Is your phone being used to spy on you? How about your car? As “smart” internet-enabled technologies continue to evolve, unfortunately, so too do the techniques abusive spouses use to twist these advances into manipulative tools of surveillance and cyberstalking.
Should you be concerned for your safety? In 2022, you need to learn four new ways abusers are using high tech to stalk — and the steps you can to protect yourself.
Apple “AirTags” — Small Devices With Big Risks for Stalking
Introduced in April 2021, Apple “AirTags” are small tracking devices meant to help you find your belongings, like keys or a wallet, via the popular “Find my” app. However, tiny AirTags — they’re about the size of a quarter — are already being put to nefarious use as a stalking tool.
In a recent NBC News exposé on AirTags and stalking, a woman driving home from a bar started getting alerts on her phone that an AirTag was traveling with her and was revealing her location to a third party. She couldn’t find the device anywhere, but the next day, located the AirTag attached to her car’s interior wheel well, placed there by an unknown person. In another headline-making incident, swimwear model Brooks Nader revealed that’s she’d had an AirTag slipped into her jacket pocket while at a bar in NYC. Going public with her story on Instagram, Nader shared a screenshot of the notification she received on her phone that finally tipped off to the AirTag. It read: “Unknown accessory detected. This item has been moving with you for a while. The owner can see its location.”
According to reports, the model then asked her followers: “I never share stuff like this but what … does this mean?
“This ‘device’ followed me for the last five hours to every location and there was no one in my ‘network.’
“It also wasn’t a phone or tablet, it was an ‘item.’”
Nader later learned that the “item” was an Apple AirTag.
In response to these incidents, Apple notes that it has safety precautions in place to avoid stalking. Notifications about an AirTags presence are sent by Apple, as Nader eventually received. There is also a beeper that goes off on AirTag that is not near the person it’s registered to for a certain number of hours to alert to its presence.
Still, AirTags are concerning, and special precautions should be taken, especially if you are in an abusive relationship or recently decided to divorce your abuser, and risk for stalking is high. Consider these steps:
- Don’t ignore your phone notifications. Some phones produce so many notifications — from sales alerts at your favorite stores to almost constant email and text alerts — that it can be easy to miss the alert that AirTag has been unknowingly attached to you. Get in the habit of checking your phone, especially when you are out and about. If you get too many notifications, consider personal safety a good reason to go through notifications and only leave on the ones that really matter. Do you really need to know that DoorDash is running a special?
- Check what your FindMy app is tracking. Get in the habit of scanning FindMy to see which devices are showing up. Delete any old devices that are no longer in service. If you see an “item” in your FindMy, this could be an AirTag.
- If you use an Android rather than an iPhone, Apple recommends downloading the Tracker Detect app from the Google Play Store. Tracker Detect looks for item trackers within Bluetooth range that are separated from their owner and that are compatible with Apple’s Find My network. If you think someone is using an AirTag or another item tracker to track your location, you can scan to try to find it. If the app detects an AirTag or compatible item tracker near you for at least 10 minutes, you can play a sound to help locate it.
- Get in the habit of checking your jacket, purse/bag and car for an AirTag itself or any item that you don’t remember having with you. AirTags are so small that they may be hiding inside some other innocuous item that you may overlook.
- Keep your phone charged and the volume UP for notifications whenever you are out by yourself. Invest in an emergency charger to always have with you.
If you do find an AirTag that was planted on you without your consent, Apple recommends “To disable the AirTag or Find My network accessory and stop sharing your location, tap Instructions to Disable and follow the onscreen steps. If you feel your safety is at risk, contact your local law enforcement who can work with Apple. You might need to provide the AirTag, Find My network accessory, or the device’s serial number.”
Your Smart Car May Be Spying On You
In the UK, a woman was upset to find that her Tesla had been keyed while she was shopping. That night at home her husband simply removed the car’s hard drive, downloaded all the video files the car’s many exterior (and interior) cameras generate, and within hours, they found almost crystal clear CCTV footage showing a fellow shopper scratching the car, apparently angry that her car and the Tesla were parked too close together. The woman had no idea the car cameras were on all the time and recording.
Now, imagine a situation in which an abusive spouse used the other spouse’s ignorance of their smart car’s recording power to regularly spy on their comings and goings, including footage of other people who may ride in the car or stand outside the car, and places the car is driven. Unfortunately, this is information stalkers crave.
Abusive spouses often make “grand gestures” when trying to make up for past wrongs. If you’re suddenly presented with an extravagant car with all the bells and whistles as a “make up” gift from your spouse, consider it a red flag, especially if the owner’s manual is kept from you or you’re only given a vague description of the car’s features. One way to protect yourself from a smart car that you may drive? Go online and find out how to securely turn cameras off and/or learn how to routinely delete video and photo data from the car’s hard drive.
Smartphone Location Settings
Smartphones have even more risks for stalking, including a trap that “location settings” can present. To help serve you up a steady stream of relevant ads and suggestions across different platforms, your iPhone’s location settings keeps a list of your Significant Destinations (think favorite stores, restaurants, your job, your schools, etc. where you go the most). Your phone provides the last time you visited the Significant Destinations, providing a stalker with even more information about your habits.
A recent viral Tik Tok lays out the risk:
@t_sply Relationships may be ruined. #cheater#exposed#boyfriend#girlfriend#relationship#relationships#tech#iphone#iphonetricks#diy#family#mom#dad ♬ original sound – marcusaobeada
Want to protect yourself? Immediately go to your Settings and scroll down to Privacy. From there, select Location Services. On the next screen, scroll to the bottom and tap System Services. Scroll down again until you find Significant Locations. On this page, toggle the switch to the off position to stop your phone from tracking these places.
Add or Change Your Passcode!
There is so much information instantly accessible on your phone that can give a potential stalker instant access to your call log, email, photos and social media accounts. Add a passcode if you don’t have one, and make it one that your abusive ex couldn’t guess. Don’t use your birthdate, or your kids’ birthdays or digits from your phone number, etc. You can also use Face ID or a fingerprint for added security. If you have had a passcode for some time, change it. If your phone does come into your ex’s possession, there’s not much damage they can do if they can’t gain access.
Legal protection for spousal or intimate partner stalking is available to you. You have the right to be safe. To learn more about the legal measures available to victims of stalking, please contact us today to schedule a completely confidential attorney consultation. Take your first step towards safeguarding your future. Call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the button below.