Car thieves are using Apple AirTags to target vehicles. Here’s how you can protect yourself

This Toronto Star article explains how thieves are using Apple AirTags to target vehicles and how you can protect yourself.

Read the full article below:

Gilbert Ngabo is a Toronto-based crime reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo


As car theft incidents continue to increase in Toronto and other cities across the GTA, thieves are coming up with more ways to target cars and drive them away without owners noticing.


The latest wicked trend: sticking an AirTag on the targeted vehicle and stealing it later when no one is watching. These AirTags are relatively inexpensive and allow thieves to be discreet in tracking and stealing the vehicles.


Police in Toronto and other cities in the region have warned of an escalation in incidents of forced car thefts over the past several months. Armed carjackings have been on the rise, including the recent high-profile case involving Maple Leafs player Mitch Marner.


To understand more about how AirTags are being used in car thefts, the Star spoke with Constable Marco Ricciardi of Toronto police’s 22 Division on the issue and what car owners can do to better protect their vehicles.

“Because the cost of a used car is going up … there is a low supply and a high demand for cars, so they are being stolen mainly to be shipped overseas,” said Ricciardi.


Car thieves and tracking devices

Before tech giants Apple and Samsung came up with Bluetooth-enabled AirTags and SmartTags respectively, people used to attach devices such as Tile and TrackR to various items like laptops, keys or wallets in order to keep track of them if they were lost or misplaced. Through crowdsourcing, you’d need the Tile app running in the background in order to locate the missing item that has the tracking device on it.


With the new AirTags and SmartTags however, Apple and Samsung embedded the information into the operating system in a way that allows it to be sent through Bluetooth to the phone of the tracking device owner, so they are able to see the location of the missing item without having to be too close to it.


“If I throw an AirTag into your backpack and you travel to Europe, it’s going to ping back to me once you land and you have a network connectivity, saying ‘hey, I’m over here in France or Italy,’” said Ricciardi.


How AirTags are being used by thieves

Ricciardi said these AirTags are magnetic on one side and can be attached to various metal spots on the vehicle. From what police have noticed, thieves go around parking lots looking for preferred vehicles to steal.


Ricciardi warns drivers to pay special attention to their vehicles, as thieves have been known to stick the AirTags on a trailer hitch receiver, behind the licence plate or even in the gas tank cap area — just anywhere where it won’t fall off.

On their own devices with Apple IDs, thieves are able to track the vehicle they tagged for upwards of 24 hours.


AirTags and tracking devices are easily accessible

Ricciardi said these AirTags are available at tech shops such as Best Buy and Apple Stores. They can also be purchased online on Amazon. The prices range from $40 each or $130 for four of them, said Ricciardi, and their batteries can last anywhere from six months to a year.


How drivers can protect themselves and their vehicles

Smartphone users can turn on their location services in order to get a notification about whether there is an AirTag or a SmartTag nearby, said Ricciardi.

Use this link to Apple Support to find out how to set up notifications


If you find the device stuck somewhere on your vehicle, Ricciardi says the best thing to do is call police immediately so that they can possibly get any fingerprint information to find out who installed it there. You can also physically disable the device and prevent the would-be thief to know where the vehicle is located. Ricciardi says the device contains a small watch battery that can be removed.


Another option is to get your vehicle equipped with your own AirTag. Ricciardi said he has purchased and installed the AirTag on his own truck, so he can track it through his iPhone and give himself a chance of knowing its location if it’s ever stolen.


He personally knows of at least three recent incidents where people got their cars stolen from the driveways, but police were able to help recover them fairly faster because of having the AirTags installed. “Because it’s easy for thieves to get, it’s also easy for us to use to protect ourselves,” he said. “It doesn’t prevent your car from being stolen, but it will help you and us to recover it.”