Pace woman claims she was tracked by an unknown GPS device

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Rochelle Stokes was continuing with her normal routine of ferrying her children to activities and running errands on January 7 when she received a disturbing notification on her phone.

“I was at my son’s flag football, and when I got home I got a notification on my phone that an unknown prop was tracking my location,” Stokes, 33, said.

The Pace resident said she could see where an unknown device had sounded her location at specific times that evening while training her son, when she stopped at Dollar General and later when his vehicle was parked at home overnight.

Stokes was baffled by the device her phone was detecting. There were no other accessories on his person or in his vehicle at the time of the tracking. She also saw that others had posted on social media the same thing that had happened to them at Pace recently.

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Out of an abundance of caution, Stokes contacted the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office to report the incident.

Public Information Officer Sgt. Rich Aloy said the sheriff’s office hasn’t received many reports of unauthorized use of GPS tracking devices.

“It’s not something new,” Aloy said. “The technology has been around for a long time.”

Bluetooth tracking devices have grown in popularity in recent years as a simple solution for tracking important items. The Apple AirTag and Tile, for example, are widely available and cost as little as $20 to $30.

“These were made for good things,” Aloy said. “You can connect it to your luggage or your wallet or use it to find the remote when it’s lost.”

The downside of the technology is that tiny GPS trackers have become something used by stalkers and human traffickers to track unsuspecting victims. These tiny discs, some of them just over an inch in diameter, can be easily attached to the victim’s vehicle or dropped into a bag or pocket.

Stokes said her boyfriend searched his vehicle carefully for the device, but never found it. She added that they had been around for an hour to see if she was still being followed, and it looked like they weren’t.

“We believe he fell out of my vehicle as we were driving,” Stokes said.

Each smartphone allows the user to set privacy and location settings to prevent unauthorized tracking.

Aloy said people should remain alert to their surroundings when out in public. Anyone who suspects they are being illegally stalked should change their driving pattern and file a report with law enforcement.

“You never think something like this is going to happen to you,” Stokes said. “To think that someone is watching you is annoying.”

What to do if you receive an alert that an AirTag or Find My Network accessory is with you

According to Apple, AirTag is designed to discourage unwanted tracking. If someone else’s AirTag ends up in your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s traveling with you and send you an alert. After a while, if you still haven’t found it, the AirTag will start making a sound to let you know it’s there.

If you see an “Item Detected Near You” message on an iPhone or iPad:

  • Tap the message.
  • Press “Continue”. If you need help finding the AirTag or Find My Network accessory, tap “Play sound”. In particular, if the AirTag is within range of the person who registered it, you will not be able to play sound.
  • You can tap “Learn more about this AirTag” to see its serial number if the owner has marked it as lost.
  • To turn off the AirTag or Find My network accessory and stop sharing your location, tap “Instructions to turn off” and follow the on-screen steps. If you think your safety is at risk, contact local law enforcement, who may work with Apple. You may need to provide the AirTag, Locate network accessory, or device serial number.

If you are using an Android device, you can download the Tracker Detect app from the Google Play Store. Tracker Detect searches for item trackers within Bluetooth range that are separate from their owner and compatible with Apple’s Find My network. These include AirTag and compatible item trackers that use the Locate network. If you suspect someone is using an AirTag or other object tracker to track your location, you can scan to try and find them. If the app detects an AirTag or compatible item tracker near you for at least 10 minutes, you can play a sound to help you locate it.

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