TECH-SAVVY car thieves are using Apple AirTags and other similar devices to track and steal vehicles, warns south Warwickshire-based motor insurer NFU Mutual.
Working with police and car theft specialists, the insurer has retrieved an AirTag hidden in a stolen Range Rover which was recovered before it could be shipped to Africa.
The discovery confirms suspicions that thieves are using the low cost tracking devices to steal expensive vehicles while reducing the risk of being caught by police.
Evidence is also emerging that organised car theft gangs are even using the technology to prove that cars ‘stolen to order’ are in thieves’ possession and are being shipped to their new illegal owners – often in overseas locations.
AirTags and similar trackers are small devices designed to be attached to keys or slipped inside wallets to aid location of frequently-lost valuables. They use Bluetooth signals to communicate with nearby phones to give their owners an idea of the tag’s location.
As AirTags can connect with anybody’s phone within 20 metres of the tracking device, they can be used to locate items across both short and long distances, updating their location when connected to a new phone. This means the owner of the AirTag can track the device even when it is in a different country.
Andrew Chalk, car insurance specialist from NFU Mutual, said: “Weighing around the same as a £2 coin and costing under £30, AirTags and other manufacturers’ similar devices are providing a cheap and easily-hidden way for thieves to track target vehicles back to the owners’ homes.
“Thieves can then return at night to break in and steal the keys from the home or use electronic scanners to gain entry to the cars and drive them away.
“Thankfully, we don’t believe this practice is currently widespread, but worrying reports suggest this is a tactic thieves will use to prey upon those with desirable vehicles.
“We’re urging all motorists to make themselves aware of this tactic to make sure their vehicle doesn’t become an item on a thief’s shopping list.
“Those in the South East and Midlands should pay particular attention, as our data shows these areas see significantly higher levels of theft of luxury vehicles like Range Rovers.
“Thieves also appear to be using AirTags as a sort of ‘proof of postage’ for their illicit trades. In one recent case, a stolen Range Rover, bound for Africa from a Belgian port, was recovered and found to have an AirTag embedded in the roof lining. We believe the AirTag was left in the vehicle to track the stolen cargo and prove it had reached its destination.”
DC Chris Piggott, of the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, urged owners to be on their guard.
“Criminals are becoming ever more sophisticated and one of the latest underhand tricks is to use freely-available tracking devices like AirTags, Smart Tags or Tile devices to mark vehicles and come back to them when the coast is clear.
“With some gangs able to access keyless vehicles with specialist equipment, we’re concerned that motorists could be leading clued up criminals to their valuable possessions.
“The tagging devices being used each contain features which allow people to detect and disable them, so it’s worth motorists familiarising themselves with these as well as checking their home security measures.”
NFU Mutual is sharing security advice to help people protect their cars from the new threat:
* Download the Tracker Detect App on iPhones to scan for unknown AirTags. Similarly, Samsung’s SmartThings app or Tile’s app can be used to scan for unknown devices
* Check your vehicle if you suspect it has been targeted – criminals can hide AirTags in roof linings, fuel tank flaps, or storage compartments
* Keep vehicles locked at all times when not in use
* Fit an accredited alarm for security and a tracking device to locate your vehicle if stolen – NFU Mutual customers can receive a discount on Scorpion Track devices
* Fit a mechanical immobiliser such as a steering wheel or pedal lock
* Thieves will often target component parts so consider marking them using a forensic marking solution
* Have the vehicle identification number etched on windows
* Consider fitting a hidden battery isolation or a fuel cut-off switch
* For modern vehicles, keep electronic keys in a Faraday pocket or box at night
* Take photographs of unusual features, modifications, damage or repairs which could aid identification if stolen