was not notified that an AirTag was detected while at the Target. Finally, after more than four hours, Alexa is notified that an AirTag is with her.
Apple officials respond
In response to safety concerns, officials with Apple Inc. released a statement, which reads, in part:
Apple officials also say if a user feels their safety is at risk, they can contact law enforcement, who can work with Apple to get information on the unknown AirTag.
For Android users, Apple officials say an app called 'Tracker Detect' is available in the Google Play Store. The app allows Android users to scan for unknown trackers, but it must be used proactively, and if the tracker has been with someone for longer than ten minutes, that person should be able to play a sound on the device to find it.
Apple officials also say an AirTag will sound off to alert a person in a randomized time window of eight to 24 hours. However, website pcmag.com reported on Feb. 3 that AirTags with speakers removed were made available for sale on websites like Etsy and eBay.
Still, for those affected, the experience of being followed through a screen is not something simply deleted from their memory.
"I gotta pay attention to everybody and everything," said Miles. "The way I trust is different now. Like, a lot different. Like, I don't want to just be around anybody. I don't want to just leave my car unattended."
Private Investigator speaks out
Tracking devices have been around for a long time, but AirTags are still fairly new. As concerns surrounding the new product mount, a private investigator said this is just another example of new technology being abused in the wrong hands.
"Every time a new technology comes along, somebody finds a way to misuse it," said Rich Robertson.
As for the question of when does the situation become a criminal case, Robertson says it depends on the circumstances, as well as the intent of the AirTag owner who is tracking someone without them knowing.
Robertson said he has seen similar scenarios in his line of work.
"In divorce cases where one spouse wants to know where the other spouse is taking the kids, and that can become an issue in their divorce case, so it isn't just in the criminal nature. It can show up in some civil and family court cases as well," said Robertson, who works with R3 Investigations.
Robertson says personal safety is not the only thing at stake.
"It isn't just personal safety. It's a safety of property as well that’s become an issue here," said Robertson.
On Feb. 10, Apple released a statement regarding an update on AirTag and unwanted tracking:
For more information on how Apple is working with law enforcement, advancements coming to AirTag and the Find My Network, along with updates they plan to introduce later in 2022, see https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2022/02/an-update-on-airtag-and-unwanted-tracking.
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