There have been at least two cases of unwanted Apple AirTag tracking in Pennsylvania. FOX43 reveals that there is not much protection for victims.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Apple AirTags are designed to help you find lost items, like your keys or wallet. They’re cheap and easy to buy online, but in recent months criminals have used tracking devices to stalk people and steal cars.
Across the country, people are finding Apple’s AirTag hidden on their cars or in their belongings. Unsuspecting victims received an alert on their iPhone that a device had been moving with them for some time and the AirTag was first spotted at least an hour earlier.
Some people have reported that they only received a notification a few hours later. There have been at least two cases of unwanted Apple AirTag tracking in Pennsylvania.
The Lower Providence Township Police Department is actively investigating an incident that occurred Jan. 14. A victim believes an Apple AirTag was pinned to his car while he was at the Movie Tavern in Upper Providence Township. When they returned home from the movies, they received an alert that an unknown accessory had been detected with them and the owner of the item could see their current location.
The victim looked out the front window and saw an unknown vehicle sitting in the road. The car started once the victim started approaching them. The victim received another notification on his phone that the device was currently traveling east, then eventually disconnected once the vehicle was out of sight.
“They’re about the size of a quart, so you can put it in a gas cap. There was a case recently in Bethlehem. The tracking device was actually placed inside a a bumper by duct tape,” said Corporal Brent Miller of the Pennsylvania State Police.
In October, the suspect brazenly kidnapped the mother of his children and used an Apple AirTag tracking device on the victim’s car, Bethlehem police said.
Ruben Carrion Melendez, 27, faces charges of kidnapping, unlawful restraint, threatening terrorism, recklessly endangering another person and simple assault. Melendez also has an active protection against abuse (AFP) order for stalking the victim.
Mary Quinn, president and CEO of YWCA Greater Harrisburg, said tracking devices like this pose a serious threat to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
“We know that as technology evolves, these issues become increasingly important. Historically, we are very aware that many of our victims can be tracked by their abusers through their phones. We don’t see as many harassment situations that are random, that are perpetrated by a stranger or individuals that don’t have a relationship,” Quinn said.
Between July 2021 and February 2022, 49 domestic violence cases handled by the YWCA Greater Harrisburg involved harassment. This is a jump of 16% over the previous year. FOX43 reveals that there is not much protection for victims.
Rachel Yonkunas: Is it illegal to stalk someone or is it really a matter of intent?
Corporal Miller: Harassment cases are very specific. Currently, there is currently nothing in the law that specifically focuses on Apple AirTags or a tracking device of that nature.
State Rep. John Galloway, a Democrat who represents parts of Bucks County, plans to introduce a bill banning remote harassment with Apple AirTags. The proposal is being circulated to the co-sponsors and it is unclear when it will be presented to the House.
“Since the introduction of Apple AirTags in April 2021, I have seen numerous articles about predators placing AirTags on victims’ vehicles, purses, and even coat pockets to track their location,” said the representing Galloway. “My legislation would protect Pennsylvanians by ensuring this wrongful act is addressed by updating our Crimes Code to prohibit anyone from tracking their location or property without consent.”
FOX43 Reveals tested an Apple AirTag to see how easy it is to track someone and how quickly unsuspecting victims are notified. We drove around Lancaster County with the device in our car. The AirTag owner remained more than six miles away. The owner could see a map of our exact path as we zigzagged around the county, in real time. We didn’t receive an alert that our location was visible until an hour later.
Apple has since additional security features to prevent misuse. The company also plans to update its unwanted tracking alert system to notify users earlier that an unknown AirTag or Find My accessory may be traveling with them.
Rachel Yonkunas: Now there’s a concern from Android users who don’t have an iPhone. Will they receive this notification? Will they know they are potentially being stalked by someone?
Corporal Miller: They won’t.
Google and Apple have worked together to create an app called “Tracker Detect”. Android users should download this app and proactively use it to search for nearby AirTags.
Disabling Bluetooth or location services will not prevent unwanted tracking. FOX43 reveals that the only way to deactivate the device is to find the AirTag, tap on the instructions to deactivate and follow the on-screen steps. Only then will the owner of the AirTag no longer receive updates about their current location and yours.
“If you find an Apple AirTag that doesn’t belong to you that looks truly suspicious, contact your local law enforcement immediately,” Corporal Miller said.
Each AirTag has a unique serial number, and paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID. Apple said they can provide these account details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement and have partnered with them in cases that have led to an arrest and charges.
FOX43 Reveals issues affecting you and your family to keep you informed. If there is a matter you would like us to investigate, email us at [email protected]
RELATED: The Battle for Books in Pennsylvania Communities | FOX43 reveals
RELATED: How Data Gaps Can Hide Domestic Violence | FOX43 reveals