MIDLAND, Texas (Nexstar) – The arrest of a Midland man, charged with felony stalking, prompts new concerns about tracking technologies and the potential to use modern tagging devices maliciously.
On Monday, Midland Police arrested 36-year-old Ray David Valverde Jr.
A probable cause affidavit details an alarming sequence of events leading to Valverde Jr.’s arrest. The court document says a woman called Midland Police on January 24th to report a vehicle following her on the road.
Investigators later spoke with that woman. She said the same man who followed her earlier in the day, also called her phone approximately 40 times since January 22nd.
The woman also revealed to investigators that in December, she found an Apple AirTag attached to her car.
MPD made contact with Valverde Jr. who admitted to using the Apple AirTag tracking device to follow the victim for several months, according to the affidavit. Valverde Jr. was arrested and charged soon after.
So, what exactly is an Apple AirTag?
University of Phoenix Cybersecurity Expert Stephanie Benoit-Kurtz said an Apple AirTag is an easy-to-use electronic device that can help users find items, even people, from a phone. The device can reveal GPS coordinates of its exact location.
“You can attach it to your keys. You can attach it to your wallet. You can attach it to a child. You can attach it to a pet,” Benoit-Kurtz said. “It will allow you to track that particular thing across your cellular network.”
Valverde Jr.’s arrest also begs the question: could the popular tagging technology, which is small enough to be slipped into a purse or vehicle, be used in similar crimes? The short answer is yes.
“Just be aware that it could happen. Especially to your children … make sure they’re aware of them. If you find this technology somewhere, and it’s unexpected, it’s not yours, and you don’t know how it got there, get rid of it,” Benoit-Kurtz said. “Because potentially, somebody could be stalking you with it.”
According to Apple’s website, “AirTag is designed to discourage unwanted tracking. If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into 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 playing a sound to let you know it’s there … These alerts are triggered only when an AirTag is separated from its owner.”
Benoit-Kurtz said while tagging technology can be used maliciously, its popularity and affordability among consumers, even businesses, likely means the technology is here to stay. The market for tagging technology may grow.
For those who use an Apple AirTag or similar device, there is a warning about reverse-tracking. Benoit-Kurtz said users who lose their device need to delete the device immediately from their phone. Otherwise, those users could be tracked from their lost devices.
Hannah Horick, the Communication and Development Coordinator at the Crisis Center of West Texas, said stalking can come in more than one form – especially in the digital age.
“Stalking is definitely evolving as technology changes,” Horick said. “Most people think of [stalking] in terms of being physically followed, but phones and GPS systems have advanced so much.”
Horick said if anyone feels threatened or that they are being stalked, in person or electronically, they are encouraged to reach out for help. Local law enforcement or the Crisis Center of West Texas can provide the appropriate response and services.
Horick said there is also one other important thing to consider:
“Everything that you can document with photographs, with screenshots, with hand-written notes, is going to be helpful. Whether that’s building a case or making sure we can build a better safety plan with you.”
The Crisis Center of West Texas has a 24/7 hotline that can be reached toll-free at 1-866-627-4747.