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The Car Coach: Car theft warning – The criminal use of Apple Airtags

Written By | Dec 17, 2021
The Car Coach, Apple airtags, Car Thefts

Inexpensive wireless trackers are reportedly being used by thieves to locate and steal cars. Car thieves have been getting crafty in using new technology to steal your car. Some criminals use brute-force tactics, tow trucks, or other ways to steal vehicles, While others simply search for victims who are foolish enough to leave their keys in the car.
However, some car thieves have learned to use modern technology to track and steal vehicles, usually high-end sports cars and luxury cars that will command a premium on the black market. Now, these thieve are looking for any vehicle including yours.

In the past, we have covered carjacking and what you should know.

Now we want to warn you about the wireless trackers that appear to be harmless. However, the wireless tracking of cars by using Apple AirTags or similar brands is a new tool being used by thieves. This is very concerning. I’ll explain
One car is stolen every 33 seconds in the USA, that’s nearly one million cars per year. 50% of the stolen cars were unlocked and 58% of those stolen cars were recovered. Today, car thieves are thinking differently.

Typically, thieves roam residential neighborhoods looking for specific models of vehicles.

Now they are also roaming parking lots and leaving a tracking device, the Apple Airtag, on the target vehicle. Thieves then track the vehicle using the Airtag and steal it at a later time.
Apple AirTags and other brands make these types of devices. These tags are meant to find your keys or other items, including your car – by thieves.  Once the target vehicle is parked in a more secluded location, the thieves can use the Airtag to find it. Then, they can locate and steal your vehicle. Their tools include range-extender devices, flatbed trucks, tow trucks, slim Jim’s or simply breaking the window in order to steal the vehicle.
The tracker allows them to plan their attacks in advance, rather than using more traditional methods. Thieves may not want the vehicle itself – their goal may be the catalytic converter and/or the airbags.

Apple AirTags were released in April 2021 at a retail price of $29 each; they are compatible with iPhone models 11 through 13.

Each Apple AirTag broadcasts a secure Bluetooth signal that is picked up by nearby devices in the Find My network, such as iPhones and iPads. Those devices send the AirTag’s location to iCloud servers, where it can be viewed on a map by the owner. Although Bluetooth has a relatively short range, you can still find an AirTag that’s many miles away as long as there’s another compatible Apple device in the vicinity.
Apple is careful to note that it designed AirTags to prevent unwanted tracking:

“If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s traveling with you and send you an alert. After a while, if you still haven’t found it, the AirTag will start playing a sound to let you know it’s there. Of course, if you happen to be with a friend who has an AirTag, or on a train with a whole bunch of people with AirTags it may bring attention to the tag. These alerts are triggered only when an AirTag is separated from its owner.

If you have a newer iPhone and receive an unexpected AirTag notification each time you approach your vehicle or other valuable property, this may be a warning sign that it’s being tracked.”

Keep in mind that if you have an Android phone or an iPhone that’s too old to detect the AirTag, only the sound from the tag would aid in its detection. If the sound is muffled or disabled by a malicious user, it may be challenging to find an unwanted AirTag.

Although AirTags are reportedly being used by car thieves, they’re also being used by owners as a safeguard against theft.

Think of it as a budget LoJack, if your car is stolen, you could check the tag’s location to help police track it down.
Recently,  several individuals have reported that they were able to recover vehicles this way, ranging from a Subaru to an electric scooter. One sergeant from the Houston Police Department said they’re really helping us out a lot in the police department, retrieving people’s stolen property.
The problem is it’s impossible to build a tool that is designed to track down stolen items without also building the perfect tool for stalking.

Here’s some advice to safeguard your vehicles against theft:

  • If possible, park your vehicle in a locked garage. Most vehicles are stolen from a driveway.
  • Don’t ever leave your keys in the car, even at home.
  • Install a lock on the data port. This simple device can be purchased online and blocks access to the computer port where the thieves gain access to reprogram the vehicle’s keys.
  • Consider purchasing a quality video surveillance system. Ensure cameras are properly placed and functioning for day and night time use. Learn the system so it can be reviewed and accessed easily.
  • Inspect your vehicle regularly and call the police if you notice any suspicious potential tracking devices.
Bottom Line:
This is more than a public service announcement, think of all the evil uses for wireless tracking. I’ll let you think about that for a minute. They can track you or your kids too. Evil people are using smart devices for the wrong reasons. Has this ever happened to you?

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Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host. A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news and safety issues.