New eBook Now Available

My new eBook is now available at Amazon:

Lot’s of information – 85 pages – a great ebook

Kindle subscribers read for free

Dozens of hours of research and writing over a 5 year period.

It includes chapters on Personal Security, Home Security and Safety, Identity Theft Prevention, Computer Security, and Self-Defense.

Topics include crime prevention in stores, parking lots, malls, traveling, and other areas.

Pickpocket prevention

How to avoid being robbed at an ATM machine

Complete home security guide – burglar proof your home

Complete guide to home security cameras including information on how to buy cameras, what specifications mean, etc.

Catching criminals with security cameras

How to avoid ATM skimmers

Computer Security – including information on virus protection, passwords, online shopping, etc.

Complete information on several Self Defense products and how to use them

Many other topics not mentioned here

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Hacking Into Home Security Cameras

I’ve reported on this blog that many computer viruses originate in Russia, and it’s been recently reported in some news sources that a Russian website was showing hacked footage from home and other security webcams.

The website showed lists of countries, with the number of webcam videos available from each.

Some of the popular home security systems that have monthly monitoring (ADT, Vivint, etc.) could possibly be hacked by someone using a SDR (software-defined radio), even if the system is unarmed. Someone who was tech savy could jam the system or interfere with the signals. Especially if the system used unencrypted communication signals, the culprit could send his/her own signals to the main controls. But he/she would have to be about 250 feet away or less from your house to do this.computers and disks

Most hackers are getting access through webcams (rather then the wall mounted cameras used by the home monitoring companies mentioned above), that are built into almost all laptops, and hooked up to many desktop computers.

You commonly may be bringing your laptop with you to many private places, including inside a motel room, bedroom, etc.  So the criminals could be spying on you there.

Once an intruder has camera access, they can monitor all your daily activities, when people are coming and going, etc.

There is said to be lot’s of information on the internet, and YouTube videos, on “how to hack into webcams”.

The Russian website mentioned above was probably using one of the most common laptop computerhacking methods, which is to change the default passwords that come with wireless devices and routers. Once they change your password, they’ve locked you out of your own device, and can log in, change your WiFi signal, and control your webcam.

The default passwords are usually easy to guess and won’t lock out after several incorrect guesses. So change your passwords to long ones that are hard to guess.

Another very common method hackers use is email links. They use Trojan Horse attacks to infect your computer with malware. This malware allows the hacker to remotely control your computer, including the webcam.Kaspersky Internet Security 2015

The best way to prevent this is to NOT click on ANY links in emails. Whether it’s an attachment or link that appears to come from a friend, your bank, free music download, etc., I would not click on ANY link in any email.


More Tips to Avoid Security Camera Hacking:

  • Ask your home security system rep what measures they are taking to make sure their cameras and network are not being hacked into.
  • Make sure you have anti-virus software.
  • Make sure your firewall is turned on.
  • Set your security settings at a high level.
  • Make sure your wireless connection and all security cameras have secure, unique passwords.
  • Put a cover over your webcam when not using it, and/or unplug it from the USB port.
  • Don’t put a laptop computer with a webcam in a bedroom.
  • Be careful who you communicate with online, and what personal information you give out in emails.
  • Be cautious about any computer repair people you allow to work on your computer.
  • Don’t buy security cameras from strangers.
  • Don’t buy used security cameras.


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The Advantages of Dome Security Cameras for Surveillance

Dome security cameras are very versatile and can be used in many different locations for surveillance. They can be placed outside and inside.

You’ve probably seen many of these cameras with their dark tinted domes – so people know a camera is there, but they don’t know which direction it’s pointing. In a good quality camera, the dark dome doesn’t affect the picture quality.

Although there is less likelihood that someone will try to grab or vandalize dome cams, over other kinds of cameras, they are available with vandal proof protective casing.

Dome cameras can have the same features you would expect from any type of security cameras, including:

  • Day and night surveillance
  • Pan, tilt and zoom
  • Motion detection recording
  • DVR video recording
  • Ability to view video remotely from a smartphone or PC

ptz dome cameraDome cameras can vary in price, and some are fairly inexpensive. However, I think it’s better to invest in high quality cameras, especially if you have a business. If you start having technical problems, or a crime occurs and you find you have poor quality pictures, you make wish you bought better quality cameras from the beginning.

It’s especially important to have PTZ (Pan, Tilt and Zoom) on your cameras if you have a business.  Being able to zoom in could make a crucial difference in being able to identify a crime suspect.  The camera shown at the above left allows you to remotely Pan, Tilt and Zoom, and record high resolution video to any DVR.  It can even record in low-light conditions.

dome security cameraThe dome camera shown above allows you to monitor your home or business in real time.

It’s a vandal proof camera with a wide field of view.

Up to 10 family members (or trusted employees) can view a live video stream directly to their smartphone, tablet, or PC.

security camera live view

You can set up “event-based scenarios” – for example, you can receive an email notification when an employee (or someone else) goes into your store cash register.

The camera will capture video as long as motion is occurring. The video will also be stored for you, for later access.


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The Easiest Identity Theft Method

A recent local newspaper article described an identity theft method you don’t hear of too often. However, this method happens a lot, and it can cause you a lot of problems.

Stealing mail is much easier than stealing garbage, because mail is clean, and it’s much simpler to sort through and get what you want.

The man in this story stole mail from a woman’s mailbox, including a check to pay for her cable TV bill. He not only changed the payee to himself, but he also increased the check amount by $200!

He was only caught because of a suspicious bank teller. He would have been very hard to track down, but the bank had him on surveillance video, as well as having his driver license number (used for ID to cash the check).

blank check

When they found him, he had more than $20,000 worth of stolen checks in his possession. It’s unclear how long the thefts had been going on, but they believe he simply drove through neighborhoods looking for mailboxes with the flags up.

They also found him with drug paraphernalia, so he probably needed the checks as a quick way to get money for drugs.

Only a few victims have come forward. If this happens to you, it may takes weeks before you discover it. Maybe certain bills don’t get paid, and you get late notices and fees. Or some other form of identity theft takes place, such as a bogus check being cashed, or money being charged to your credit card.

If a thief alters your check and uses it to buy something through the mail, many state attorneys won’t try to prosecute these cases. They say they won’t prosecute because, unlike a check that is used to buy something in a retail store, when a check is sent through the mail, you can’t prove who sent or wrote the check – you don’t actually see the check writer, so there is no store clerk or other witness that can identify a suspect.

If the flag is up on your mailbox, that is a giant signal to anyone walking or driving by, that there is mail they can take out before the mailman arrives.

Thieves will also steal mail after it’s delivered. One popular method they use is to pry open cluster boxes at apartment and housing developments.

After your mail is stolen they can use whatever information they find for identity theft – your full name, address, phone number, bank account and other account numbers, social security numbers, etc. They can use that information to open bogus accounts, buy things online, and other forms of identity theft.

The best way you can begin to catch someone stealing your mail, if no one is watching, is to install an outdoor security camera with a view of your mailbox area.

If you have an IP security camera you can also get an alert sent to your cell phone or computer.

I think it’s better and safer to have all your mail sent to a P. O. Box.


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Banks Should Install Security Cameras in Foreclosed Homes

It happens all over the United States.

In Florida a homeless man pocketed about $1,375 by renting out a vacant home. Another Florida man was said to have collected more than $16,000 in “rent money” in one month.

In New Jersey a man collected more than $15,000 in rent and security deposits.

A California man collected about $26,000 over a seven month period.

These were all cases of thieves renting out foreclosed or vacant homes they did not own.

Real Estate people say that many banks will make very little effort in managing or even trying to resell foreclosed houses. Often all they will do is hire someone to keep the lawn mowed.

home for rentThe thieves find these vacant homes just by driving around and being observant. Or they may use the Multiple Listing Service or other computer records to find foreclosed properties.

Then the scammer will pretend they are the owner and call a locksmith to have the locks changed or rekeyed.

Then they can simply run a rental ad. The homeless man mentioned above used Craigslist, and this has been a popular spot may other thieves use to run ads to rent homes they don’t own.

The victims of these crimes end up losing thousands of dollars, which they usually never get back. Since the victims have also signed a “fake lease”, they are forced to move out of a home they have settled into, because they are legally considered squatters.

Since the banks or other owners aren’t watching or managing these homes, these crimes often go on for months or years, and aren’t discovered unless somebody suspects something suspicious.

The crook(s) could be long gone before police find out about the crime. To find the crooks, police undercover officers may have to pose as potential home renters.

Considering many victims are losing thousands of dollars in these scams, I think banks and/or owners should take more responsibility with these properties.

One or two outdoor security cameras could be set up without too much effort.

Also, indoor IP security cameras could be set up. Both the outdoor and indoor cameras could have the feature of surveillance being recorded 24 hours a day. Cameras are also available which include motion detectors that will alert a cell phone if there is activity.

Even if no bank officials want to bother getting alerts to their cell phone, a DVR security system could be recording all activity.

If someone is seen showing up with a locksmith, or taking people inside and showing the home, at least there would be video evidence for police. Then action could be taken to stop the fraud scheme before it gets too far along.


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Beware of “Free” Home Security Offers

free home security with conditionsYou may see “Free Home Security system” ads on TV, in magazines, or even on inserts that come with your utility bill or credit card statement.

Usually there is an 800 number to call.

Be aware that if you call an 800 number you can’t block caller ID, so even if you don’t buy anything on the initial call, you’ll probably keep getting solicitation phone calls.  You may also get more calls trying to sell you different products.

On a TV ad you might not be able to see the “fine print”, or the print may not stay on the screen long enough to read.

A typical offer will say you’re getting a “Free” security system, but it’s NOT free.

Simplisafe keypadBy signing up you may be agreeing to an “installation charge” of $99 or more, and as much as a 3 year (36 month) agreement to pay a monthly fee of around $35.00 to $45.00 or more.

So a “free” 3 year system may really cost you about $1360.00, or even more.

Your contract may also auto-renew without you realizing it.

I personally don’t recommend buying anything over the phone.  You don’t know who you’re giving your credit card number to, and once they have your number, they can put a lot of unauthorized charges on your account, that may be very hard to get removed.

If you call one of the “free system” ads you may also be confronted with a high pressure salesman trying to sell you a long-term contract.

Also, the people running those ads are often just dealers or sub-dealers, so the installation and service may not be that great.

People also report problems such as some components not working properly, or expensive charges to replace a broken part.

If you want an easy to install system, with no long-term contracts and a low monthly fee, I recommend Simplisafe.


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The Best Way to Protect Your Valuables

Aside from taking security measures to protect your home or business from burglary and break-ins, one of the simplest and inexpensive things you can do to protect your valuables, is to use an Engraving Tool.

You may have items you don’t think will ever get stolen, but can be expensive to replace.

Things like power tools, special carpentry and automotive tools, lawn mowers, power saws, drills, bicycles, cameras, toys, etc.

Some of these items may be stored in a garage or outside shed that is less secure and easier to break into.

If you have them marked with your name and a unique ID number, you can have added peace of mind.engraving pen

Engraving tools are inexpensive and can actually discourage thieves, because the items marked with a name and ID are more difficult to sell.

It’s also easier to catch and prosecute the thief, and there’s a much better chance the police will be able to return your items to you.

You can also take photos of the items, as well as taking photos of things too small to engrave – keep the photos in a safe place.

engraving tool

The engraving tool shown above includes letter and number templates, and can engrave plastic, wood, leather, hard steel, ceramics, porcelain, and even glass.

Millions of dollars worth of property is stolen every year that the police can’t return to the owners, because the owners can’t be found.

Or, a crime victim who contacts the police might not be able to prove that recovered property belongs to them.

Typically, what a police department might ask for is:

  • A police report about your crime, describing the stolen property
  • Manufacturers serial numbers
  • Identifying marks, numbers, or engravings that you have put on the items

When they can’t find the owners or prove ownership, the police often end up selling stolen property at auctions, and even use online auction sites to sell the items.


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How SD Cards Are Used in Security Cameras

This is a follow-up to the post I wrote about DVR Cameras and Security Systems. Micro SD Cards are probably the most commonly used cards in security cameras.micro sd cardsThere are 3 sizes of SD (Secure Data) Cards – SD, Mini SD, and Micro SD. They have a memory capacity of up to128 GB (Gigabytes).

sd card-128gbA 128 GB card costs more than $100, but the one shown above is twice the speed of other cards. It’s usually used for Android tablets and Smartphones.

SDHC (Secure Data High-Capacity) have a memory capacity from 4 GB to 32 GB.

SDXC (Secure Data eXtended-Capacity) – like the 128 GB card shown above, have a memory capacity from 32 GB to 2 TB (Terabytes).

SD Cards have a notch on the left side which is a write-protection notch. Many have a sliding tab – sliding the tab up allows you to write on the card and sliding it back down protects what’s on the card from being overwritten or erased. Mini and micro cards don’t have this notch.

Micro SD Cards were created by SanDisk. One of these cards is almost small enough to fit inside a dime.

micro sd card with adapterAn SD Card Adapter looks like a regular SD Card and the Micro Card fits inside the bottom as shown in this photo.

You could actually use an SD Adapter with a Micro card inside just as if it was a plain SD Card. The plain card with the micro inside could then be placed in your digital camera.

However you don’t even need a regular size SD Card (or an adapter), as many of the hidden security cameras use a Micro card. You insert these cards with the gold pins pointing inward. You just have to make sure the card is turned the right way when inserting.

Sometimes a small diagram on the side of the device will show you the correct way. Whether or not you see a diagram, insert the card slowly. If you feel too much resistance, try inserting it the other way.

You may need to use your fingernail or some other object to push the card inI don’t suggest using a screwdriverthe cap of a Bic stick pen or something similar works good.

You will feel the card lock in place. To remove the card you push it in again slightly and a spring pushes the card out.

After you have taken pictures with your security camera the images are stored on the SD Card.

You could actually take a Micro SD Card from your security camera and put it into a USB Port of your computer to read, but you’d probably have a hard time getting it out.

micro sd card readerThis is why a Micro SD Card Reader was invented. This is just a longer device that you put the micro card into.

It’s like a handle – after you insert the micro card you have something to hold on to and more easily pull in and out of your computer’s USB Port.

As shown in the above photo, many of these readers also have some type of string and/or ring so that you can attach it to something and keep it from getting lost.

Again, you have to be careful when inserting this into your computer. Don’t force it in.

You may find that you have to angle the reader a little to the side to get in to go in because your computer’s USB Port may not be perfectly straight.

When you insert the card (inside the reader) into your USB Port correctly, you will see a small blue light on the side of the Reader and hear a short bell tone.

You should see a window come up that saysSD Card“. You will see options to Play, Open Folder to View Files, etc.

When taking videos with most security cameras, every time you start and stop the camera you create another file. You can click on the different files to view the videos. You can also delete any of these files if you want.


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How DVR Cameras and Security Systems Operate

A DVR (Digital Video Recorder) works like a VCR, but is much more efficient, because it records video images and stores them in a digital formatno tapes are used like a VCR, but pictures can be stored on computer files or a Compact Disc.
keychain hidden camera
Even mini hidden cameras, such as the Keychain Hidden Camera  above, have a built in DVR. So the DVR circuitry doesn’t have to take a lot of space.

The difference between the “mini” DVR security cameras and larger systems, is that with the mini cameras, images are recorded on to an SD card (usually a Micro SD card). Then you insert the card into an Adapter, insert that into your computer’s USB port, and watch the video.

There is a different file recorded every time you start and stop the camera. These files can also be deleted.

Many of the mini or hidden cameras operate for about 2 hours on a single battery charge.
alarm clock hidden camera
Other DVR hidden cameras, such as an Alarm Clock Hidden Camera, can record for up to 10 hours or more. The alarm clock shown above is a fully functional alarm clock with a hidden camera inside that uses up to a 32 GB SD card.  It also has motion activated or continuous recording.

A DVR Camera System includes a DVR that’s like the hard drive of your computer. DVR’s come in stand-alone models or a PC based system, which actually puts the software in your computer.

A stand-alone system will probably only allow you to use 16 DVR Security Cameras, while a PC base system will allow you to monitor and record up to 64 cameras.

You can log into these systems remotely and see your cameras over the internet in real time. Up to 16 cameras can be viewed at any time on a single monitor – it’s better to buy a larger size monitor for security camera system

You can also see the pictures on your cell phone, if you have the proper 3G or 4G internet access.

You can archive video with these systems for up to a month in many cases.

Many systems include motion-detection recording, and they can also be set up to record at scheduled times, or to record continuously. Specific cameras can be programmed to come on at specific times. Cameras are grouped into zones.

The better DVR Camera Systems have search features for the archived videos that will allow you to simply enter the dates and times for videos you want to play back. The images themselves are also stamped with the time and date.

More professional systems may also provide watermarking of the videos. The watermark is an assurance the video hasn’t been tampered with and is a valuable tool for law enforcement.

Better systems with higher quality cameras, will also allow you to adjust the cameras (even remotely) using PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) features.

They will also allow viewing of your DVR cameras by several people (many times an unlimited number). This means that whoever you authorize with the login information and passwords can view videos from any location.

Depending on your situation, you could have a security company monitoring cameras at your home or business at specified times. Also, several family members (even in different states) or authorized employees could check cameras from anywhere in the world they have any internet connection, at any time.


Complete security systems. No monthly fees. Easy-to-install.

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Surveillance and Wiretapping Laws

Many people wonder if/when it’s legal to use security and “spy” cameras, so I wrote this post to make things clearer.

My first advice is to not rely on everything you read here – consult an attorney, or your local police department about the surveillance laws in your area.

In most cases I don’t think you should have too many problems, as long as you’re using surveillance cameras for the right reasons.

mini motion detection camera with audioThe most common question concerns audio combined with video surveillance. Some websites even say that audio recording isn’t available in a security camera, but this isn’t true – it depends on the company – several online companies sell cameras that combine audio with video recording. The camera on the left is one example.


Even if your security cameras don’t record audio, Digital Voice
digital voice recorder
are widely available.

These are small and can easily be hidden. They’re usually about 1.5 to 3 inches wide and 4-6 inches long. They can be placed in the same room as a hidden camera and easily concealed.

Due to the digital format, many of the Digital Voice Recorders can record dozens of hours of audio and have memory features to easily search, review and delete recordings, much like a DVR (Digital Video Recorder).

Often what’s mentioned on websites is U.S. Code – Title 18, Section 2512. This is a federal statute passed in 1968, called the Wire and Electronic Communications Interception and Interception of Oral Communications Act, or also called the “Wiretap Act“.

It doesn’t specifically mention cameras, but basically says that a device is illegal if it is manufactured, sold or advertised and primarily useful for surreptitious interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications.

Legally speaking, “recording private conversations” and “covert video and audio recording” could be considered “wiretapping” and illegal. In general you aren’t supposed to do any recording (video or audio) that’s considered eavesdropping or an invasion of privacy, which includes recording in areas such as bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, bedrooms, restrooms, etc.

Some motels won’t place surveillance cameras in pool areas because some people consider being viewed or videotaped in their bathing suit an invasion of privacy.

Especially if you’ve had a crime problem at your home or business, I don’t think you should worry too much if your surveillance equipment combines video with audio recording.

Your intention should always be to turn over recordings to the police, if there is a break-in or some other problem they need to investigate.

If there have been crime problems in your area, some police departments may even give you advice and suggestions about buying and installing surveillance equipment. Police departments now routinely use dash-cams, and even “body cameras“, so they should be familiar with this type of equipment.

Again, my best advice is to consult with an attorney, or police department to be sure about laws in your area.


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