Next time you’re using a public restroom, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to the hook inside the stall. You see, while this normally helpful feature may appear innocuous, it could actually be part of a shocking trend emerging in bathrooms around the world. And if you spot a suspicious-looking hook in person, you’ll want to get out of there as quickly as possible – then immediately alert the authorities.
Now, you may think that such a warning is exaggerated nonsense, as the presence of a hook in a stall doesn’t inherently suggest anything unusual is going on. Indeed, for years now, these holders have simply provided a way for patrons to easily hang up their coats and bags as they go about their business. Nowadays, though, these apparently harmless items may signal something sinister – and it’s very difficult to make sure at first glance.
Yes, the troubling hooks in question essentially look identical to those you’d find anywhere else. This makes them particularly hard to spot – although they’ve nevertheless turned up in three different women’s restrooms across the Florida Keys. And as a result of this worrying phenomenon, authorities are urging people both to be vigilant and immediately report any instances of these potentially dangerous items.
Still, because there’s nothing noticeably untoward about the hooks, you’d probably never know that someone was using them to commit a crime. And, of course, this isn’t the first instance of wrongdoers preying on unsuspecting folks in what should be private or discreet settings. In fact, it’s just the latest means by which crooks have taken advantage of their unknowing victims.
For example, ATMs have proven to be a real hotspot for hidden crime. And while many machines warn users to shield their Personal Identification Number (PIN), even this may not be enough to deter savvy thieves, as the methods they’ve employed to steal users’ data have become increasingly nefarious in recent years.
One such technique involves using a counterfeit card reader that can harvest information from a card simply by reading its magnetic stripe. It’s also worth looking out for nearby hidden cameras, which may be planted inside ostensibly harmless objects. These are often easier to spot, as there should be no clutter around the machine – meaning even something as simple as a leaflet holder in the vicinity should raise alarm bells.
If you do see anything suspicious at an ATM, then, you can either contact the bank directly or dial the telephone number typically featured on the machine. And it pays to be cautious, as those hidden cameras could easily record not only your PIN, but also your card info. These details can then be used by felons to clone your bank card.
That’s not all you need to look out for at an ATM, either. Before you use a machine, inspect the slot that dispenses receipts. And if there are any fractures or signs of foul play around that opening, you should back away quickly. The slightest indication that anything has been taken out or reconstructed is a major red flag, as it suggests that someone may have inserted a card scanner there.
Alarmingly, almost every element of an ATM is open to tampering; for instance, fake keypads can be used to record and transmit your PIN in real time. And even if you do eventually realize something strange when trying to withdraw cash, it could well be too late. So, to avoid falling victim to such a ploy, keep an eye out for keypads that feel strangely spongy or simply looser than normal.
Phony card slots are often used by criminals to collect cards, too. A slot jutting out from the machine rather than sitting neatly against it could be a telltale sign that it’s fake. And if your card is swallowed up as a consequence of being put in a tampered ATM, you should get in touch with the bank at once – and remain at your location if at all possible.
Hijacking an ATM isn’t the only means by which fraudsters can get their hands on your personal details, though. Yes, there are plenty of other ways for unscrupulous folks to skim your info – particularly if your card leaves your sight. For example, if you give your card to a waiter, they may be able to lift your data with a gadget designed for the task at hand – and without you ever noticing.
In stealing your data, a crafty counterfeiter will be hoping to create a cloned version of your card with an identical magnetic strip. And with both this and your PIN, the thief will then have everything they need to access your cash. But while this type of fraud is certainly a problem for consumers, fortunately the number of instances of such crimes is beginning to slow down in the U.S.
Between September 2015 and March 2018, money lost through the use of cloned cards fell by 46 percent across every merchant in the country, according to Visa. And for U.S. retailers who use chip-enabled payments specifically designed to counter cloned cards, there was a whopping 75 percent drop. Those numbers could change, however, as contactless technology becomes ever more prevalent in the States.
Contactless payments reportedly account for over 90 percent of point-of-sale transactions in Australia and more than half of the same in Canada and the United Kingdom. At present, though, the tap-and-go system is only just beginning to take off in America. As of 2019, a mere 0.18 percent of in-person purchases were made using a contactless card.
But the landscape is beginning to change, with many sellers now set up to accept contactless cards and systems such as Google Pay and Apple Pay. As a consequence, banks are beginning to send out more cards with contactless payment capabilities. All that’s left, then, is for American consumers to embrace this new method.
When the U.S. public start to use the technology en masse, though, they may find that they’re opening themselves up to a completely new means of fraud. You see, thieves can reportedly swipe data from your contactless card without it ever leaving your pocket. Cheap card-reading devices can allegedly lift information and even cash simply by being in close proximity.
And while such crimes aren’t a huge problem in countries where contactless technology is more widespread, it is a growing concern. For instance, in the U.K., contactless cases accounted for around three percent of card-related fraud as of early 2019. In 2018 that amounted to 2,740 separate incidents, with financial losses totaling almost $2.25 million. One particularly eye-watering example saw nearly $500,000 being stolen.
Despite those alarming figures, though, every one of those cases involved the thief swiping their victim’s card. And although the technology needed to lift data remotely supposedly exists, its use has seemingly never been verified. After all, in order to receive money from your card in passing, a thief would need a business account and a registered means of accepting payments – and both of these are very easy to trace.
So, it’s little wonder that most contactless fraud involves the more traditional methods of stealing either a card or its data. You may never know that this has happened, either, meaning it’s a good idea to periodically check your accounts for any out-of-the-ordinary activity.
And while you’ll generally be compensated by your bank if you do find yourself the victim of card fraud, unfortunately you’re not as well-protected when it comes to the mysterious hooks that have been appearing in women’s restrooms. That’s because these innocent items actually contain hidden cameras that allow their owner to spy on you in the bathroom – and you’ll never know about it.
Even worse, there’s no obvious giveaway that these hooks are any different to regular ones in stalls. This is apparently an intentional design trait, as the objects in question are more typically marketed to help improve home security. Now, though, conniving criminals have now found an alternative use for them.
Alarmingly, absolutely anybody can simply order the hooks online. They’re not expensive, either, coming in at Amazon for as little as $19.99. So, there’s no real financial or practical barrier to acquiring these potentially invasive implements. And that means anyone could feasibly install one in a public restroom.
The hooks in question have tiny, almost indistinguishable holes at the top that, at first glance, may appear to be simply part of the design. Shockingly, though, these features actually host tiny cameras. And the items can essentially be mounted anywhere – inside vents or even among other existing coat hooks as well as in restroom stalls.
In 2016 private investigator Carrie Kerskie told NBC affiliate WBBH, “Nowadays, with the advances in technology, all you need to do is insert a MicroSD card. The battery life for these coat hooks, I looked it up, is two hours. Then, you just take it out, pop it in the computer, and you have all your images. It’s real simple and easy. [Criminals] just walk in, hang [the hook] up, walk out, go back a few hours later and take it off.”
Local police have therefore advised business owners to be vigilant. “Anyone who has a public restroom on their property needs to check [it] closely,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in 2016. “If you find anything suspicious [that] you think might contain a hidden camera, don’t touch it. Call us right away, and we will respond. Keep in mind, though, that these are very small cameras that can be mounted in many locations and hidden in many seemingly everyday items.”
But according to Kerskie, you can protect yourself from these invasive hooks using gadgets such as the Spy Finder. This tool works by using a ray that highlights hidden cameras with a red dot. “If it’s a camera, that red dot is going to stay in the same place,” the private investigator told WBBH. “The size of a camera lens can be the [size] of a period at the end of a sentence. That’s how small they make them these days.”
While such devices do exist, though, they’re not cheap. At the moment, the Spy Finder is selling for almost $250 plus shipping on Amazon. That’s incredibly expensive when compared to the small price of the hooks. But if you’re worried about the prevalence of hidden cameras, it could still be a worthwhile investment.
Indeed, Kerskie particularly advocates taking the plunge if you’re part of the demographic targeted by these hidden cameras. “I do recommend it if you’re a woman and you’re living alone or even a girl in college dorms,” she said. “They have been found in those places.” She also advised business owners to do their own due diligence.
“If you own an establishment with a dressing room or public restrooms, it’s a good idea to go in there periodically and check yourself,” Kerskie told WBBH. “That way, you’re not the one who is on the six o’clock news saying [that] there was a camera found in your establishment.”
Not everything marketed for camera-detecting purposes is useful, though. Yes, while there are apps that claim to be able to detect hidden cameras, they can be unreliable – even, as Kerskie claims, giving false positives. That’s because the technology often works using radio frequency signals, and it can therefore mistakenly identify anything else on the same frequency – another wireless item, for example, or a Wi-Fi signal – as a hidden camera.
It’s also worth remembering that hooks aren’t the only means by which people can install hidden cameras in public places. These devices come in all shapes and sizes, after all, with some being as small as a quarter. The magnetic Ehomful mini spy camera, for example, packs both night vision and motion detection into a tiny one-inch gadget.
The Ehomful camera’s night vision allows it to clearly film subjects as far as 20 feet away. Its motion detector, meanwhile, alerts the camera’s owner to people in its vicinity along with transmitting live photos and videos. And because the camera can be linked to a Wi-Fi network, a criminal only needs an internet connection to access any footage that it has recorded.
But the Ehomful is not the only hidden camera with remote access. The same functionality is offered by the JMP Power wireless camera, which is masked inside a digital clock. Another company’s device bundles the same features, including motion detection and night vision, into a security camera that’s also waterproof. And, worryingly, such technology is cheap to procure, too.
Yes, while these kinds of tiny cameras may once have been the preserve of science fiction, industrial innovation has made them accessible by anyone. In January 2020 video security expert Randy Andrews told Forbes, “The technology has gotten much, much smaller. We’re talking about a micro camera lens the size of a pinhead.”
Consequently, it’s probably unsurprising to hear that hidden cameras aren’t only found in hooks in public restrooms. For instance, in December 2019 a man was apprehended in San Jose for allegedly installing a pair of recorders in a Starbucks bathroom. Shawn Evans was reportedly discovered outside the building, and he apparently had evidence that tied him to the concealed apparatus.
Around 18 months beforehand, another camera was uncovered at a Starbucks restroom in Alpharetta, Georgia. This incident came just one month after a device was discovered attached to a baby changing station in the very same coffee shop. The hidden camera, which was pointed directly at a toilet, had recorded roughly an hour of footage before being found.
At the time, a police spokesperson shared advice on how customers could protect themselves from such intrusion. “Always be aware of your surroundings,” Officer Howard Miller told FOX 5 DC in 2018. “If you’re in a restroom that’s not yours, be sure you look around and check hidden areas that aren’t very visible. Unfortunately, this seems to be happening more often than you would think.”
And as hidden cameras become easier to purchase, they’re appearing in more and more places. In 2019 alone, unwitting victims turned up spycams in public accommodation from Sydney to San Francisco. An entire syndicate was also found to be recording and even live-streaming more than 1,600 motel lodgers in South Korea.
So, if you’re worried about hidden cameras but don’t have access to a device that can detect them, there are thankfully still steps you can take to help ensure your privacy. It’s worth keeping an eye out for strange items in a room, for example. Removing any battery backing or searching for the make and model of an object on the internet should reveal whether it’s concealing a camera.
And according to Michigan State Police detective Kenneth Weismiller, the most important thing you can do is be aware of your surroundings. “Remain vigilant and act on those instincts,” he told the Detroit Free Press in 2019. “If those hairs on the back of your neck are sticking up and something doesn’t seem right, check it out.”
Naturally, you should also be wary of where your money is going, as you don’t want it to fall into the hands of a scammer. And as our society becomes ever more digitally sophisticated, criminals have adapted to find new ways of prying away your hard-earned cash – as well as your personal information.
There’s no doubt that new technology has made our lives a lot easier in many ways. But it has also made theft a much simpler proposition, as cash becomes a distant memory, and computers control access to our homes, our cars and our money. Using cutting-edge information technology (IT), thieves are able to work in surprisingly up-to-date ways.
20. ATM skimmers
Sometimes a crook will cover an ATM’s face with a special device that looks like it’s just part of the ATM (which stands for Automated Teller Machine). It’s really hard to detect that anything is different from normal. The skimmer simply records the cardholder’s data, while a hidden camera photographs their Personal Identification Number (PIN).
This relatively simple method of stealing money can be very effective, with losses to this method estimated at more than $1 billion in a single year, according to the ATM Industry Association. But there is good news: companies have responded, and they’re coming up with new card readers that will be tougher to infiltrate. Plus, if you have a chip-equipped card, then your data’s already safer.
19. Digital pickpockets
In 2016 Russian media reported a new form of pickpocketing. Apparently, a man used a reader to thieve from bystanders using contactless payments. Experts confirm that in theory this is plausible if the thief uses a machine that deploys GPRS technology. However, usually banks demand that those who want to have this type of card-reading machine open a business account, which prevents the anonymity that a such a thief would require to get away with the crime.
If the hacker does get a hold of your card information, your bank or credit provider should notice the strange charge on your account. In most cases, such noteworthy spending will result in a phone call or alert to confirm that it was, indeed, you who made the contactless charges. If not, you can cancel the payments and order a new, uncompromised card.
18. Stealing cars by radio
When a Mercedes car vanished from outside a home in the British town of Grays, Essex, it seemed that a new crime had been born. Newspaper The Sunday Times reported in April 2017 how a pair of men had apparently used a radio transmitter for the theft. The report indicated the device had enabled them to unlock the door of the car.
With the easy-to-acquire device, the men were able to boost the signal from the fob key inside the house, thus opening the previously locked doors. At the time Mercedes claimed that it didn’t know of a problem with car locking. However, experts in Germany have shown that it’s possible to break in with radio signals.
17. Not-so-smart locks
Smart technology for the home is all the rage, and many of us now use hubs to control just about everything. However, experts are warning about the dangers of smart locks. In one system (before its flaw was fixed), would-be home invaders needed only to extract a code to crack the seemingly secure lock.
Scarily, obtaining the secret digits to open the lock didn’t require obscure resources, either. Would-be home invaders needed only to extract a code from the lock over the internet, according to security website TechCrunch in July 2019. Once they’d stolen the code – itself called a private key – they could break in with no password needed.
16. Weak web security
When you log online and search for a particular site, take a look at the space to the left of the web address. If you don’t see a lock, you could be in big trouble: without the padlock symbol of security next to your chosen website, you could be heading to an insecure spot on the internet.
You should never make any type of transaction on a site that isn’t secure, as symbolized by the lock. If you do, your data could be visible or otherwise accessible to third parties who will gather and steal your information. They’ll have just enough to open new credit cards or loans in your name, so beware.
15. Info-stealing malware
Malware stands for “malicious software,” which explains why you might not want such programs infiltrating your computer. Anything from a worm to a virus to a trojan falls under the malware umbrella. And each one has the potential to compromise your hard drive without your knowledge or consent.
Thieves can use malware to their advantage – and your great disadvantage. Namely, particular types of viruses or worms can read the information you share and store on your computer. Then, someone can see it and transcribe it later, thus making it easy to steal your money or even your identity.
14. Vehicular identity theft
It’s not just your personal data that’s up for grabs; thieves can snatch your valuables, too. When they steal cars, though, they have to be extra-careful. Every vehicle comes with a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which delineates the car’s model and manufacturer, among other details. This code acts as a fingerprint of sorts, differentiating your ride from all of its sister vehicles.
Even with a VIN, your car could still be stolen by thieves. What they do is copy another vehicle’s VIN, whether they find it in a parking lot or junkyard. They produce plates and tags with the lifted information. Then, they find a lookalike vehicle to steal and pop on its new identifiers. With that, the taken car – maybe yours – becomes legitimate for the dishonest driver behind the wheel.
13. Forwarding mail to a thief
The internet has made our lives so much more convenient. In one of many examples, you can now go online and change your forwarding address with the U.S. Postal Service. That way, if you move, whether it’s a permanent or temporary change, you can have all of your mail delivered to you.
Unfortunately, thieves have taken advantage of this convenience in order to lift information from unwitting victims. They log on and fill in details so that a person’s mail arrives at a new address. Then, they gather the envelopes and filter through to find any valuable information they can use. The only way to prevent such a situation is to keep an eye on your mailbox. If the letters stop coming, you might want to check your forwarding address.
12. Faux credit reports
A credit report stands as a great resource for cardholders everywhere. These pages show how you’ve spent your credit, as well as how responsibly you pay back what you’ve used. Any discrepancy will raise alarm bells, so, when the bank calls with questions, you’re likely to provide all of the information they need to settle a credit-related issue.
But not so fast! Dishonest folk will use your credit-related responsibility to your great advantage. Namely, a thief might call, posing as a staffer at your bank. They’ll ask you to confirm your identity and account information under the guise of helping with your credit report. However, they’ll save the stats and use them for themselves.
11. Bluetooth scan-and-steal
A Bluetooth connection allows you to link your smart devices to each other, no wires required. However, thieves know how to use this tech to help them in their dishonest efforts. It all starts when you leave a Bluetooth-enabled device in your car or home; if it’s still on, then it could be emitting a traceable signal.
With that, all thieves have to do is use their own scanner to find Bluetooth-enabled devices in the vicinity. They can pinpoint electronics left behind in cars or homes, helping them to target fruitful locations for break-ins. To prevent this situation, drop the signal: power your devices down if you leave them behind. Or, you can bring them with you to keep an eye on them.
10. Antisocial networking
So many details of our lives end up online, which only serves to help thieves in their sinister efforts. For one thing, many people post a slew of personal details on sites such as Facebook. Instantly, a shady character can learn your name, profession, relationship status, age, hometown, pets’ names and more.
So criminals can use your lifted details to hack your accounts, but that’s not the only way social media works against you. They’ll also use your posts to help them plan crimes of opportunity. For example, if you share that you’re away on vacation, someone could come and burgle your home.
9. Good, old-fashioned hacking
When you think of tech-savvy thieves, you probably think of them sitting in a dark room, typing furiously on a keyboard, illuminated by the glow of their computer monitor. It would certainly take a smart criminal to hack into your smartphone or computer this way. However, doing so would indeed yield a wealth of information about you.
You only have a few options when it comes to saving yourself from a hacker. When a website suggests you strengthen a password, heed the warning. The tougher it is to break your secret code, the safer your account will be. Otherwise, keep a close eye on your bank accounts to see if money goes missing. If that happens, you might have a hacker on your hands.
8. Stuck smartphone
Some thieves incorporate modern technology into an old-school trick meant to separate you from your valuables. Once upon a time, pickpockets would glue coins to the ground to catch the eyes of their unwitting victims. Nowadays, they’ll go so far as to adhere a smartphone to the same area.
Whether they use a coin or iPhone, thieves know that they have a powerful distraction. When a person bends down to pick up the smartphone, for instance, they’ll struggle to do so because the device is glued down. This pause gives pickpocket time to pluck wallets from pockets or grab purses and run. So, refrain from picking up any dropped phones: it could be a distraction from the fact that you’re getting robbed.
7. Pharming for data
If you fail to pay attention to your web browser for just a few seconds, you could fall victim to pharming. These nefarious sites redirect you from your chosen link to a different, compromised site. Once you enter information about yourself, it ends up in the hands of the unsavory individuals who created the bad link.
It can be tough to tell when you’ve ended up on a pharming site: they often look like legitimate websites, the ones you wanted to visit in the first place. So, always double-check that you’re on a secure webpage by checking that the closed padlock is still to the left of the web address. This symbol ensures that you’re on a safe site.
6. Corporate information coup
Not every thief works in the shadows: sometimes, a trusted corporation can give up your information to a third party. Of course, it won’t do so on purpose. It simply stores its clients’ information in what it thinks is a secure system. Then, hackers find a way in and steal thousands of customers’ data: a terrible outcome for you and the business responsible for the breach.
You can’t be sure which companies will compromise your data and which ones will protect it with stronger security. The best way to protect your information is to stick with businesses you trust. Most of the time, your instincts will be correct, and following them now could save you a huge data breach-related headache in the future.
5. Tossed thumb drives
When you see a shiny object on the ground, your instinct might tell you to pick it up. However, if the item happens to be a flash drive, leave it where you find it. Sometimes, thieves use these small storage devices as a tool in their information-stealing schemes. All it takes is for you to bring the thumb drive home and plug it into your computer.
These seemingly dropped thumb drives actually come packed with malware that will compromise your hard drive. Once one such drive mines the computer of your personal data, it sends the information to another computer. This type of modern thievery can be one of the most dangerous out there, so avoid – or throw away – dropped flash drives from now on.
4. Shoulder surfing
You slip your card into the ATM and follow the prompts on the screen. When it comes time to type in your PIN, you do so quickly. But your fast-moving fingers are no competition for the shoulder surfer behind you. Soon enough, you’ll realize that you have been scammed.
A shoulder-surfer glances over your shoulder as you use the ATM. They either memorize your PIN or they photograph you as you enter the code. Either way, they gain access to your account by watching you withdraw cash. To avoid dealing with an account-emptying surfer, always cover the PIN pad so no one can see your numbers.
3. Access badge-cloning
Access badges make it easy to slip in and out of an office building or residence. Rather than fumbling through a set of keys that get you through multiple doors, you can swipe your badge and gain instant access. However, for all their convenience, access badges can pose a security threat.
Specifically, it’s easy to duplicate access badges, which react to electrical fields created by card readers. Once activated, a badge sends a bespoke number to the reader so that it will unlock for your keycard specifically. With a $10 machine, according to Popular Mechanics magazine, thieves can figure out the badge’s number, replicate the card and infiltrate the locked building.
Those who actually spearfish throw their weapon into the water, hoping they’ll pull it out with one good fish attached, The same methodology goes into spear phishing. However, those behind such a scheme will send the same email to every one of a company’s employees. The message will ask everyone to provide the same information, typically to the Human Resources (HR) or IT departments.
As you can guess, in a spear-phishing ploy, it won’t be the HR rep or IT manager asking for information. So, to save yourself from a phishing threat, reach out to your coworker who supposedly sent the email. If they don’t need updates on your personal information, then you’re being spear-phished – keep the data to yourself.
Finally, you should be wary of unexpected phone calls, especially if they come from a government agency, financial institution or other well-known company. Sometimes, thieves conduct faux calls and disguise their aims by saying they work for such an important organization. From there, they ask for personal details to help them achieve their dishonest aims.
If you don’t get a call from a real person, you still could fall victim to vishing (short for voice-phishing). Robocalls prompting you to call another number could be a form of thievery. Once you reach out to claim a prize or respond to a supposed emergency, you’ll have to hand over personal data in exchange for what you want. You’re better off hanging up.