Europol eyes Bluetooth trackers as a popular tool for crime

Bluetooth trackers are useful for locating keys or other personal items. However, they’ve also became an unexpected tool in organized crime. The European agency for law enforcement cooperation, Europol, warns that crooks can use Bluetooth tags to geolocate loot.

Bluetooth trackers, when connected to a mobile device, emit a Bluetooth signal, which, when detected by a paired device, reveals the tag’s location on the map. The range of Bluetooth signals varies from 10 to 120 meters.

To extend its limited range, manufacturers introduced a crowdsourced locating feature – the Bluetooth tracker’s signal can be detected by any nearby mobile device of the same manufacturer, and then its location is relayed to the owner.

“Bluetooth trackers are now being leveraged by criminals for geo-locating illicit commodities, with a particular focus on drug trafficking,” Europol’s Early Warning Notification reads.

Organized criminals mostly use Bluetooth trackers in drug trafficking. Europol has highlighted several instances in which trackers have been used to locate vehicles involved in organized property crime and vessels used in migrant smuggling.

“The vast majority of cases relate to cocaine smuggling. These trackers have been used to locate cargo, often over 100 kg. These shipments originate in South America and are bound for ports and markets throughout the EU,” Europol said.

Officers have found Bluetooth trackers alongside cocaine in container shipments of food products. Sometimes, they were hidden in sea chests within ships or in commercial premises in Europe.

Europol confirms that drug traffickers use Bluetooth trackers to locate illicit shipments upon and after arrival in ports and onwards toward other storage locations. Due to technological limits, it's improbable that trackers could be used to locate shipments at sea – GPS technology is more suitable for this purpose.

“GPS devices and Bluetooth trackers may be used in combination for more reliable geolocation,” Europol noted.

GPS trackers tend to have limited battery life and can be obstructed by solid structures. Although Bluetooth trackers are not effective when out of range of devices paired with the same type of tracker, they tend to be smaller, cheaper, have a longer battery life of approximately one to two years. They're also waterproof.

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