2 women believe Apple Airtag was used to stalk them after leaving Central Pa. restaurant
Shybree Swanson was traveling in her friend’s car last month in Enola when a strange notification appeared on her iPhone alerting her that she was being tracked.
The notification that came through at 11:36 p.m. on Dec. 30 said, “Unknown Accessory Detected Near You.”
Swanson didn’t know what was happening, but she was scared.
“I felt like my security was compromised and I was in danger,” Swanson said.
The notification on her phone said an “AirTag” had first been spotted with her almost four hours earlier at 7:59 p.m. That’s when she and dozens of friends, mostly women, were at an upscale steak and seafood restaurant off of U.S. 15 for a birthday party.
The tag had tracked her since she left. Her phone showed the AirTag’s history on a map, which mirrored the zigzag path her friend had driven since leaving the restaurant.
Swanson then remembered a social media post she had seen recently on TikTok, from a woman who warned of the possible misuse of AirTags, which are marketed to help people keep track of car keys and other items that can get lost.
An AirTag is a 1.26-inch disc with location-tracking capabilities that Apple started selling eight months ago for $29 each or four for $99. Swanson, 27, doesn’t own one nor does her friend, Lizmarie Navarro, 22, who also got a surprise tracking notification that night.
In the TikTok video that Swanson had seen, the woman said the small tracking device had been dropped in her purse.
“It’s weird because I clearly thought that would never happen to me,” Swanson said.
Her situation is one of few that have been documented and reported to police in Cumberland and Dauphin counties. Investigators say they have seen intelligence reports about potential criminal uses of AirTags, but have received few, if any, reports locally.
Across the country, however, some women are coming forward to share their stories of being tracked by devices placed on their vehicles or in their belongings. The news is prompting a growing concern that the devices may be abetting a new form of stalking, which privacy groups predicted could happen when Apple introduced the devices in April 2021.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooks Nader took to social media on Jan. 6 to warn her 800k Instagram followers after an air tag was slipped into her jacket at a crowded restaurant.
“The only silver lining is that I actually got notified that someone was tracking me,” Nader later told Good Morning America.
After Swanson spotted the peculiar notification on her phone last month, Swanson and her friend continued driving. Seven minutes later, Swanson received a second alert at 11:43 p.m. So did her friend Navarro.
“While I was driving,” Navarro said, “Shybree had both phones and I told her to try to disable it but it wouldn’t let her.”
As a safety feature by Apple, the tags are designed to ping iPhones near them and allow unsuspecting victims of nefarious trackers to disable them.
But Swanson could not disable the tracking device, which upset Navarro.
“At the time didn’t understand why it wasn’t allowing me to disable a device that’s tracking my location,” Navarro said. “Especially because I’m not allowing that.”
At this point, the women assumed the tag was attached to Navarro’s car and not in her jacket pockets or purse since both women had received the notification and they could not find anything planted on them.
When both ladies arrived at their destination, the Soltan Hookah Lounge, they began to search the vehicle. In the TikTok video, Swanson discovered it’s possible for people to duct tape AirTags onto vehicles as well.
So Swanson and Navarro searched everywhere on the vehicle, including looking underneath, turning the tires, opening the hood, and zeroing in on the license plate area. As the women continued trying to disconnect the device, the iPhone notified them to call law enforcement.
Hampden Township Police Officer Johannes Notz arrived shortly after midnight. Officer Notz said he was familiar with AirTag crimes but not from first-hand experience.
“He used his flashlight, went around the car, and couldn’t find anything,” Swanson said.
Notz concluded it might have fallen off the vehicle. Feeling apprehensive, the women decided to drive in another car to see if the AirTag was still connected to their phones and not the vehicle, according to Swanson.
“Then when my sisters pulled up, Liz and I got in the car and drove a mile away to see if we got the notification again,” Swanson. said.
When they returned, Notz was waiting by their car near the Hookah Lounge. The women were no longer getting the notification. Notz began analyzing both of their iPhones, which indicated the tag was near U.S. 15, less than 2 miles from the restaurant where the party was.
“It probably fell off because that’s where it was last seen on the map,” Notz told PennLive.
Notz believes someone poorly placed the AirTag on the vehicle, causing the tracker to easily detach itself from the vehicle due to varying speeds, potholes, and bumps on the road. Once the women drove far outside of its range, the AirTag lost connectivity to their iPhones.
To safely go about their night, the women turned off their “location services” feature of their phones to ensure no one could track them.
Navarro said she agreed with Officer Notz’s assumption after sharing her experience on social media and learning of a friend who was tagged by an ex-boyfriend.
“If you’re close to the device long enough, it allows you to make it a noise to locate it,” Navarro said. “Like I said, it must’ve fallen off or something because it wouldn’t let us disable it.”
The tags operate through Apple’s “Find My” application, which uses an identifier inside the tags to determine if the tags match nearby Apple devices. If they don’t, that’s when a notification is sent to nearby devices as a warning.
The tags are connected to the phone of the person who activates the tags, allowing that person to view the item’s current or last known location on a map.
If used as intended, like to find lost keys, the user can use the Find My app to play a sound from the AirTag to help locate it, if the device is within Bluetooth range. Users can also ask Siri to find their item, and AirTag will play a sound if it is nearby.
For people who don’t have iPhones but are concerned they could be tracked, Apple created an option for Android users called “Tracker Detect” to help identity unexpected AirTags near them.
Office Notz offered advice for people who might get the same notifications as Swanson and Navarro since it’s possible for the police department to use AirTags as evidence and track the owner.
“I would recommend others to drive to a police station or call the police and say ‘Hey can you meet me somewhere or I potentially feel like somebody might be following me.’ If we can get the AirTag it can potentially be analyzed.”
After the incident, Navarro said she’s glad they did’t ignore the red flags.
“The biggest lesson I learned was to have people around you that you trust,” she said “Because if any of us been intoxicated or not very careful we probably would’ve ignored those messages and whatever was on my vehicle could’ve continued to be on my vehicle or something worse could’ve happened. Being alert and staying vigilant is important as well.”
Apple released the following steps for users to turn off these notifications or disable the AirTag or Find My network accessory:
Click on the message
-Tap Continue. If you need help finding the AirTag or Find My network accessory, tap Play Sound.
-To disable the AirTag or Find My network accessory and stop sharing your location, tap Instructions to Disable and follow the onscreen steps. If you feel your safety is at risk, contact your local law enforcement who can work with Apple. You might need to provide the AirTag, Find My network accessory, or the device’s serial number.
-If the AirTag or Find My network accessory is attached to an item you’re borrowing, you can tap Pause Safety Alerts to turn off “Items detected” notifications for one day.
-If you’re borrowing an AirTag from a member of your Family Sharing group, you can turn off Safety Alerts for one day or indefinitely. You can tap Learn About This AirTag to see its serial number if the owner marked it as lost.