Renton Police warn stalkers are using Apple AirTag, tracking devices to follow victims

The Renton Police Department is warning the public about suspects using Apple AirTag and other tracking devices to stalk their victims. 

Apple AirTag and other tracking devices are small pieces of technology that use Bluetooth signals to help people keep track of their belongings, like a wallet, keys, luggage or car.

"The problem is there are nefarious people out there who are using them for no good. They are tracking people by placing them in their bags or in their cars," said Meeghan Black, communications manager for Renton Police Department.

Detectives in Renton are investigating two separate cases of stalking, one in September and the other in December. The suspects are accused of secretly placing AirTag and tracking devices in the victims’ cars. Police said the victims in both cases had no idea they were being followed until their phones alerted them about a device detected nearby.

"Got the warning on their phones. And you can ping it, you can make it chirp and make a sound, and they located them. And they’re like, hey, this doesn’t belong to me. And they kind of had an idea of who might be doing it. So, our detectives take these cases very seriously. They serve a search warrant to be able to contact Apple, get the information as to who is the register owner of these devices," said Black.

Police said one case involved an employer tracking an ex-employee. The other case is connected to a domestic violence situation. The Domestic Violence Unit at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is reviewing that case.

"It’s so violating to the people who are targeted by this. They happen far more than people realize and they’re some of the most serious cases that we see in our office. So, we’re reviewing this case right now to see if there’s enough evidence to prove a felony case," Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

No one was hurt in either situation. Detectives are finalizing the investigation on the second case before filing it with prosecutors.

As investigations develop in both situations, police said this is a lesson for all people to be proactive in their personal safety by learning what to do should the unwanted tracking alert pop up on their phone.

"Very simple steps. You can go to the Apple Support website, and they will walk you through every step of the way - what to do if you get a warning, how to deactivate it, how to take the battery out so they can no longer have any access to you. And then the last step, please contact your local law enforcement and report it because we can’t do anything about it if we don’t know about it," said Black.

Android users are encouraged to download the Tracker Detect app that can find Apple products and other devices.

Apple Support listed the following guidance to find an unknown AirTag, AirPods, or Find My network accessory on its website:

If you get an alert that an AirTag, AirPods, or another Find My network accessory is traveling with you, follow these steps to find it. First, check on the Find My app if you're able to play a sound on the unknown accessory:

  1. Tap the alert.
  2. Tap Continue and then tap Play Sound.
  3. Listen for the sound. You can play it again if you need more time to find the item.

If the option to play a sound isn't available, the item might not be with you anymore. Or if it was with you overnight, its identifier might have changed. Find My uses the identifier to determine that it's the same item moving with you. If the item is within range of its owner, you also won't be able to play a sound.

If the unknown accessory is an AirTag and you have a supported iPhone model with Ultra Wideband, you can also tap Find Nearby to use Precision Finding to help you locate the unknown AirTag.

  1. Tap the alert.
  2. Tap Continue, then tap Find Nearby.
  3. Follow the onscreen instructions and move around the space until your iPhone connects to the unknown AirTag.
  4. Your iPhone displays the distance and direction to the unknown AirTag. Use that information to get closer to the unknown AirTag until you find it. When the AirTag is within Bluetooth range of your iPhone, you can play a sound on the AirTag by tapping the Play Sound button  If your iPhone says that more light is required, tap the Turn Flashlight On button 
  5. When the AirTag is within Bluetooth range of your iPhone, you can play a sound on the AirTag by tapping the Play Sound button 
  6. If your iPhone says that more light is required, tap the Turn Flashlight On button 
  7. When you're done, tap the Done button 

If the option to play a sound isn't available or you're unable to hear the sound, or if you can't locate the item with Precision Finding, and you believe the item is still with you, look through your belongings to try to find it. Check on your person, or in anything in your possession that could contain this device. It could be in an item that you don’t check often, like a jacket pocket, the outer compartment of a bag, or your vehicle. If you can't find the device and if you feel your safety is at risk, go to a safe public location and contact law enforcement.