By on December 17, 2021

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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61 Comments on “Apple AirTag Allegedly Hot New Tool for Car Thieves...”


  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    that guy that JUST bought the car? previous owner wants to be able to “borrow” it

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    The moment I noticed Fox News being cited twice, I had to do a google search.

    Apparently, it is a thing.

    • 0 avatar

      Fox News? It is the most trusted source of news in America and Israel.

    • 0 avatar
      swester

      You were right to be skeptical in the first place about something oddly coming from two local FOX affiliates. Corporate media now owns local ‘journalism’, if you can even still call it that. Do you think that Google – an advertising-driven search engine – is any more of a trustworthy source of confirming the veracity of news? Doubtful.

      My sense is that the story is complete BS.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        @swester,

        What’s your take on this?
        https://abc7news.com/san-francisco-car-break-ins-oakland-why-not-to-leave-your-trunk-open/11341223/

        • 0 avatar

          That is what you are expected to do now in SF and Bay area – to leave your car unlocked if you do not want burglars to break windows in your car. BTW big retailers like Nordstrom and Target are asking Congress for financial help from taxpayers because of smash and grab theft new normal in California and may be in other democratic states too. The same companies were supporting financially defund police movement last year.

          • 0 avatar
            probert

            Your posts are banal and without merit. You have no idea what you are talking about.

          • 0 avatar
            Number6

            100% of the house Republicans voted to defund the Capitol police. You can look it up if you’d like. Leave the bias at the door already. It gets old.

        • 0 avatar
          swester

          Nearly all local news has sadly become corporate-managed, syndicated, and often political agenda-driven. I’m skeptical of the veracity of any story published by a local news affiliate.

          It’s funny when people flip out about the ‘politicization’ of cable news, when the worst of it is found on their hometown networks.

        • 0 avatar

          swester, our most popular local channel in SF bay area is KTVU-2 a.k.a. Fox-2 which is owned by… yes Fox News Channel. And that local Fox News is the only TV channel I watch every day during dinner with my wife (yes I am male in traditional sense) and I find them too liberal for my taste. But I do not watch original Fox News, CNN, NBS, and MSNBC because it’s all propaganda.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @Inside, so you admit to confirmation bias, only listening to or watching broadcasts that support your preconceptions or beliefs and disregarding anything that might prove them wrong. That is not conducive to critical thinking or creating new learning opportunities.

            As for this article. We have never truly been able to stop professional car thieves. They steal to order. And if they want a particular type of car, they will most likely get it.

            So the only thing new here is the technology they are using. Which proves that an old fashioned analogue vehicle with a manual transmission is the best possible theft deterrent.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @swester – I looked at various sources. That’s the whole point of using a search engine. It’s been reported as a problem in Canada by outlets not owned by Faux.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Lou – we also watch six various news sources – from Fox to MSNBC plus Euro news, BBC, and Bloomberg. I generally skip the talking heads that are on during the evening – those are mostly opinion programming masked as news. You get quite the picture of how a story can be filtered through a left/right lens and more importantly, how certain things are either glossed over or flat out not covered. All the testimony of the Jan 6th committee is a classic example. Much of it is either ignored on Fox or downplayed as a protest no different than the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd. They harp on the horror of their plastic tree being set on fire as a crime against America yet the insurrection was a simple protest that got out of hand. And sadly if all you do is watch Fox you might believe it.

          The rise of companies like Sinclair that bought out vast numbers of local outlets are now filling those airwaves with their attempt to indoctrinate people into seeing things their way. Trump’s FCC rubber stamped approvals that allowed one owner to have an outsized portion of the market to themselves…the prior limitations to prevent such things were greatly reduced. I would think that such overreach would be rolled back now that adults are in the room but not sure if that will happen…

          The real reason IMHO as to the cause of America’s radical polarization is that most people run to the news source that tells them what they want to hear and believe – facts be dammned. And this is a problem across the political spectrum.

          • 0 avatar
            swester

            @golden2husky – you summed it up perfectly. Local newsrooms were gutted by their corporate buyers, forcing stations to turn to syndicated sources operated by the same corporations.

            The end result is agenda-driven fear-mongering masquerading as journalism. That’s why it is natural to be skeptical of these sorts of “you won’t believe what’s happening now!” stories, and always worth considering what might be the possible political motives behind said coverage (e.g. more stories on local crime = we need law and order candidates in government). This applies to most parts of the media spectrum.

            Even more unsettling is that some of these same media corporations are also seeding message boards with paid commenters to agitate and regurgitate political talking points. All to make it seem like we are increasingly divided, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      “The moment I noticed Fox News being cited twice, I had to do a google search.”

      Tell us you hate facts and the truth without telling us you hate facts and the truth.

  • avatar
    Rboz

    As a luddite, these are things that bug me. You don’t need a key anymore so a thief can reprogram his to work in your car, but we won’t code the car to call you or brick the car when things go sideways.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, you can also use Air Tags to track the car once it’s stolen. Technology marches on.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    It seems like in most articles about car theft either the article itself or the comments it is said that having a MT vehicle makes it theft proof. While I doubt that applies to every thief I’m certain it applied to the their that tried to steal my pickup a couple of weeks ago. I use my truck as a truck, not a daily driver and because it is so large it normally is the farthest from the house.

    I went out to it and found the door slightly ajar. I looked at the lock and it had been punched in. Open the door and look at the ignition switch and it had bee forced. It was quite easy to start it with a screw driver, once the battery had a charge, and I put my foot on the clutch so the starter would operate. The fact that they didn’t know that you had to push in the clutch is the only explantion I can think of for why they didn’t get it started. I always leave it in Reverse based on the slope it parks on and it was still in reverse. Thankfully they didn’t steal any of the things inside of it.

    Yeah it is getting an alarm, and no I don’t live in a bad area.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      You don’t need to live in a “bad” area – I grew up in an affluent community and we had to start locking the cars at night because people would drive into the neighborhood, park their cars in somebody’s driveway and then walk down the dark streets and check cars to see if they were unlocked. I’ve lost music, a gas credit card, and a stack of Canadien bills left over from a trip to Quebec…they generally didn’t break the windows or punch out locks but sometimes they would break locked gloveboxes to get inside it and depending on the car, release the trunk.

  • avatar
    swester

    “You won’t believe what those criminals are up to now!”

    Sorry. This whole story reeks of clickbait-driven non-journalism. First, consider the source: similarly implausible stories with odd and vague details pop up around the same time from a couple of local FOX affiliates (no doubt owned by Sinclair or some corporate media giant that controls most of the ‘local’ stories).

    Not to mention that this doesn’t make ANY sense for a car thief to be going through something this elaborate.

    I call BS.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      Enlighten us as to why this story doesn’t make sense to you.

      Why is an Apple made tracking device that is very accurate in its location reporting and being used by thieves to locate and steal cars at a time when car jacking through the roof implausible?

      Also please explain how the placing of a quarter to half-dollar sized tracker on a vehicle is in any way “elaborate”.

      • 0 avatar
        swester

        The burden isn’t on me here – show me a full list of substantiated instances of this ACTUALLY happening that aren’t simply drawn from “an influx of news articles” coincidentally published on syndicated news outlets at the same time.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          @swester: So far, all I’ve found is the York Ontario police saying there have been 5 incidents of people finding airtags in their car. Might not even be car thieves. Could even be a spouse or their teenage kids. I know I would have airtagged my high school girlfriend’s parent’s car in a heartbeat.

        • 0 avatar
          Hydromatic

          “I call BS”
          “Explain why you call BS?”
          “I don’t have to.”

          Yeah, okay buddy.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Let’s see – does this practice:
    a) Encourage creativity and problem-solving skills
    b) Promote skill development and familiarity with the function and operation of a motor vehicle
    c) Combine electronics and software skills with vital real-world hands-on mechanical skills
    d) Increase new vehicle sales
    e) Support dealership repair centers
    f) Provide opportunities for the hard-working individuals in the vehicle insurance industry

    I guess I’m for it.

  • avatar
    aja8888

    Serious professional car thieves know how to drive a manual transmission.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Think of it as Shared Mobility. Community-initiated, decentralized, self-supporting car sharing. For the Collective good. Enabled by technology.

    Apple AirTag: Because Transportation Wants to Be Free™

    (Give us more time to true up the language and I’m sure we can sell this)

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    In some cultures, thieves get their hands cut off. Is that because it’s an appropriate punishment? No. It’s called deterrent. I can’t believe the level of lawlessness we continue to tolerate in this country.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    They definitely couldn’t put their hands in the till. If a thief wants your vehicle bad enough they will find a way to steel it regardless of what you do. You can make it harder to steal your vehicle and hope that the thief will pass and find an easier target.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Keep a Ring camera watching your driveway and your mags filled with quality hollow points. Because you wouldn’t want to overpenetrate and ding your ride.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      That’s just solid advice no matter what the situation. And now that self defense is legal again in this country, I hope to see armed citizens that are being attacked start to make it known that these criminals better think twice about their chosen career path.

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      Unfortunately, it’s not legal to defend personal property with deadly force or the threat of it. Even if it turned out to be a “good” (i.e. legal) shooting, your lawyer’s bill, to manage your interaction with police and prosecutors, will exceed your out-of-pocket loss on the vehicle. You’re better off waving good bye as it disappears and limit your response to calling the cops and your insurance company.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Given that there are more firearms than people in this country, and cars are still being stolen, clearly the Armed Citizen Defender approach isn’t doing jack s**t to fix this problem. But I guess some folks like to think they’d sit around 24/7/365, gun in hand, waiting for someone to steal their car so they can go all Bernie Goetz on them. Whatever.

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          @FreedMike, how many more posts of this caliber will it take before everyone in the world has the right opinion?

          (Was that your version of the Scientific Method in your first sentence? Reductio ad absurdum – useful or not? I think the ‘Whatever’ really added a lot.)

          • 0 avatar
            C5 is Alive

            The notion of civilized people ridding our communities of societal vermin makes Leftists like Mike understandably nervous.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            So…you don’t think I should be pointing out the absurdity of “arguments” like “I’m gonna solve the problem of car theft by watching my Ring camera until someone tries to break in to my car, and then open fire on them”?

            The good news, I suppose, is that the OP has plenty of time on his hands.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Actually, it’s people who think they’re Dirty Harry who make me understandably nervous.

          • 0 avatar
            C5 is Alive

            Well gee, Mike. Probably best not to give them a reason to shoot you then, huh?

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Why would anyone shoot me?

          • 0 avatar
            C5 is Alive

            It’s truly laughable I would have to explain this to you, Mike.

            As long as you don’t steal, burn, loot, destroy or otherwise force your will upon that which isn’t yours, chances are that no one will have a reason to shoot you. All bets are off, however, for those unable to abide by these most basic requirements for civilized society.

            You know, the very types your ilk seem hellbent on empowering and emboldening.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Sorry to burst your “you liberals want to enable crooks” bulls**t bubble, but I’m perfectly fine seeing anyone who does that kind of s**t rotting in jail for as long as the law allows. Maybe you should have asked how I feel about that, versus assuming.

            But I’ll tell you what I’m not gonna do – pull a gun on someone who’s trying to steal my car. Why? Because for all I know, that person has a gun too, and – call me a pus*y – but the idea of a gunfight doesn’t turn me on.

            I’d rather first call the cops, and then call State Farm and invoke my zero-deductible comprehensive policy. The GAAP insurance on my lease kicks in, and then I’m off to lease something new. The car’s replaceable. I’m not.

          • 0 avatar
            C5 is Alive

            Forgive me for judging you by the company you keep and defend.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Maybe you’d feel better if I organized some folks to go invade the Capitol, like the people you “keep and defend.”

            Or maybe we should just judge each other on our own merits, versus pointing fingers at each other over the perceived failings of the tens of millions of other people we happen to share a party affiliation with. That makes about as much sense as saying “well, you went to a Van Halen concert with a bunch of people who were wearing furry costumes, so you must be a furry.”

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        The whole “guns make everything” safer/secure belief hasn’t born out to be true. If it were true, the USA would have the lowest crime rates on the planet. Theft tends to be a crime of convenience but for those that do steal as a profession, they typically are prepared for various eventualities. If a “pro” wants your vehicle, they will get it.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          +1 million, Lou.

        • 0 avatar
          khory

          If they had laws that back a citizen defending himself and his property, it would be. Problem is if you put down a criminal, the law does everything it can to ruin you. Even if you prevail the legal cost is crushing. People would be less likely to steal if they thought it would put them in harms way.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @khory:

            One of the unintended consequences of there being so many guns is that God only knows how many millions of them are owned by the crooks. Having such an immense supply makes it cheaper and easier for criminals to get their hands on them. So, yeah, you can take a gun and confront a crook, but there’s a good chance that they’re armed too. Clearly that scenario can go as wrong as it can go very quickly.

            Knowing that, even if I owned a gun, if I saw my car getting ripped off, I’d still call the cops and let them handle it. I’m not putting my life on the line over a car.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @khory – the law is pretty clear, you can use an equal or greater force to defend yourself or your family if you fear for your life or of your family. Murdering someone because they tried to steal an object is a crime and should be treated as such.

            ” People would be less likely to steal if they thought it would put them in harms way.”
            LOL
            As I said, most thefts are crimes of convenience. Planned i.e. organized crime just means they’d show up more determined and better armed if you have something of value they want.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    So, unless the phone was JUST stolen, it’s incredibly easy to find out who activated the Airpod tracker. That phone can easily be tracked.

    Or the police there are like ours here, and can’t be bothered.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “Or the police there are like ours here, and can’t be bothered.”

      I think that’s the crux of the problem – I’m no expert on law enforcement, but I’d have to think car thieves are tough to go after unless the cops literally catch them in the act. Once the car’s gone, it’s gone. And when the theft does occur, it’s the insurance companies, not the justice system, that makes the victim whole.

      It’s an area the cops could do a far better job with.

  • avatar
    focal

    Works both ways. Leave a tag hidden in the car and police can trace back your car too if it’s taken.

  • avatar
    Hydromatic

    As are yours.

  • avatar
    James2

    I got a light blue 626 to replace my 323, both were 1986 models, both hand-me-downs. It is interesting that both were Mazdas, but could have been built by different companies. The 323 was the frisky, playful puppy while the 626 was a dull dog almost at the end of its life. It was so dull by comparison. It was a more solidly-built car, but that refinement came with the sacrifice of fun-to-drive. In any case, I sold it to a coworker.

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