Were Apple AirTag Trackers Being Used by Stalkers?

We've researched news reports, police reports, and social media posts to find the full story behind the AirTag tracker stalking rumors.

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Apple AirTags or Air Tags are being used by stalkers kidnappers sex traffickers and for auto theft according to social media posts and news reports.
Image via Twitter

Claim

Apple AirTag tracking devices were being used by stalkers and other criminals in late 2021/early 2022.

Rating

What's True

It's true that there have been a very limited number of reported cases of people receiving notifications on their iPhones about Apple AirTag tracking devices. Some have been linked to potential auto theft.

What's False

However, there was no indication that the use of AirTags for stalking and other crimes was a widespread issue. At best, according to news reports and social media claims, the issue was occurring, but on a very small scale. We also found no evidence that linked sexual predators, kidnappings, abductions, human trafficking, sexual assault, or any similar crimes to the use of Apple's tracking devices.

What's Undetermined

For the very limited number of people who did claim to find an AirTag on their car or in their possession, it's unclear what the intentions were of the people who planted those devices who were never caught by law enforcement.

Origin

On Jan. 21, 2022, “CBS Mornings” aired a news report by “Inside Edition” and spoke with anchor Deborah Norville about Apple AirTag devices purportedly being used by stalkers. According to the reporting, two women received notifications on their iPhone devices that said an unknown AirTag tracker that did not belong to them had been detected following their movements. Both were believed to have been attached in a hidden location on their vehicles. The notifications showed up with the words “time-sensitive” and said: “AirTag Found Moving With You. The location of this AirTag can be seen by the owner.”

This might sound familiar to some of our readers from our past reporting that fact-checked claims of human trafficking and sex trafficking. Those stories often involved cars as well.

Here’s everything we know so far about the Apple AirTag stalking danger rumors, as well as their purported links to auto theft and other crimes.

Key Findings

The report on “CBS Mornings” profiled two women who said they received AirTag notifications. We also found several other people on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok who claimed that AirTags were used by stalkers to detect their movements. News reports detailed additional incidents in California, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Ontario, Canada.

We have initially uncovered zero reports that linked sexual predators, kidnappings, abductions, human trafficking, sexual assault, or any similar crimes to the use of Apple’s AirTag devices. This is based on publicly available news reports and police bulletins.

At the same time, it appeared that AirTags had been used in a very small number of cases for auto theft and perhaps even stalking, according to the data we’ve compiled later in this story.

Further, we have so far seen no indication that the use of AirTags by stalkers or for other crimes was a widespread issue. At best, according to news reports and social media claims, the issue had occurred but appeared to be on a very small scale.

What Is An AirTag?

Put simply, an AirTag is a small, lightweight, round “iPhone accessory that provides a private and secure way to easily locate the items that matter most.” It can be attached to a keychain, placed into a purse, or attached to any other items, all so that they can be easily found using Apple’s Find My app.

Apple AirTags or Air Tags are being used by stalkers kidnappers sex traffickers and for auto theft according to social media posts and news reports.
A boxed AirTag on display at the Apple Store George Street on April 30, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

“AirTag is designed for over a year’s worth of battery life with everyday use,” the company said in a news release. “The CR2032 battery is user-replaceable and widely available. Replacement batteries are sold separately.”

Apple introduced its AirTag product for purchase on April 30, 2021.

How Do I Check for AirTags Near Me?

When customers buy an AirTag, they first need to set it up on an iPhone. Once it’s set up, the AirTag will appear in the user’s Find My app.

If iPhone users need to locate an AirTag, the Find My app was created to guide them to its location, provided that it’s within Bluetooth range. The app’s functionality is then able to send a signal to the AirTag that tells the small device to play a beeping sound. Siri can also be asked to tell the AirTag to emit the noise. In addition to the beeping sound, the Find My app can also guide the user to walk closer to the AirTag’s location.

If a user loses an AirTag and it’s not within Bluetooth range, other users’ Apple devices can help to pinpoint its location. This process is carried out in an anonymous and private way, according to the company.

Additionally, a missing AirTag can be placed by the user into what’s known as “Lost Mode.” When this setting is applied, the user is notified when another person’s iPhone or other Apple product is within range of the lost AirTag. If that person within range of the AirTag finds it, they can go through a special process to contact the AirTag’s owner.

As for Android users, they weren’t left out in the cold. Apple created the Tracker Detect app for Android devices for any users who wished to have similar functionality to AirTags.

Apple AirTags or Air Tags are being used by stalkers kidnappers sex traffickers and for auto theft according to social media posts and news reports.
A key ring containing an AirTag attached to a rucksack inside the Apple Store George Street on April 30, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

 

How Private and Secure Are AirTags?

According to Apple’s initial news release for AirTags, the devices were “designed from the ground up to keep location data private and secure.” It also described “proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking,” which was related to Norville’s “CBS Mornings” segment:

No location data or location history is physically stored inside AirTag. Communication with the Find My network is end-to-end encrypted so that only the owner of a device has access to its location data, and no one, including Apple, knows the identity or location of any device that helped find it.

AirTag is also designed with a set of proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking, an industry first. Bluetooth signal identifiers transmitted by AirTag rotate frequently to prevent unwanted location tracking. iOS devices can also detect an AirTag that isn’t with its owner, and notify the user if an unknown AirTag is seen to be traveling with them from place to place over time. And even if users don’t have an iOS device, an AirTag separated from its owner for an extended period of time will play a sound when moved to draw attention to it. If a user detects an unknown AirTag, they can tap it with their iPhone or NFC-capable device and instructions will guide them to disable the unknown AirTag.

Apple established a page on its support website to educate users on what to do if they find or hear an AirTag that they’re unfamiliar with.

‘CBS Mornings’ Report

In the “CBS Mornings” news report, two women, who were not identified, were profiled in Georgia. Each of them had received notifications on their iPhone devices that AirTags they did not own were found to be following their movements. One of the women took her car to a mechanic to help locate where the AirTag was placed. However, no one was able to find it, according to “Inside Edition.”

In a statement to “CBS Mornings,” Apple said it’s “committed to AirTag’s privacy and security.”

“AirTag is designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking,” Apple said. “If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag.”

We reached out to Apple to find out more but did not receive a response.

(While Norville spoke on “CBS Mornings” about the AirTag stalking story, the report itself was filed by “Inside Edition” journalist Lisa Guerrero.)

Loop and key ring accessories for the new AirTags on display at the Apple Store George Street on April 30, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

 

Facebook

We found more purported AirTag stalker incidents on social media. One of the most shared Facebook posts was published on Nov. 22, 2021. It received more than 250,000 shares:

SAFETY ALERT‼️

yesterday morning when i got in my truck i received a notification on my phone indicating there was a device that could see my location that did not belong to me. it turns out someone had planted apple AirTag tracking devices on my truck. this is now how predators are tracking women! if an AirTag is near a phone it is not paired to, it will send the notification after 12hrs. the police department said if the notification pops up DO NOT UNPAIR and contact the police immediately, as if you unpair it sends a notification to the person who placed it and they then know they are being sought. i wanna pass it on to as many females as i can because this is very scary, a terrifying experience that i thought would never happen to me. it literally showed my entire route, where i stopped, including my final home destination. which means whoever this is now knows where i live now.

here are the screenshots of what it looks like.

so scary! please stay safe out here!

A Facebook post from Nov. 29 documented a case where a woman claimed to find an AirTag in her purse:

A PSA be safe ladies

Just today I went to clean out my purse (the same one I had the night out) and I found this thing. The “AirTag.” I did my research and turns out it’s a tracker. People put it on dogs, keys, etc, to track them and it shows the exact location.

So basically, for the entire week this person that put this in my bag could find out where I live, where I go, etc. I have no words how messed up this is…

Air tags are being put in your bag, car, etc by strangers to track your location… Stay safe!

On Dec. 11, Macomb County Scanner Live documented another purported AirTag incident:

Hi friends… so I wasn’t going to say anything… BUT I now feel like I need to. Warning… kinda long but important. Please tag your loved ones

Earlier this week I got a notification stating that an “AirTag” was detected following me. Immediately I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. I called my police officer friend and he told me that people are placing AirTags on peoples cars, in purses, coats etc. The problem is that they can track you for HOURS and you not have a clue. But… after your iPhone recognizes you have a device that isn’t yours, it notifies you… like in the first picture. If you have an android, it won’t notify you, BUT it still can track you.

We believe an AirTag was somewhere placed on my car or myself. And this is not a joke… Today I found out they logged into my iCloud and connected two Apple watches and were tracking me through those as well. They have tracked me at my most frequent places and most “safe” places as well, like home and work.

On Dec. 27, a Facebook post claimed, in detail, that a mother went to the police after her daughter received a notification that an unknown AirTag was believed to be following her movements:

I was very hesitant to post because I usually don’t put our personal business on FB but I did not even know this was a thing until last night. And I really want people to be aware. (This is NOT a shared post from a stranger, this actually happened to us)

Last night after our Christmas celebration, one of my daughters called me and said that her Find My Phone on her iPhone picked up an unknown device tracking her. I didn’t think much of it because I had never heard of Apple Air Tags. She had seen something on social media about how criminals were using these air tags for human trafficking. So she was freaking out. I told her to just come home. She called me again, still freaking out so I told her that I would come meet her. Again, not knowing much about it, I reached out to a friend of mine in law enforcement. He mentioned that he had heard about it but it was very new.

I know this sounds like one of those “he was following me in Walmart” type of things but it’s not. And listen, I’m not spooked very easily. This has me scared to death.

I went to meet her and she was very adamant that someone was tracking her. So just for her safety and my sanity, I had her follow me to the Crowley Police Department where another friend of mine happened to be getting into his unit. So I rolled down my window and said “hey, ***** is following me, she’s saying that something is popping up on her phone about an unknown device tracking her, are you familiar with this?” He said that the department had recieved an email a few weeks ago, warning them to be on the look out for this. At this point, I’m beginning to freak out because this is very real, and I had never heard of it. He called in back up and the cops searched her car. At this point it’s midnight, in the dark police station parking lot, and this Air Tag is the size of a quarter, so it’s very easy to hide. It can be literally anywhere. They searched for what seemed like an hour, while we did Google research on this, and the cops did their own research.

We thought maybe it could have been her airpods or something of that nature, so the cops had her completely take everything out of her car. Every single piece of paper, her steering wheel cover, everything. They knew that if everything was out of the car, and if they drove the car away, if it pinged, it had to be ON the car. 2 cops drove away in her car (for her safety, they had her stay at the station) and sure enough, it pinged the whole time. Something was put on her car that was tracking her car. The cop told us that this tracker is very accurate. It knows within the block, exactly where her car is at all times. We were advised for her to leave her car at the police station until it could be taken to a shop, lifted and searched. Again, this tracker is the size of a quarter. It is magnetic and can easily be put on a car at a gas station or anywhere. Also, if she did not have an iPhone, we would not have known.

This is VERY scary for our family because we don’t know where it was put on or how long it had been tracking her. She had already been to my house, her dad’s, and my sisters. So the trackers know her paths. They did try to disable it but only the person that it is registered to can disable it. I looked it up to see if maybe at some point, the battery would die and she would be able to drive her car. These things have a “permanent battery” and can last up to 3 years (this is speculation, because the air tags have not been out long enough to solidify how long the battery last, it could be longer). So we HAVE TO find it before she can have her car back.

We are terrified. You never think that stuff like this can happen in Crowley, where everyone knows everyone. But here we are, literally terrified of the unknown. Today, her dad got her a tazer, and she can’t have her car until this tag is found. We are trying our best fully protect all of our daughters.

Every day, criminals are coming up with new and inventive ways of committing crimes. Specifically human trafficking and sex crimes. It’s so scary!! And I had no clue about this.

Let me add, HUGE THANK YOU to Hunter Leger, Jerry Braun, and the rest of the Crowley officers working last night. They took this very seriously and really thought outside of the box to rule out any other scenarios.

The post has since been deleted or made private. We attempted to contact the Crowley Police Department to ask questions about this last Facebook post but were not able to reach an officer.

Twitter, Reddit, and TikTok

On Dec. 18, a Twitter thread, which has since been made private, described an incident where a woman claimed she left a bar and later found an AirTag had been placed inside the wheel well of her vehicle:

Hi friends. So something kinda terrifying happened to me last night — someone attached an Apple AirTag to the underside of my front wheel well while I was inside a bar.

If you don’t know, AirTags are what you can attached to shit so you don’t lose it. But someone put one of theirs *on my car*. It was 2 am and I was driving away with no cars around me and I kept getting this alert for like 30 mins straight.

Apple AirTags or Air Tags are being used by stalkers kidnappers sex traffickers and for auto theft according to social media posts and news reports.

So I’ve gotten that alert before while I was traffic… sometimes when you’re near other ppl for a while on the road apple thinks it’s following you. But it was late, and I started to make a bunch of right turns and run counter and I was *still* repeatedly getting this message.

I checked all my things, like my purse, my trench coat pockets, my wallet—couldn’t find anything. Then I was like what if they stuck it on my car? But I didn’t find anything. I didn’t wanna go home, so I spent the night somewhere and just said I’d figure it out in the morning.

this morning while I was asleep I had someone close to me check my car and they found it stuck on the underside of my front passenger wheel well. I wish he took pics before he threw it away but it looks like this:

Courtesy: Twitter

On the day after the Twitter thread went up, a Reddit user posted about an “unsettling notification” involving an AirTag that was following the person or attached to their vehicle.

We also found at least two TikTok videos that described other AirTag tracking stalker incidents.

Additional Incidents

On Nov. 11, 2021, a woman tweeted that her iPhone detected an unknown AirTag in her rental car. However, she later found out that it was placed there by the owner.

On Dec. 15, a news story from Fox 2 Detroit documented cases in Michigan and Texas, and five other incidents reported by York Regional Police in Ontario, Canada. In the Michigan case, a man who had recently purchased a Dodge Charger received a notification that an AirTag he didn’t own was detected as following him. He eventually found the AirTag hidden in a drain cap under the trunk of his car. It was believed to have been placed there by auto thieves.

On Dec. 22, WGRZ reported on two purported AirTag incidents, both involving women in West Seneca, New York. Police officers found one of the devices under one of the women’s car bumpers. The other AirTag could not be found and was “disconnected.” It’s unclear if the second woman was simply alerted to a lost AirTag and had mistaken it for the other notification about potentially being followed.

We will update this story should we receive a response from Apple or if we find any information to update or correct the details in this fact check.

Curious about how Snopes’ writers verify information and craft their stories for public consumption? We’ve collected some posts that help explain how we do what we do. Happy reading and let us know what else you might be interested in knowing.

Sources:

“‘AirTag Found Moving with You’: Apple Devices Linked to Suspected Stalking and Theft.” NBC News, 23 Dec. 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/apple-airtag-showing-up-crimes-rcna9416.
 
“Apple AirTags Being Used by Car Thieves: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself.” Fox 10 Phoenix, 6 Dec. 2021, https://www.foxla.com/news/apple-airtags-being-used-by-car-thieves-what-you-need-to-know-to-protect-yourself_.
 
Apple Introduces AirTag. 20 Apr. 2021, https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210420006014/en/Apple-Introduces-AirTag.
 
“—.” AP News, https://apnews.com/press-release/business-wire/technology-lifestyle-business-61f5c38d41a34febac5e5dbf44a4b390.
 
“Apple’s $30 AirTag Tracking Device Is Being Used to Steal Cars, Stalk Victims, Authorities Say.” SI Live, 23 Dec. 2021, https://www.silive.com/crime-safety/2021/12/apples-30-airtag-tracking-device-is-being-used-to-steal-cars-stalk-victims-authorities-say.html.
 
“Apple’s AirTag Item Trackers Increasingly Linked to Criminal Activity.” MacRumors, https://www.macrumors.com/2021/12/31/airtag-increasingly-linked-to-crime/.
 
“Apple’s AirTags Used to Follow 2 Women in West Seneca.” Wgrz.com, 6 Dec. 2021, https://www.wgrz.com/article/news/crime/apples-airtags-used-to-follow-2-women-in-west-seneca-new-york/71-63eebdd2-ea05-40ef-8de2-44e74296edef.
 
Dupnack, Jessica. “Man Finds Apple AirTag Tracker on His Dodge Charger.” FOX 2 Detroit, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/man-finds-apple-air-tag-tracker-on-his-dodge-charger.
 
Effective_Town_2520. “Unsettling Notification Re: Detected AirTag – Cause for Concern or Mistaken Identity?” Reddit.com/r/Applehelp, 20 Dec. 2021, www.reddit.com/r/applehelp/comments/rkfxnr/unsettling_notification_re_detected_airtag_cause/.
 
How Apple AirTags Are Being Used to Stalk People. CBS Mornings, 2022. CBS News, https://www.cbsnews.com/video/how-apple-airtags-are-being-used-to-stalk-people/.
 
Mac, Ryan, and Kashmir Hill. “Are Apple AirTags Being Used to Track People and Steal Cars?” The New York Times, 30 Dec. 2021. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/30/technology/apple-airtags-tracking-stalking.html.
 
“Muscle Car Owner Targeted With Hidden AirTag Placed by Thieves.” MacRumors, 21 Dec. 2021, https://www.macrumors.com/2021/12/21/car-owner-airtag-thieves/.
 
News – York Regional Police. Dec. 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20211226034617/https://www.yrp.ca/en/Modules/News/index.aspx?newsId=167fa5b3-3583-431d-8cc0-91e49aee3bff.
 
“What to Do If You Get an Alert That an AirTag or Find My Network Accessory Is with You.” Apple Support, https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT212227.
Recent Updates
  1. On Feb. 4, 2022, the rating for this fact check was updated from "Research In Progress" to "Mixture."
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