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Car thefts, tracking on the rise

The tracking device was found inside Kaylia Diabo-Morris’ car grill, a common place for thieves to slip the tracker in. Courtesy Kaylia Diabo-Morris

Kaylia Diabo-Morris was returning home from a family dinner in Pointe-Claire on Saturday when her husband’s iPhone buzzed with a notification stating an AirTag was detected nearby. 

But Diabo-Morris and her husband didn’t have any AirTags of their own. What they did know, however, is that slipping an AirTag into a vehicle is a popular technique employed by thieves attempting to track a car for theft.

“My husband started doing his own investigation with the phone, and when he got to the front of my truck his phone started going crazy beeping,” she said. “So that’s why we ended up calling the police.”

Diabo-Morris took the truck to the Peacekeepers, where they also tried to locate the AirTag, to no avail. She left the car there and took it to the garage on Monday morning, where the AirTag was found inside the grill of the vehicle.
Diabo-Morris’ story isn’t unique. More and more people globally have been targeted by the ploy, which utilizes Apple’s $39 Bluetooth trackers to help plan thefts.

It’s a big problem in Quebec, particularly in Montreal, where thefts have skyrocketed. In 2022, vehicle thefts rose by 50 per cent there, according to non-profit Équité Association. They reported that a 2020 Honda CR-V was the most stolen car, with nearly 2,700 thefts in one year. Other cars frequently stolen include the Honda Civic, Toyota Rav 4, and Jeep Wrangler. 

Community member Kayla Jacobs has a Toyota Rav 4, and in the past two weeks, she’d received notifications that an AirTag was with her twice. The first notification only showed on her phone after she’d been out for the day, and was located when she took it to a Toyota garage. The second tag was found by the Peacekeepers. 

“Yeah, they took it out, but whoever was tracking it could see everywhere that I stopped,” she said. “Is it even the same person? Is it somebody else? If it’s the same person that would mean they’re following me, am I supposed to be looking over my shoulder all the time?”

While some have been able to locate an AirTag tracking their car, others have simply woken up to find their driveways empty. Community member Brice Stacey experienced that sinking feeling twice, once in 2022 and once last month. In 2022, his car was recovered on the highway after the thief was caught driving erratically, but there’s been no trace of the vehicle this time. 

“The alarms went off, but I slept through it like a baby, because they do these crimes at three or four in the morning when people statistically are in the deepest part of their sleep,” he said. “It’s an invasion into your space and of your privacy. I’m going to get a home security system for sure.”

His car was a 2020 Honda CR-V – the most stolen vehicle in the province. Stacey’s mother, Shirley Melo, said she feels that the uptick in car thefts means that action must be taken to protect the community. 

“If cars had a code on the windshield it could get scanned, and if they get flashed it could send an alarm to the Peacekeepers’ offices,” she said. “I don’t think it’s our community in general, but obviously people have no problem coming into our community at 3:30 a.m. to steal someone’s car. Something needs to be done.”

Community member Samantha Montour had a similar incident with an Apple notification this week, though the notification informed her that AirPods were in her car – despite that, none were found. Still, the incident left her on edge, and she agreed that something should be done to protect community members – though she said many options suggested might be unfeasible. 

“It’s hard, I’m not having my car scanned coming in and out of my community because that’s a bit much for myself, and with checkpoints there’s so many points of entry to the community, is it realistic?” she said. “How are we going to manage that? It would need to be a really well thought-out plan.”

Peacekeepers spokesperson Kyle Zachary said that vehicle theft is an ongoing issue in the community. Over the last two years, 19 files in total have been opened concerning vehicle thefts, with three files in each year representing attempted thefts. He encouraged community members to be aware, especially if they own car models that are frequently stolen. 

“Park your car in a well-lit area, make sure it’s visible, and report anything suspicious to us,” he said. “There’s been instances where suspects are able to copy the digital signal of keys through the walls of a residence, so if you keep the keys by the door of your house, it’s a good idea to move them to a different location away from an outside door to be safe.”

Zachary said community members should call the Peacekeepers right away if they think a tag is in their car, and that they will take steps to secure an individual’s property. 

He said time is of the essence when it comes to car theft. In most instances, cars are either shipped overseas or taken apart and sold. For Stacey, there’s virtually no chance he’ll see his vehicle again. 

“We all think it’s not going to happen to us. Well, it happened to me, twice,” he said. 

evedcable@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on March 1 in issue 33.09 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.