08/09/2009 09:42 | By Rob Clymo: Columnist - Tech & Gadgets

The Clymo Brief: the burglar-beating spycam

Columnist Rob Clymo looks into a high-tech solution for keeping your gadgets safe from sticky fingers.

The Clymo Brief: the burglar-beating spycam © Swann Communications

It’s upsetting enough to be burgled once but I happen to know a couple of people whose homes have been broken into twice. Unfortunately, they’re not alone. This sad fact hit home last week when I heard a conversation on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show discussing when you are most likely to be burgled for a second time.

It wasn’t in the middle of the night. Nor was it during the day while you’re at work. And it wasn’t if you’ve accidentally left the front door open while pottering round in the back garden. Apparently these are all popular criteria if you’re a victim for the first time. But for repeat burglary victims it seems there’s a distinct strategy lurking inside the criminal psyche.

Burglar breaking into window

David Wilson, Professor of Criminology at Birmingham University, revealed your home is most likely to be broken into precisely 28 days after your first burglary.

By then the average householder will have claimed on the insurance, replaced the majority of the goods that were stolen and also helpfully put all that packaging outside; thereby alerting the burglar that there are more goodies to be had. The burglar will also know how to get in, and although you may have claimed on your contents insurance for all those missing possessions, it’s doubtful you’ll have done anything about making the doors and windows safer.

Avid gamers should take note that, alongside old favourites like cash, credit cards and MP3 players, one of the top items on a burglar’s shopping list is a games console. It’s not hard to see why. They’re valuable and in great demand, so easy to sell on for a decent amount of money. Throw in some top gaming titles and thieves are looking at a win-win scenario.

If you’ve ever had to claim on your household insurance then you’ll know how quickly a few games and DVDs can run into hundreds of pounds. Add on a handful of everyday electrical gadgets like an iPod, widescreen TV or laptop and that can easily be pushed into the thousands.

Gloved hand turning wheel on safe

But prevention is better than cure as they say, and in a week where a new list of UK burglary hotspots has been published it seems the task of preventing your console and other household gadgets from being snaffled by some two-bit crook has never been more pressing.

Burglar alarms, security lighting, safes, timers and lighting adapters can all be employed to make your home safer, but CCTV is an increasingly effective way of protecting property. It’s not expensive either. Less than a couple of hundred pounds buys all the kit you’ll need and simply having a camera on show is likely to act as a visual deterrent for burglars.

I’ve been rather smitten by the Swann BlackKnight. It’s an all-in-one colour CCTV kit with an impressive value-for-money features list, solid build quality and the ability to film in the dark. Better still, it’s wireless and weatherproof. I had visions of taking hours to get it working but because of the wireless connectivity, it took a few seconds to set up. 

Swann BlackKnight © Swann Communications

I just plugged the camera into a mains socket, did the same with the wireless receiver box and switched on. To record footage straight to tape or disc you select the AV channel on your VCR, DVD or hard drive and then the channel on your TV that you use for playback. There’s even a microphone built into the camera power lead for a complete tracking experience.

To be frank, I was cynical about how well the infra-red night vision aspect of the camera would work, but it’s brilliant. Train it on an unsuspecting victim poking round the garden and you get a ghostly apparition on your screen resembling an extra from the Blair Witch Project. It’s the eyes that do it. More impressively, the BlackKnight can probe further into the darkness than Derek Acorah at a table-tapping event, extending its owl-like nocturnal powers up to 15 metres. 

Man photographed in night vision

The wireless signal proves highly durable too with a 2.4GHz transmission between the camera and receiver of up to 50 metres. It can even handle the odd wall or two. It’s possible to have up to four of these tiny cameras working with just one receiver so it’s easy to cover all bases if you’ve got a larger property or business to keep tabs on.

Thankfully the only intruder I’ve had to deal with over the last few days has been a squirrel in the back garden that keeps helping itself to the nuts we put out for the birds. Nothing can stop the little fella. He’s already chewed through the wood and metal of our latest feeder and comes back every day now he knows he can get through just about anything we throw at him. I think he even winked at me the other morning as I stood there eating my Bran Flakes. Still, he’s proved to be an ideal target for the CCTV and at least he’s not wearing a balaclava and brandishing a cosh. I just hope he’s the only unwanted visitor we film coming up the garden path. 

Rob Clymo is a journalist employed on a freelance basis by Microsoft. The views in this article are those of the author and not of MSN or Microsoft.

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