How To Tell If an Apple AirTag Is Tracking You and What To Do About It

Updated: May 25, 2024

Although rare, Apple's AirTag devices have been used to track the movements of unsuspecting victims. Here's how to spot this.

Apple AirTags are a fantastic way to locate missing devices. Unfortunately, they can also be misused by those with less noble intentions. They’ve been used by car thieves and stalkers and have even been involved in at least one killing.

To be clear, malicious use of AirTags is rare. But it’s worth knowing about potential risks. We asked a pair of IT security experts to explain how AirTags work, how to know if you’re being tracked, and what to do if you find a suspicious AirTag.

What Is an Apple AirTag?

It’s a device intended to help consumers keep track of their easily-lost items.

About the size of a watch face, it can be attached to small items like a key fob, earbud charger or tablet, or simply slipped into a bag or item of clothing. If that item goes missing, the AirTag will inform you of its location.

Because Airtages use Apple’s Find My network, items can be tracked anywhere as long as they’re near an ƒ, iPad, or similar Apple device.

Priced around $25 to $30, AirTags are an affordable way to track your equipment without a GPS or satellite connection. But if slipped into a purse, dropped in a coat pocket or attached to the underside of a car, this same technology can allow anyone to track your movements.

How To Know if Someone Is Tracking You With an AirTag?

Apple Airtag Unknown Accessory Notification Courtesy AppleCourtesy Apple

AirTags are small and easily concealed. Without a physical search or a tracking detector app, it’s hard to find them.

Luckily, Apple responded to the abuse of this technology by stepping up notifications and making it easier to be aware of AirTags near you. There’s an easy solution for those with iPhones or other Apple devices.

If you’re using at least an iPhone 11 and running iOS 14.5 or higher, you will automatically receive a notification if it detects someone else’s AirTag near you, but only if that AirTag has been separated from its owner. This way, you won’t be inundated with notifications if the person next to you at a party has an AirTag.

Charles Chow of Lumen Technologies Asia Pacific has more than 25 years of experience in cybersecurity. He suggests checking your iPhone to be sure you’ve enabled AirTag alerts. To do so, go to the Find My app and click Customize Tracking Notifications and Allow Notifications.

For Android owners, Apple provided a free tracker app, Track Detect, available on the Google Play store. The one downside to Track Detect is that you need to actively scan— it won’t deliver passive alerts. Check the Play Store for third-party tracking apps that may be a better fit.

What To Do if You Find an Unknown Apple Air Tag

If you receive an alert about an unknown AirTag in your vicinity, don’t panic. Take these steps to assess the situation, and take preventative measures as needed.

Locate the AirTag

Finding the AirTag will usually make it clear how much threat it poses. You may have borrowed your friend’s car, and the alert is for the AirTag on their key fob. If the AirTag has been glued to the inside of your wheel well, that’s a different scenario.

Isla Sibanda, a cybersecurity specialist with a background in ethical hacking at PrivacyAustralia, suggests searching yourself and your belongings thoroughly if you receive an AirTag notification, or if something makes you suspicious.

“Pockets, handbags and your car are the most common places where the tracking device may be hiding,” she says.

If you receive a notification from your iPhone, the AirTag will play a sound to let you know it’s there. According to Apple, iPhone users can use Precision Finding to see the distance and direction to an unknown AirTag. The phone will help you hone in on the AirTag through a combination of sound, haptics and visual indicators.

Scan the serial number

Once you’ve found the AirTag, Sibanda recommends identifying its serial number. To do this, use the Find My app or simply hold the white side of the AirTag next to your smartphone.

“Just tap on the notification that comes up,” says Sibanda, “and this will guide you to the web page with the device’s serial number.”

Sibanda also emphasizes the importance of this step to get to the bottom of the mystery. “This is hardcore crucial evidence for discovering and proving who was tracking you,” she says. Because paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID, it can be used to learn who owns an unknown AirTag.

Remove the AirTag battery

Once you’ve captured the serial number, disable the AirTag by removing the battery. Here’s how:

  • Press down on the AirTag’s polished stainless steel battery cover and rotate counterclockwise until the cover stops rotating.
  • Remove the cover and battery.

Report the incident

After removing the battery, get to a safe place and contact the police. Reporting the incident is the first step to building a paper trail for action, like a restraining order or arrest.

If you recover the AirTag serial number, Apple will be able to identify the paired account holder. However, they will only do so in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement.

Future Developments

Apple and Google are working to provide easier ways to detect and circumvent location-tracking devices.

Incorporating input from groups like National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Center for Democracy & Technology, the tech giants’ joint press release promises a specification that will require location-tracking devices to be compatible with tracking detection and alerts across iOS and Android platforms.

We hope these advances result in safer location tracking for everyone. Until then, continue to be vigilant and stay aware of unexpected AirTag alerts.