In April 2021, Apple released a new product called the AirTag, a coin-sized device that can be attached to laptops, backpacks, purses, keys, and other items that typically get lost easily. It pairs with iOS devices via Bluetooth technology and sends notifications when users become separated from their items. Following directions on the Find My app on iPhone or iPad leads users to their missing item.
Many are willing to pay 29 dollars for the convenience of the AirTag. However, thieves have secretly been exploiting the technology. Police in the York region of Ontario, Canada, have learned that criminals are using this device to steal cars.
In a blog post on Dec. 2, investigators with the York Regional Police Auto and Cargo Theft Unit in Aurora alerted residents that “they have identified a new method being used by thieves to track and steal high-end vehicles” across the region. Officers investigated five such incidents since Sept. 2021, in which crooks managed to place the tiny devices on high-end vehicles.
Thieves tend to target vehicles in public spaces such as shopping malls and parking lots. AirTags are stealthily placed in trailer hitches, bumpers, gas-fill flap doors, external electrical ports, and other areas of cars. The carjackers wait until the car owner drives home, tracking the vehicle’s movements on their iPhones. Once the car is at the residence, they proceed to steal the vehicle.
Using tools like screwdrivers or Slim Jims, the carjackers pry open the front door of the car without setting off the alarm. An electronic device commonly used by mechanics is linked to the On-Board diagnostics (OBD) port below the dashboard, which resets the car back to factory settings. The car is programmed to accept a key that the criminals have brought with them, and is then driven away.
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In the department’s YouTube video, Detective Jeff McKercher of the York Regional Police said that using trackers “seems to be something that’s trending in the GTA [grand theft auto]… So definitely expect to see more of it in the near future.”
Police officers have advised owners to be more vigilant and employ some of the following safety tips:
- Park the vehicle in a locked garage, since most vehicles are stolen from the driveway.
- Install a lock on the data port. The device can be purchased online and prevents access to the OBD port, where thieves can reprogram the vehicle’s keys.
- Regularly inspect the vehicle and notify police if any suspicious tracking devices are found.
- Use a steering wheel lock, which serves as a visible deterrent.
- Purchase a quality video surveillance system. Check if the cameras are positioned properly and function around the clock. Get acquainted with the system so that it can be reviewed and accessed easily.
The police revealed that more than 2,000 cars have been stolen over the past year. Honda CR-Vs, Lexus ES 350s, Toyota Highlanders, and Ford F-150s are some of the vehicles targeted.
Carjackers may have zeroed in on the town of Aurora due to the region’s high-income population. Situated in the central York Region, the town of 62,000 has an average household income of 150,000 dollars, which is almost three times the national average. As a result, high-end vehicles are more frequently found in the town.
As criminals are turning more tech-savvy, police are having a harder time figuring out how to prevent these crimes from occurring.