The trickle of AirTag stalking reports we noticed last month has turned into a flood, with at least 10 different women across the U.S. in recent weeks saying their iPhones notified them that unknown Apple AirTags had been following them.
All the women had been in public places, including gyms (opens in new tab) and shopping malls (opens in new tab). Not all the rogue AirTags ended up being located, but a New York woman said she found one in her coat pocket (opens in new tab), and two other AirTags were found hidden on women's cars (opens in new tab).
In the scariest incident, police say a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania man placed an AirTag on his estranged wife's car (opens in new tab) before the tracking device fell off. Two weeks later, he allegedly tried to kidnap her.
The dark side of AirTags
If you're not familiar with Apple AirTags, they are little discs the size of a quarter that can be linked to a specific iPhone and then tracked worldwide, using other iPhones to report their locations. One AirTag costs $29, while a four-pack goes for $99.
"People have been using GPS trackers to stalk and harass people for a long time," Dearborn, Michigan police sergeant James Isaacs told Detroit's WJBK-TV (opens in new tab) following several reports of AirTag stalking in the area.
"The reason why this one has become so increasingly apparent now is, I think, due to the cost, the cost is significantly less than a traditional GPS tracker that people would get," Isaacs added. "Therefore, the ease of access is much higher."
"We take customer safety very seriously and are committed to AirTag's privacy and security," Apple told Tom's Guide.
"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."
The company added that the AirTag system is "designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking," which Apple called "a first in the industry."
Apple gave the same statement to PhillyVoice.com (opens in new tab) after a Lower Providence Township, Pennsylvania woman told police that an AirTag had followed her home from a movie theater last week.
How to tell if an AirTag is tracking you, and what to do
If you have an iPhone updated to iOS 14.5 or later, your phone will notify you if an "unknown accessory" — i.e., an AirTag that doesn't belong to you — has been following your movements, or that an "item has been detected near you (opens in new tab)."
The notification should let you force the rogue AirTag to play a sound so that you can locate it, and (at least in iOS 15.2) wirelessly disable the rogue AirTag.
Sgt. Isaacs of the Dearborn police advised people who receive notifications that an unknown AirTag may be tracking them to get the serial number from the notification and call police.
"When somebody turns in an Apple AirTag to us, we can get the serial number from it and then we can send out a search warrant to Apple, requesting the registered owner's information," he told WJBK-TV.
An Apple support document provided for law enforcement (opens in new tab) says that Apple can provide police with the last 25 days of an AirTag's pairing history.
NBC News investigative journalist Vicky Nguyen (opens in new tab) told the Today show that if you get such a notification when leaving a public place, you should not return home. Doing so would tell the AirTag's owner where you live.
Instead, Nguyen said, go to a police station, or go to another public place and call police from there.
AirTags that have been separated from their linked iPhones for a certain amount of time — Apple says it can anywhere from eight to 24 hours — are supposed to emit beeping sounds so that people nearby can hear them.
However, such beeps might be drowned out by traffic or street noises, or be muffled by heavy clothing. And there are people online selling AirTags that have had their speakers removed so they don't beep, plus videos showing you how to disable the speakers.
(In February 2022, Apple said it would make the AirTag beeps more audible, sync them with notifications sent to iPhones and let iPhone owners use Precision Finding to locate rogue AirTags.)
Android users now can be notified, too
Android users won't get such notifications unless they install third-party apps. Apple has released an Android app called Tracker Detect that will find rogue AirTags, but the user needs to manually begin a scan. We can't imagine many people remembering to do so every time they leave a restaurant, bar or shopping mall.
Another Android app called AirGuard (opens in new tab) created by German academics does promise to scan automatically for AirTags following you, as long as you leave Bluetooth on.
We haven't been alerted by AirGuard of any rogue AirTags, but we were able to make the AirTag in our boss's backpack start beeping. (Apple's Tracker Detect makes you wait 10 minutes before doing so.)
If you're an Android user and you do physically locate a rogue AirTag, you can disable it by pushing on the back of the AirTag and then twisting it open to remove the battery. Doing so will not destroy the AirTag — it will work again if you replace the battery — but it will let you see the AirTag's serial number printed inside the device.
Apple told us that tapping the AirTag with an NFC-capable Android phone will also display the AirTag's serial number (opens in new tab).