As cases of GPS, AirTag stalking happen in the Des Moines metro, how to keep yourself safe

These days, we're all used to having devices with incredible capabilities on our person at all times. But one feature in particular — the ability to track devices and their specific locations — is susceptible to abuse.

In the last few months, at least three men in the Des Moines metro have been arrested on charges of stalking using devices with GPS tracking capabilities, such as an Apple AirTag.

Recent stalking cases in the Des Moines metro highlight issue

Last week, West Des Moines police charged a 43-year-old for trespassing using an electronic surveillance device. The man allegedly taped an AirTag on the floor of a woman's car and used it to track her location, according to a criminal complaint.

Earlier this year, police charged restaurant and bar owner Steve McFadden for allegedly stalking an ex-girlfriend with a planted GPS device. Edwin Allen, owner of Zora nightclub in Des Moines, also was arrested when he allegedly used the device to track the woman's whereabouts while McFadden was on vacation.

More:Woman allegedly beaten by bar owner describes going back to him, says it was a mistake

The issue is nationwide. In December, two women in Texas and New York filed a class action suit against Apple alleging the tech giant's AirTags are "unreasonably dangerous" products that can be used by stalkers. "The benefits of Apple’s AirTag design do not outweigh the risks of the design," the suit reads.

Bluetooth connections on Apple smartphones and other devices "see" the AirTags and help you find them using Apple's Find My app.
Bluetooth connections on Apple smartphones and other devices "see" the AirTags and help you find them using Apple's Find My app.

Apple releases stalking detection feature

Apple originally designed the AirTag to help people find misplaced items, such as their wallet or keys. In response to repeated instances of the device being used in stalking cases, the company issued a news release in February 2022 that condemns "in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products."

Apple implemented a stalking detection feature that notifies users if a device is found to be following their movements. Android users can download the Tracker Detect app on Google Play.

More:Steve McFadden, Des Moines bar owner accused of stalking, arrested again

Iowa lawmakers seek to 'discourage this really terrible behavior'

Two pieces of legislation that seek to address GPS stalking are making their ways through the Iowa Statehouse.

Chair of the Senate technology committee, Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said she wanted to address the issue after someone placed an AirTag in her daughter's backpack. Cournoyer's daughter got a notification that her phone was being tracked while she was walking home from the library.

"It's scary enough to be stalked in the traditional way, but knowing that somebody could be tracking you using technology ... it's pretty scary," she said.

Cournoyer proposed Senate File 201, which would add language around digital devices to existing stalking laws. The bill would exempt GPS devices used for legal purposes, like parents who put them on their kids' backpacks and keys or a caretaker who tracks the whereabouts of a loved one with dementia.

"I think it's a good legislation," Cournoyer said. "When I met with the cyber crimes unit with the Department of Public Safety, they looked over the (bill) and thought it was good language that they could utilize."

The technology committed approved the bill unanimously, and the Senate was scheduled to debate the bill on Tuesday.

More:Bipartisan Iowa bill would require police to assess domestic abusers to keep victims safer

Rep. Phil Thompson, chair of Iowa's House committee on public safety, also proposed House File 627 in response to stories about the Grumpy Goat and Zora owners. The bill seeks to enact more severe punishment to repeat offenders. Someone who places an unauthorized GPS device without the consent of the other person "in order to track the movement of the other person without a legitimate purpose" would be charged with a serious misdemeanor for the first offense and an aggravated misdemeanor for subsequent offenses.

If the victim is under 18 years old, the offender would commit an aggravated misdemeanor for the first offense, and a class D felony for any subsequent offenses. It does not apply if the person is a parent or guardian of the minor.

"This is occurring and it's alarming and something we felt the need to address," Thompson said.

Thompson said he hopes to marry his bill with Cournoyer's. He said they acknowledge the severity of the crime and how terrifying it can be to victims.

"We're gonna do everything we can to discourage this really terrible behavior," Thompson said.

Police: Use tracker detection apps frequently

James Paup, a detective with the West Des Moines Police Department, said he has been assigned two cases in the past six months that involved stalking with an Apple AirTag.

Paup said he has tried the app Tracker Detect, which picks up tracking devices, including an AirTag, in your area. He recommends using it or a similar app frequently to scan for tracking devices, particularly by someone who may be in a more vulnerable situation.

If someone finds an AirTag or tracking device in their car or belongings, Paup said they should call police right away. Detectives can pull records from Apple to find out who the owner is, but some of the data is only available for a short amount of time.

He also said "the best case scenario" is to ensure your vehicle always is locked.

"People may try to justify things by claiming they're in some sort of relationship," Paup said. "But it's important to know that readers have a right to privacy. Even if they're in a relationship, it doesn't give anyone the right to put that in their vehicle or in their belongings."

USA TODAY contributed to this report.

Noelle Alviz-Gransee is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Follow her on Twitter @NoelleHannika or email her at

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: AirTag stalking: Tips to stay safe, what Iowa is doing to stop it