Last updated on July 14, 2017
Message circulating rapidly via social media warns you not to accept a free key chain given out at petrol stations because it is a detector that can be used to follow you home. The message features an image that supposedly depicts some of the free key chain devices.
The warning is just a revamped version of a much older hoax that falsely claimed that free sun-powered key holders being handed out at petrol stations contained a hidden device that could be used by criminals to track the movements of potential victims. The image in the new version does depict bluetooth trackers that can be used to locate nearby lost objects such as keys or briefcases. However, these devices have a very limited range and would be completely impractical for following people home at a distance (see detailed analysis below for more information).
This is a key chain given free at petrol stations Do not accept or just throw it away. Its a detector to follow u home!! Pls share wth fmly n frenz
According to a message that is currently circulating rapidly via social media you should be wary of accepting a key chain that is being given away free at petrol stations. The message warns that the free key chain is actually a detector that can be used to follow you home. It advises you to not accept such a key chain should you be offered one and asks that you share the information with family and friends. The message features a photograph depicting four of the ‘detectors’ held in a person’s hand. The implication is that, if you accept and keep one of the key chains, criminals can later use the device to locate your house and possibly rob or attack you.
However, the would-be warning is without substance. In fact, the message is just a revamped version of an old hoax warning that first began circulating back in 2008. In 2008, free promotional key rings were handed out at service stations in South Africa by fuel retailer Caltex. However, the key rings were totally innocuous and certainly did not contain any sort of tracking device. The electronics housed inside the key ring only operated a flasher device and had no tracking capabilities whatsoever. Since then, several – equally untrue – variants of the original hoax warning have circulated.
Of course, since 2008, tracking technology has significantly improved and, at first take, this latest version might seem more plausible than earlier variants. The image included in the post does actually depict a bluetooth ‘anti-loss’ key tracker. These little devices can be used to help you more easily locate lost items such as keys, wallets, or briefcases. If you attach one of the devices to an object, you can use a smart phone app to help you locate the object if you lose it. But, the devices have a very limited range. The specifications for the pictured trackers note that they will work for objects that are up to 75 feet (around 22 meters) away.
This limited range renders them pretty much useless for clandestinely locating people that have travelled more than a few meters away from the criminal with the tracking app. For example, if a person took one of the devices at a petrol station and then drove home, the criminals would have to immediately follow their target or the tracker would very quickly fall out of range. Since the criminals would pretty much need to keep the vehicle they are following in line of site anyway, the tracking device would be redundant. And, at a busy fuel station where dozens of customers might take one of the trackers in a short period of time, it would be logistically impossible for the criminals to follow ALL of their potential victims.
Theoretically, the criminals could slowly patrol the streets of the town in the hope of picking up a signal from one of the devices. But, this would be quite a hit and miss activity and it is difficult to imagine what advantage the tactic would give to the criminals in any case.
There are more sophisticated tracking systems available that might give the criminals a greater ability to locate potential victims if victims inadvertently took home a connected device they had been given. The limited range trackers depicted in the picture might be cheap enough to give away in a petrol station promotion. However, the more sophisticated trackers that might actually be powerful enough to achieve the goals of the criminals would probably be far too expensive to simply giveaway at fuel stations to large numbers of customers.
And, for the record, there are no credible news or police reports warning about the threat described in the message. Sending on such bogus warnings will help no body.