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AirTag crucial to recovery of $5 million of stolen tools in Metro DC

Stolen goods recovered from a tool theft ring

After getting fed up with overnight thefts of tools, a Northern Virginia carpenter planted AirTags on his tools, leading police to series of storage facilities full of stolen goods.

Twice, an unnamed carpenter woke in the early morning to find his van broken into, and thousands of dollars of tools stolen out of the vehicle. He decided that if there was going to be a third time, he was going to hunt down the thieves.

He bought a series of AirTags and planted them in some of the larger tools that had yet to be stolen.

On January 22, the thieves returned. All in all, between the three break-ins, 50 tools had been stolen from the man — including some of the tools seeded with AirTags.

Upon discovering the theft, the man drove around the DC metro area suburbs, following the thieves with his iPhone. Ultimately, he tracked the stolen tools to a storage facility in nearby Howard County.

The man did not take matters into his own hands, as others have. Instead, he called the police who took action, got a search warrant, and raided the storage locker.

The police didn't just find the man's tools. Instead, they found signs of a much larger operation.

Ultimately information from that one locker,led police to 12 storage locations. Across the storage areas, over 15,000 tools worth up to $5 million were found. All of the tools are believed to have been stolen from locations in Northern Virginia and some locations in Pennsylvania.

"The scope of the investigation is enormous and ongoing," Howard County Police Chief Gregory Der told The Washington Post in an accounting of the discovery published on May 31. "We believe the tools were stolen from retail stores, businesses, vehicles, residential properties and construction sites."

To date, none of the thieves have been arrested, Chief Der admitted. The police department says that they are looking into several suspects, and expect charges to be filed soon.

The carpenter who planted the AirTags has since gotten back about a half-dozen of his stolen tools. Police have identified about 80 victims of the theft spree, and launched a website in mid-May where potential victims can enter data to hopefully get their tools back.

Apple's AirTag has been central to many stories of theft and recovery. Stolen cars are the most common recoveries, followed by luggage, it seems. However, they have also been used to stalk victims.

Apple has since updated the firmware for the AirTags to assist in identifying when an AirTag has been unwillingly planted on someone or their possessions. And, the AirTag spotter software is available not just on iPhone, but on Android as well.