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Trackers on board: Why criminals might plant a tracking device in your car


Personal tracking devices like Apple AirTags were designed to help us find our keys or wallets.

Police in the United States, however, are now investigating how the quarter-sized devices may be a tool in the arsenal of criminal gangs on this side of the border.

Authorities in Vermont, just across the border from Quebec, released a public service announcement telling motorists returning from trips to Montreal to be on the lookout for tracking devices.

Cybersecurity experts say it is a warning car owners across Canada should also hear.

Over the past month, three drivers have reported finding the gadgets stashed in their cars and an investigation is underway.

One theory law enforcement officials are looking into is that this could be linked to criminal gangs based in Montreal trying to move items like firearms or a small amount of cash across the border.

“The theory would be that you would have individuals on both sides of the border," says Ryan McLiverty, cyber intelligence analyst with the Vermont Intelligence Center (VIC), an agency collecting, analyzing and disseminating intelligence information.

“The driver of the vehicle would be unaware that contraband was stashed in or on their vehicle, and it could be an easy way to move small items from one side and to have it picked up on the other.”

The agency works in collaboration with a host of others including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as various Canadian law enforcement agencies.

The VIC says Montreal police have also suggested another theory: criminals planted the trackers in order to steal vehicles in a more convenient location. Car theft has skyrocketed across this country, just as thieves have used increasingly sophisticated methods to bypass protection mechanisms on vehicles.

Over the past few months, police in several parts of Canada cracking down on car theft rings have warned motorists about tracking devices. In February, a man from Montreal was charged after allegedly installing a tracker on vehicles parked at a Toronto mall.

Police say the quarter-sized devices may be hard to find in a car, as they can be hidden in several spots, like behind the side-mirror or in the wheel well. Investigators are looking into the methods they might use to stash goods like cash or guns.

Regardless of the criminals’ intent, cybersecurity experts say drivers who find gadgets like AirTags should report the discovery to authorities, and not ignore alerts that may appear on their phones.

“In most cases, people have had an alert on their iPhone of an AirTag,” says McLiverty. “That is how they have been able to report it to law enforcement. So just be aware of activity that is out of the ordinary.”

A good rule of thumb, he says, is to familiarize yourself with gadgets including trackers and surveillance cameras used to boost security, and to be aware that there may be a flip side. Top Stories

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