Car trackers may have more applications than you realize. While there are many innocuous uses, such as a company that owns a fleet of vehicles tracking its assets or a car insurance provider monitoring your driving habits to assess risk, there are some hidden dangers you should be aware of. A recent surge in popularity for widely-available tracking devices that can track your car in real time, such as Apple AirTags, Tracki and Bounci, have given consumers convenience and peace of mind for keeping track of valuable items such as cars. But they have also opened the door for an increasing stalking problem. A viral Tik Tok recently exposed how Apple AirTags have been used to stalk people. So how do you know if your vehicle has an unauthorized GPS tracker on it and what should you do if you find one?
What trackers are meant for
Before we dive deeper into the downside of tracking devices, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of examples of how this technology can be used for good and to make life easier. Tracking devices, for cars or anything else, have plenty of legitimate uses.
In recent years, GPS trackers have been increasingly used by insurance providers to implement telematics programs that monitor the road safety habits (or lack thereof) of drivers to see if they qualify for safe driving discounts. While some states, such as California, outlaw these programs based on privacy concerns, drivers in most states have the option to download apps or install devices from their car insurance companies to help obtain discounts on their car insurance. These devices or apps gather critical information, such as how hard a driver brakes and accelerates, to help the insurance company assess the risk posed by the driver and adjust their rates accordingly. The information gathered by these types of trackers not only helps determine if a discount is available, but provides valuable feedback to the driver (or their parents if its a teen driver) about their driving habits and things they can do to improve their safety on the road. Telematics programs are entirely voluntary.
Onboard vehicle systems
Car companies also use these same types of GPS tracker apps to detect crashes or provide the location of customers who might be in dangerous situations. Onboard vehicle systems like Onstar help ensure that someone who has been in an accident or is in danger can get help quickly.
Law enforcement also use these devices to gather information related to crimes. There are many examples of law enforcement using GPS trackers to help prevent crime or help catch criminals, especially related to incidents of burglary and robbery.
Places of employment
Employers who operate a fleet of vehicles will also most likely use some sort of GPS tracking system. This is to protect both the company’s investment in the vehicle and the safety of the employee. GPS monitoring allows the employer to verify if expenses that are submitted are legitimate, especially ones related to travel. It also provides useful data to the employer for information related to driving routes, time on the road, fuel consumption and necessary travel.
Rental car companies
Rental car companies also use these types of devices to keep track of their fleet. Being able to track its vehicles can not only help guard against stolen vehicles or vehicles that are taken into an unauthorized area, but also to provide better customer service for people whose rental cars break down and need assistance getting back on the road.
What trackers are not meant for
Along with the many positive uses for GPS trackers, there can also be a downside to these devices. There are increasing stories in the news about situations where trackers are being used to commit crimes such as domestic violence or stalking. Some people have even taken to referring to tracking devices as ‘stalkerware.’ This type of unauthorized tracking could be especially dangerous for more vulnerable people who may not be aware of the technology or how easy it is for someone to install a GPS tracker on their vehicle.
Is there a tracker on my car?
Since these devices are small, almost any driver could be vulnerable to an unwanted GPS tracking device being placed on their car, but there are steps you can take to better protect yourself and your privacy from unwanted tracking.
- Educate yourself about what a GPS tracker looks like: GPS trackers can be small, tag-like devices or larger boxes. Apple AirTags or Tile squares are quite compact, barely measuring over an inch tall. There are also GPS trackers that come in larger black boxes. These boxes may measure two or three inches on each side. These are battery-operated so they are larger in size.
- Know where to look: GPS trackers can be found on either the exterior or interior of the vehicle. Common places are ones that are easily accessible but not easily seen, such as the edge of the car, undercarriage, bumper and truck bed, seats, wheel wells or behind the license plate. If you’re checking for this be sure to be extremely thorough and overly cautious.
- Get assistance: You can use mirrors, flashlights and electronic sweepers (like a bug detector) to help you pinpoint GPS trackers around your car. If you still can’t locate it, you might want to consider enlisting the help of a professional. There are technicians who specialize in car security and might have extensive knowledge about GPS trackers or other security devices.If you have an Apple device, you can use its “Find My” feature to scan for unknown Apple AirTags that may be tracking you. AirTags are also designed to beep if separated from its home device for too long, although users have complained that the beeping is hard to hear.
What to do if stalkerware is found
If you do find a GPS tracker on your vehicle you should be able to remove it yourself without issue. You can typically pull it loose, since these devices are usually held on simply by magnets or tape. The bigger question is likely “what do I do?” if you find an unauthorized tracking device on your vehicle or person.
Fortunately, Apple does seem to be open to working with law enforcement to assist in cases where unwanted tracking has taken place with its devices. The company has stated it will make information available about the source of the tracker when it has been presented with a “valid legal process,” meaning that if you file a police report and can show that you have been being tracked by one of its devices, you may be able to get help from the company in tracking down the offender.
When to contact law enforcement
So what do you do next if you discover someone is using Apple Air Tags or other devices to track you without your knowledge or consent? Keep in mind, there could be situations where you find a tracking device and it’s completely harmless, such as a parent placing a tracker in a child’s car to keep track of their location, or an employer installing one on a company vehicle. But if you aren’t sure and can’t easily find a good explanation, it might be a good idea to act out of an abundance of caution, which means you might want to contact law enforcement for additional help.
Before you contact law enforcement, it’s a good idea to preserve your personal safety first and foremost. If you can avoid it, don’t drive the vehicle you found the tracking device on in case there are additional tracking devices. Take extra steps to find alternative transportation, whether it’s with another family member, a trusted friend or rideshare until you can ensure that you are no longer being tracked. If you feel the unauthorized device indicates a physical threat to you or your loved ones, you might also want to consider temporarily relocating to a trusted friend or family member’s home until the matter is resolved.
Once you’ve reported the unauthorized tracker, you might have the option to press charges, but keep in mind that it will be crucial for you to work with law enforcement to collect as much evidence as possible. If you are able to discontinue driving the vehicle immediately, don’t touch the device at all and let the police examine it in place. If that’s not possible, take pictures of the tracking device in place before removing it. And if you’ve enlisted the help of someone else to find devices, ask them if they are willing to go on the record about what they’ve found.
If you find an Apple Air Tag and are concerned it was used for stalking or unwanted tracking purposes, then you will need the device’s serial number. Fortunately, you can find this by using the “Find My” app. If you physically have the Apple AirTag, then you should be able to locate it by inspecting the tag yourself under the battery. The police will also likely want to interview you to see if you know of anyone who might want to track you or if you’ve been harassed in other ways recently.
Ultimately, if you at all feel that your safety or the safety of your loved ones could be in jeopardy, it might be the best course to contact law enforcement.
There are also other resources in addition to law enforcement that you can utilize if you are the victim of stalking or domestic violence, including:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- The National Center for Victims of Crime
- National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women
- Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP)
- Stalking Resource Center
There are numerous scenarios where you might consent to having a GPS tracker placed on your vehicle. However, the rise of tracking devices like the Tile or Apple Air Tag have made it possible for GPS tracking to be used for dangerous purposes, too. The news and social media are filling up with stories about people who have been the victims of unauthorized tracking devices.
All of these incidents can seem scary, but if you remain aware and diligent about checking yourself and your vehicle for devices, particularly if you’ve been around people you don’t know or who might pose a threat to your safety, you can help keep yourself and your family safe. If you suspect you are a victim of unwanted tracking, get yourself to safety and reach out to local law enforcement.
Yes, it can. Simply putting a GPS car tracker in a metal box will block the signal, which is why it is always best to have your car tracking device fitted by a professional approved installer who can hide the tracking device somewhere on the vehicle very discreetly.Can you block a vehicle tracker? ›
Yes, it can. Simply putting a GPS car tracker in a metal box will block the signal, which is why it is always best to have your car tracking device fitted by a professional approved installer who can hide the tracking device somewhere on the vehicle very discreetly.How can I detect if there is a tracker on my car? ›
One way to find a GPS tracker is to use a bug detector that can scan both the inside and outside of a vehicle. It is also possible to physically detect a GPS tracker in known locations, such as in the OBD port, under the backseat or underneath the car.Where do criminals hide trackers on cars? ›
Crooks place the trackers on the underside of the vehicle, inside wheel wells, gas doors or trailer hitches for example. Or worse, if they have access to an interior, place it under your seat. These devices are either magnetic or can be attached with velcro or tape.Is it illegal to put a tracker on a strangers car? ›
However, we do know that in all 50 states it is illegal to use a GPS tracker on a car that you do not own. So, if you want to track the whereabouts of a person, you should consult with an attorney.What car tracker Cannot be jammed? ›
VHF (Very High Frequency) technology is an undetectable tracking frequency that CANNOT be jammed or blocked by any equipment thieves might be using. This means that, even if thieves are able to compromise both the GPS and GSM tracking capabilities, the countermeasures of VHF means that your vehicle is still trackable.Can you jam a vehicle tracker? ›
Jamming interferes with GPS vehicle tracking, also known as fleet tracking or telematics, which is a critical source of business data to many companies. Fleets use telematics to track and manage fuel use, idling, driving behaviour, engine health and other activities.Can a cell phone detect a GPS tracker? ›
Is there an app that can detect a GPS tracker? Yes, there are many apps that can detect if a GPS tracker has been installed on your cell phone. If you have an Android phone you can download Certo Mobile Security for free from the Play Store and quickly scan your phone for GPS tracking apps and other malware.Is there an app to see if someone put a tracker on your car? ›
Android users can scan for nearby AirTags (and AirPods) if they download the Tracker Detect app in the Google Play store. Similarly, Tile has a feature in its iOS and Android apps called “Scan & Secure” that will help locate any nearby trackers that are moving with you.How can you tell if someone is tracking you? ›
- Unknown Apps. ...
- Excessive Background Data Usage. ...
- Browser History Mismatch. ...
- Battery Drain. ...
- Abnormal Reboot. ...
- A Rooted or Jailbroken Phone. ...
- Frequent Overheating. ...
- Suspicious Permission Requests.
Look for any suspicious boxes with or without antennas that attach to your car with a magnet or tape. The fuel tank is a common spot for a person to hide a GPS device. Inside the wheel wells and under the front and rear bumpers are also common hiding places for devices.Do car GPS trackers work when car is off? ›
Hardwired GPS trackers are hardwired into the car's electrical system and can track the location even when the car isn't running.How do thieves disable car trackers? ›
By jamming GSM signals, the criminals aim to interfere with and inhibit the performance of a tracking device – its ability to monitor and gather important information. Luckily, Teltonika trackers have a functionality that can detect jamming and help prevent theft or recover a stolen vehicle.Is tracking someone without their knowledge illegal? ›
In six states (California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia) laws more broadly prohibit the use of electronic tracking devices, not just on vehicles, and not just in the context of stalking, but when they are used to determine the location or movement of a person without consent.Can you track someone without their knowledge? ›
With Cocospy, you get a phone tracking app that will track an Android or iOS device without the knowledge of the device owner. Cocospy is able to do so because of its powerful stealth mode, which lends you 100% invisibility to snoop in and track cell phone activity without suspicion.How do I find an AirTag in my car? ›
Find the AirTag using a Bluetooth scanner
Because AirTag regularly emits Bluetooth signals that Apple devices can pick up, you can use a simple Bluetooth tracker for iOS or iPadOS to scan the area around you and see if an AirTag is nearby.
So, vehicle tracking using GPS technology can be blocked using jamming devices that interfere with these transmissions. For instance, wrapping things like aluminum foil around the GPS receiver creates a Faraday Shield, which blocks the GPS signals.How do I block location trackers? ›
- Open the “App Drawer.”
- Go to “Settings.”
- Select “Location.”
- Enter “Google Location Settings.”
- Turn off “Location Reporting” and “Location History.”
- You can also select “Delete Location History” to remove all previous tracking data.
- Open Chrome on your computer.
- Click 'More' and then 'Settings' in the top right of the screen.
- Click 'Privacy and security' and then 'Cookies and other site data'
- Tick the box that says "Send a 'Do Not Track' request with your browsing traffic"
Adblock Plus: Primarily an ad blocker that also protects against tracking and malware. DuckDuckGo: Provides an easy-to-use extension that houses some neat features.