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Criminals using AirTags, other tracking devices to stalk and steal

Boulder County Sheriff’s Office trained K9 to sniff hidden digital trackers
Apple AirTags
Posted at 10:03 PM, Apr 27, 2022

DENVER — Technology can bring connection and simplicity to our lives, but it also comes with risks. Law enforcement in Colorado are investigating and studying the troubling trend of criminals using tracking devices, like Apple AirTags, to commit crimes such as stalking and auto theft.

Hilary Postlethwaite, a client retention analyst for Denver7, shared her own recent experience with the Denver7 news team. She says the night of Saturday, April 23 started as a normal evening out in downtown Denver. devices

“I went out for drinks, just kind of like a normal Saturday night with my husband and a couple of friends that were visiting,” Postlethwaite said. “It wasn’t until I got home that I got a notification that an AirTag was detected with me. And so I told my friend at the time and she said, "Wait, are you kidding?" Because she kind of knew that this is a thing. And I wasn't aware. She said she'd seen on TikTok that people are doing this to track people's location.”

Apple warning of AirTag tracking
A screenshot shows the warning Hilary Postlethwaite received that her movements in downtown Denver may have been tracked by an Apple AirTag

It's become a TikTok trending topic for a reason.

Apple started selling AirTags a year ago to help users keep track of their belongings, such as keys and wallets. But after many headlines of the devices being used to stalk victims and steal their valuables, Apple updated its iPhones to begin alerting owners when an AirTag was detected and appeared to be following them. The company also provided instructions on how to disable AirTags if one is found.

Instructions on disabling an Apple AirTag
A screenshot of instructions from Apple on disabling an Apple AirTag tracking device

“I feel like the more research I tried to do of how to get this thing to stop tracking me, the more I got freaked out,” Postlethwaite said.

Sergeant Jeff Pelletier with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office says the department’s Digital Forensics Lab has recently begun studying the way digital trackers like AirTags are being used for nefarious purposes, amid increasing calls from citizens receiving these alerts.

Pelletier says trackers like these are not new, only more ubiquitous now. He says he is glad Apple created this warning system, which other trackers don’t yet have.

“Like with any potential crime, if you’re worried, you should call police,” Pelletier said. “If only for peace of mind.”

Pelletier says their lab studies have found Apple’s warning systems have properly alerted of a nearby AirTag “most of the time.” The department also has started using a K9 trained to sniff out electronic devices, including digital trackers, that may be hidden.

But as law enforcement continues to investigate and study, Postlethwaite says her recent encounter has forced her to think twice about downtown excursions.

“I mean, it’s your personal safety,” she said. “If it's, you know, finding a dog — when you've put an AirTag on your dog — that’s wonderful. But when it's coming to somebody finding where you live and potentially, you know, going into your house or robbing you or doing something else, that's not what the technology was meant to do. And I think that's really dangerous territory.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include more information about the trained K9 and the Digital Forensics Lab.