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A woman put an AirTag in one of her boxes and caught her mover lying about his location

An Apple AirTag pairs with its owner's iPhone, which gets secure updates about its location through the Find My app. (Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)
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By the time her cross-country move came around in December, Valerie McNulty had heard too many horror stories about delays and theft during military relocations to take any chances.

So she took the bracelet with an Apple AirTag that her 4-year-old son had been wearing to school and dropped it into a box of his toys. Off it went, from the family’s home in Fort Carson, Colo., toward their new base in Fort Drum, N.Y. — until the expected delivery date came and passed with no sign of their belongings.

In the days that followed, McNulty used the AirTag’s Bluetooth-enabled tracking capability to catch her moving-truck driver in a lie and pinpoint the location of her family’s items.

“I didn’t think that we would have to really use it or rely on it,” McNulty said of the AirTag, “but I’m thankful that we had that option that we could.”

McNulty’s experience, which was first reported in the Military Times, comes amid a robust debate about the small plastic-and-metal disks, which launched last spring: Are they creepy or helpful? The trackers have been found on expensive cars, presumably so they could be stolen. But they can also be attached to commonly lost valuables, like keys, to make finding them easier.

Inexpensive Bluetooth trackers like AirTags and Tile give us the perilous power to find and confront our thieves. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

Apple’s AirTags can be as creepy as they are helpful. Finding them with some phones is easier than with others.

In McNulty’s case, her AirTag might have saved the day. After she reported her family’s missing items in early January, she said, the company that the Army had contracted with to coordinate their move promised that the boxes would arrive the next day — a Saturday.

Then the driver called. He said he had just picked up their items in Colorado and would drop them off that Monday, McNulty recalled.

That’s when McNulty, 33, swiped to her iPhone’s Find My app and checked the location of her AirTag. It was in Pennsylvania, she said, about four hours from her family’s new home.

McNulty pointed this out to the driver, who, she said, promptly hung up the phone. He called back a few minutes later and said he could get her the delivery that Sunday or Monday, she said. Then he called one more time, McNulty recalled, and said he was going to see his romantic partner in New Jersey but would still bring her the truck the next day.

McNulty took screenshots of the AirTag’s location through the night, she said, to hold the driver accountable to his word. The next day, Jan. 8, the truck finally arrived.

“Had we not had the AirTag, we definitely would have been waiting until Monday,” McNulty said. “Because there’s no way for someone to call him out on it.”

I found my stolen Honda Civic using a Bluetooth tracker. It’s the latest controversial weapon against theft.

Stan Burke, owner of Virginia-based Regal Moving Services, said his truck driver’s stop in Elizabeth, N.J., was within the bounds of company rules letting drivers pause long trips overnight. But, he said, the driver should have been honest about his plans.

“It’s not like he went the opposite direction, which would be a fireable offense,” Burke said. “It was within the limitations of company policy and within the limitations of what we’re responsible for with military shipments.”

McNulty shared her experience on Facebook in a post that has since been shared thousands of times. The point, she said, was to advise other families that it might be worth spending about $30 on an AirTag to track their belongings during military moves, which are notoriously fraught with delays.

“From now on, anytime we [move], I will be using them,” McNulty said. “And I used only one this time, but I would definitely use more.”

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