Alison Kessler told police she was suspicious when her son’s father, John Stacey, seemed to know that she had paid a visit to the courthouse. She didn’t see him following her. How did he know?
When a mechanic found a tracking device stuck to the underside of her car, it made sense. Kessler went to the police and accused Stacey of planting it.
It would have been that easy. Planting small tracking devices on cars to monitor people’s real-time locations is simple, cheap and, in many cases, illegal, according to lawyers and private investigators in South Florida.
The proliferation of tracking devices—particularly the type of popular gadgets being sold to help you find your belongings, such as your wallet, keys or luggage—have led to an increase in fears of stalking, experts say.
Five years ago, two Hallandale Beach commissioners and one candidate complained to police when they found GPS trackers planted under their cars. A private investigator named Victor Elbeze pleaded no contest to the rarely invoked criminal charge and was fined $293.
More recently, Apple released its new AirTags, coin-sized $30 wireless devices that the company says are “a supereasy way to keep track of your stuff.”
But amid concerns the Bluetooth trackers instead are enabling stalking, Apple last week pledged to update the devices to boost privacy. Now, the AirTags emit an audible tone whenever separated from the device owner for more than eight hours, which would warn someone who’s being followed without her or his knowledge. (Originally, the tone emitted after three days.)
Prosecutions for planting a tracker are rare, with police usually focusing on proving a case of stalking or domestic violence.
“Stalking cases are notoriously difficult to put together,” said former Broward prosecutor Sasha Shulman, now a criminal defense lawyer. “Everything is so circumstantial. Did someone see him put it there? No? Were his fingerprints on it? No? Then how would you prove it?”
Records show the GPS device that Stacey was accused of using was an Optimus 2. The device, sold online for about $40, boasts hundreds of four- and five-star customer reviews (some of the negative reviews are tongue-in-cheek, such as the one-star review from a customer who complained that the device was no match for the hammer her husband took to it when he found it on his truck).
It’s not impossible to figure out who purchased a device if the manufacturer or seller records serial numbers and sales, Shulman said, but it can be a time-consuming process. And in the most dangerous cases of stalking, time is a precious commodity.
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