Are Auto Dealers Using Military Spying Technology to Capture Your Every Move?

24 May

Auto loans are very similar to home mortgages in a number of ways – particularly when it comes to what happens if you don’t pay your bill on time. If you fall significantly behind on your mortgage, eventually the bank will foreclose on your home. The same is true in the auto industry, only the technique is referred to as repossession. Repossession in the United States, in particular, is, unfortunately, common among low-income buyers. In 2014, for example, car repos soared an incredible 70%.

Foreclosing on a home is typically a lot easier than repossessing a car, however, for one very simple reason: Your home doesn’t move. When a collection agency comes to repossess your car, it could be sitting in your driveway… or it could be literally anywhere. This is one of the many reasons why certain auto detailers are turning toward military spying technology to keep an eye on your (and your vehicle’s) every move.

 

Auto Detailers and Spying: The Situation

According to an investigation that was recently conducted by WFAA in Dallas, Texas, many low-income car buyers throughout the area are waking up to find that their cars have disappeared. But it isn’t just the fact that cars are being repossessed that has people up in arms – it’s the “invasive, dehumanizing technology” that has people sounding alarm bells.

Many Dallas-area car dealerships are using GPS tracking devices hidden inside vehicles at the time of purchase to keep a constant eye on its location. The trackers themselves are not only based on military technology, but they’re incredibly small – they’re often the size of a pager. The issue is that these devices are undisclosed at purchase and are hidden incredibly well. Many are buried BEHIND the car’s dashboard in a location where the average user would never be able to find it on their own, even if they went looking for it.

When someone is late on their payments and the repossession process begins, anyone with access to the technology can pull up its current location on the Internet – accurate down to a few meters – from any web browser

However, this problem runs a fair bit deeper than just being a question of privacy. Many buyers across Dallas have said that they were NOT late on their payments when their vehicles were repossessed. One woman even had her car repossessed while she was on a business trip in Arizona, leaving her in excess of a thousand miles away from home without a way to get back.

WFAA investigators took a look at a few of the contracts that people signed and noted that while it said that the dealer can “take possession of the car” at any time, GPS tracking was not mentioned. According to Texas law, the seller of a car MUST notify the buyer about any tracking devices that have been installed in writing.

Also concerning is the sheer volume of information that these tracking devices can collect. They allow someone to not only see where your car is, but where it’s been. Someone can see how long your car has been at a particular location, or how many times you’ve visited in the past. The study concluded by estimating that roughly 70% of vehicles that were purchased with subprime loans came equipped with these GPS trackers already installed.

In order to avoid these and other types of invasive practices, it is recommended that you keep a few key things in mind. Experts recommend that you do NOT make a large down payment to an auto dealer, as that only gives them an incentive to repossess the car as quickly as possible so that they can sell it to someone else.

Also, remember that oral agreements mean nothing from a legal perspective. If a dealer tells you that no GPS tracking devices are installed, there are literally no consequences if they’re lying as it is very hard to prove in the first place. Instead, read all of your paperwork and pay very close attention to any contracts that you’re asked to sign.

 

Child GPS Trackers: How to Choose the Best Device to Keep Your Kids Safe From Harm

22 May

In just a few short years, GPS technology has evolved in ways that few people could have predicted. What started as a simple way to get turn-by-turn directions has now become a ubiquitous part of our lives. GPS technology allows you to do everything from maintaining a superior level of visibility over remote workers who are spread out over massive areas to finding your smartphone if you should ever accidentally leave it in the back of a taxi cab.

GPS has had an additional unexpected benefit, too: It’s going a long way toward keeping us not just happier and more productive but safer at the same time. Case in point: Many device manufacturers are now releasing products designed to act as “child trackers,” letting parents give kids a desired level of freedom while generating invaluable peace of mind as well.

If you’re interested in purchasing a child GPS tracker to keep an eye on your own little one, there are a few key features you’ll want to explore.

A child tracker is not an ankle bracelet

The most important thing to understand about choosing a child GPS tracker is that you need something that offers the functionality you require without sacrificing the comfort of your child. A child GPS tracker is not a “house arrest” ankle bracelet; if the device is too big or uncomfortable to wear, rest assured your kid is going to take it off.

Find something small and sleek that can attach anywhere, from your child’s belt buckle to a backpack or similar item. Even something like a smart watch will work wonders in this regard. The key is to find something unobtrusive for the best results moving forward.

Easy to use

You’re also going to want to invest in a child GPS tracker that is incredibly easy to use. Many models don’t even have hardware-based buttons of any kind, meaning that your kids can’t accidentally turn them off by mistake. In that situation, everything is controlled via either a web browser-based app or a smartphone app by the parent, not the child in question.

Along the same lines, you’ll also want to make sure you’re buying a rugged child GPS tracker that can stand up to the types of activities your child like to engage in. Simply put, children play — and some play harder than others. A child GPS tracker is an important investment, but it’s also an expensive one. Look for units made of hard plastic or rubber — materials that can stand up to everything from recess at school to sporting activities and more.

Security features

Being able to know exactly where your child is at any given time is great, but to really keep your kids safer, you need to find a tracker that goes one step further. Look for devices with advanced security features such as SOS functions, which lets children discreetly signal for help in the event that they feel threatened or like something is wrong.

Some devices even allow you to program telephone numbers into the unit itself. When the SOS function is pressed, a text message is then sent to those numbers.

Many child GPS trackers also allow you to monitor the current surroundings of your child with live audio or video. Geofencing would also be worthwhile if you want to set a predetermined area where you’re comfortable for your child to be. The device will then automatically send you a text message or some type of push notification alert if the child leaves that area.

Compatibility

Finally, platform compatibility is always something you need to consider. As most child GPS trackers are controlled via smartphone apps, you need to make sure you’re buying a unit that is compatible with the hardware you already have. If you’re a staunch Apple user, find a model that is compatible with the iOS operating system. The same goes for Android users.

Garmin’s New Dash Cam Plans Poised to “Wake Up” Kiwi Drivers

17 May

According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drivers who fall asleep at the wheel are a massive problem on roads in the United States. The CDC estimates that one out of every 25 drivers over the age of 18 has fallen asleep while driving at some point in the last month. To make matters worse, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that sleeping drivers were responsible for up to 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and an unfortunate 800 deaths in 2013 alone. The startling thing is that these numbers are likely too low – an additional 6,000 deaths each year could be caused by drowsy drivers.

Sadly, this problem is a universal one. There are drivers all over the world who don’t get enough sleep, who suffer with untreated sleep disorders, or who are operating a motor vehicle while on medication – all making them much more likely to drive drowsy. New Zealand, in particular, has been battling this very issue for many years.

Now, however, a solution may have presented itself. Garmin New Zealand has recently introduced two new state-of-the-art dashboard camera units into the local marketplace. The models, dubbed Dash Cam 45 and Dash Cam 55, include features that are designed to offer advanced driver awareness alerts and to wake up drivers who may have fallen asleep behind the wheel.

New Zealand’s Drowsy Driver Problem

According to the technical specifications on the two new models released by Garmin, both Dash Cam 45 and Dash Cam 55 use new features like advanced forward collision and lane departure warnings, all of which would be hugely beneficial in terms of avoiding an incident if a driver has fallen asleep while driving. Representatives for the company said that the goal with the new models was to give drivers the ability to do more than just record a drive. It isn’t about capturing as much detail as possible in the event of an accident – it’s about doing whatever it takes to avoid that incident altogether.

The more advanced of the two new units – Dash Cam 55 – features high quality recording that can offer resolutions of 1440p, 1080p, or 720p thanks to the built-in 3.1 megapixel camera. Dash Cam 45 also offers multiple resolutions – 1080p or 720p, thanks to its 2.1 megapixel camera. Both units are intended to be as discreet as possible, blending in with the existing hardware in the car and offering a 2.0 inch LCD display screen that does not impair the driver’s line of sight in any way.

Taking things one step farther, both models also use Garmin’s proprietary “Sensory TrulyHandsfree” voice control system that allow operators to interact with the device through voice commands instead of physical ones. Saying “OK Garmin, save video,” for example, will compress the last few minutes of recording into a file for easy transfer to a device like a computer. Both Dash Cam models also feature Travelapse, a new feature that will take hours of recorded footage and compress it down into a few minutes of highlights.

Both Dash Cam 45 and Dash Cam 55 also offer the latest revisions of certain features that have become a staple of Garmin’s equipment over the years, like automatic incident detection. This allows the GPS to automatically save footage on impact, giving the driver one less thing to have to worry about in such a stressful situation. GPS capabilities are also included, allowing each video or photo to be automatically tagged with detailed information like time, location, and more.

With systems as advanced as these, it’s natural for people to become dependent on technology – but, in this case, technology only treats the symptom, not the disease. Making an effort to get enough sleep and recognizing the early signs of drowsy driving (like constantly yawning or missing your exit on a highway) are still the best ways to prevent accidents due to these and other impaired driving conditions.

 

Lawmakers in the U.S. Want to Disclose Domestic Surveillance Numbers

15 May

Ever since Edward Snowden pulled back the curtain on NSA spying techniques on American citizens a few years ago, privacy in the digital age has been a pressing concern. Now, this conversation is about to get significantly more serious in nature. Earlier in April, a United States congressional committee asked the Donald Trump administration to officially disclose a reasonable estimate of the total number of Americans who had digital communications “incidentally collected” under foreign surveillance programs.

Domestic Surveillance: The Current Situation

In this context, it is important to note that “incidental collection” means that an American was not the target of an investigation, but their communications were intercepted anyway.

If a particular foreign agent were under close supervision by an organization like the FBI, for example, all of their communications would be monitored –regardless of who they were actually talking to. If they pick up the phone and contact an American citizen – someone who should not be monitored under the constitution – a record of that communication would still take place.

This discussion is happening at a particularly important time, as certain portions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are due to expire by the end of 2017. As Congress contemplates whether to reauthorize those parts of the act, they have indicated that a reasonable estimate of incidental collection will be “crucial” when it comes time to make a decision.

The request is notable for its bipartisan support – something increasingly rare in the modern era. The request was formerly filed by both a Republican and a Democrat from the House Judiciary Committee – Chairman Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers, respectively. The letter was addressed to Dan Coats, the current Director of National Intelligence.

The other major reason this is such a notable request has to do with the currently unsubstantiated claims that the Obama White House improperly used surveillance techniques to spy on the Trump Administration, both after the November election and during the weeks leading up to it. Again – to date, there has been no evidence to back up the accuracy of those claims, but it’s hard to argue that the situation is entirely impossible considering that certain portions of the act (also commonly referred to as FISA) seem to allow for it.

<h2<FISA Section 702

Much of the controversy surrounding this topic stems from a very particular part of FISA, dubbed Section 702. Section 702 legally allows the collection of Internet-based communications from foreigners that are currently believed to be living overseas. If you’re a person of interest in a FISA-related case and you send a message on your iPhone, there’s a good chance that someone from the FBI or the CIA may be reading it in the name of counter-terrorism. Lawmakers, however, argue that things might not stop there.

Some experts believe that there could be as many as several million Americans who have had digital communications incidentally collected under FISA and similar surveillance situations. Depending on the context, this could expose them to warrantless searches by federal investigators and more.

Digital Privacy in the United States

Even on a surface level, the conversation of surveillance in the United States is a complicated topic. How much of our freedoms and our privacy are we willing to give up in order to aid counter-terrorism efforts across the globe? The answer to that question is not an easy one as it will obviously vary from person to person.

At the very least, some type of accurate estimate as to how many United States citizens have had their data incidentally collected will form the basis of further discussion before Section 702 of FISA expires on December 31, 2017. As the blooming scandal involving the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia continues to unfold, this will also likely play a part in precisely what happens to our domestic surveillance efforts as a country.

London Police Discover Hidden Cameras in Cash Machines Across the Country

10 May

In many ways, there are few pieces of personal information in your life that are more important than your ATM pin. This multi-digit code doesn’t just let you withdrawal cash whenever you need – it’s also the only thing keeping someone who happens to steal your debit card from also stealing your finances and possibly your identity.

According to London police officers and a piece that originally ran at TheIndependent.co.uk, this battle for personal privacy just got a bit harder. Police in London discovered a series of tiny, hidden cameras fixed to ATM machines across the country. Virtually invisible to the naked eye, these cameras provide footage clear enough to allow thieves to steal someone’s credit or debit card details – all without alerting them to the fact that they’re being recorded at all.

The Problem With London’s ATMs

In February, police were called to the scene of a cash machine outside St. Paul’s Churchyard in London. A user had noticed a tiny pinhole located just above the keypad that, upon further examination, was revealed to include an incredibly powerful hidden camera. That camera was recording every second of every user interaction at the machine – capturing countless PIN codes in the process. In addition to that code, all someone would need was the associated debit or credit card (or a digital copy) to have access to every cent in a person’s bank account.

To make matters worse, a similar device was found just two weeks later at another ATM located not far from St. Paul’s. Two additional hidden cameras – both just as small and impossibly sophisticated – were discovered a few days later.

A representative for local law enforcement said that while they are investigating the matter, no arrests have been made. They said that the police regularly work with banks, financial institutions, and even cash machine vendors to help make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen on a regular basis. However, thanks to the rate at which technology continues to advance, it’s easy for things to slip through.

Police recommend that if you ever use a cash machine and spot anything unusual about it, or if you think that you’ve discovered signs of tampering, you should immediately stop what you’re doing. Do not use the machine – the consequences are far too severe. Police also recommend using cash machines INSIDE bank branches as opposed to outside, as they’re more carefully observed by bank officials and are, therefore, more difficult to compromise.

Identity Theft Facts and Figures

Again, a stolen ATM PIN code does more than just give a thief access to your money. With just a few taps of their finger, they have the ability to see virtually every piece of data associated with the same account. If they’re willing to put in a bit of additional work, they have everything they need to steal a person’s identity and do a potentially catastrophic amount of damage in the process.

This isn’t a problem that is limited to the United Kingdom, either. According to the experts at IdentityTheft.info, approximately 15 million people are affected by identity theft in the United States each year. Total combined financial losses reach into the neighborhood of $50 billion dollars. Some studies estimate that roughly 7% of all adults in the country have had their identities “misused” at some point in their lives, with each specific instance being responsible for roughly $3,500 in personal losses.

According to the website, there have been over 4.2 million victims of identity theft so far in 2017. If things continue at this pace, that number could climb as high as 16 million by the end of the year.

 

All of this goes to underline the importance of always being aware of your surroundings – especially when incredibly valuable personal information is at stake. We’ve entered an age where hidden cameras are smaller, more powerful and more affordable than ever – which means that you should always be extra vigilant in terms of your public activities.

 

IRS Leveraging Cell Phone Spying Equipment in Important Investigations

8 May

There’s an old saying that tells us the only two certainties in life are “death” and “taxes” – meaning that the only thing you can really guarantee is that both types of debt are going to come due sooner rather than later. According to a new report covered by websites like Truth Revolt and in publications like The Guardian, the IRS may be even more unscrupulous than the Grim Reaper himself. It seems as though IRS agents have been using “sophisticated cell phone dragnet equipment,” otherwise known as advanced cell phone spying tools, to collect information on American citizens who may be more-than-a-little behind on their taxes.

The IRS and Spying: What’s Going On

Thanks to information obtained through what was supposed to be a fairly standard Freedom of Information Act request, it was revealed that the IRS made a number of large purchases between 2009 and 2012 with a company called Harris Corporation. What makes this so interesting is that Harris Corporation is one of the few companies on earth that manufactures “Stingray” devices, which are often used by law enforcement personnel to simulate a cell phone tower in the area.

“Stingray” devices are actually a pretty ingenious way to use a cell phone’s own standard method of operation against the user. Whenever you make a call (or send a text message, or use the cellular network to access the Internet), your phone connects to a nearby cell tower in the area. It essentially uses this tower as a “jumping on point” to gain access to the larger network – your phone connects to the tower, and the tower is connected to the World Wide Web.

If you were to send a text, it would first go through the tower and then across the network to your recipient. In a “Stingray” situation, however, the tower is an illegitimate one used by local law enforcement (or in this case, the IRS). Your phone can’t tell the difference, and, in most cases, neither can the user as they’re still sending and receiving the information they needed with no clear signs that something might be wrong.

Because that fake cell tower is in third-party control, whoever happens to be using the “Stingray” device can see EVERY kilobyte of data sent and received over it. If you’re a drug dealer who is using a smartphone to buy and sell your product and you happen to accidentally use a “Stingray” set up by the cops, law enforcement now knows what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. If you’re a private citizen who is actively avoiding paying your taxes (or who is using your smartphone to conceal your income) and use one of those same “Stingray” towers monitored by the IRS, suddenly your secret activities aren’t so secret anymore.

One of the invoices obtained during the Freedom of Information Act request shows that the IRS spent more than $65,000 in 2012 upgrading their equipment to the “HailStorm” product line, which is essentially a more powerful version of the original “Stingray” architecture. Likewise, they spent about $6,000 during the same year training their employees on how to use them. Privacy advocates, including those at the ACLU, say that this is a clear example of the “wide proliferation” of this very invasive type of surveillance technology. To its credit, the ACLU is currently in the process of an investigation.

Former employees of the IRS have been helpful in terms of shedding light onto the full extent of this program. Many say that they are in use by the CID or “Criminal Investigation Division,” a branch of the IRS that currently employs between 2,000 and 3,000 people. It is said that the IRS leans heavily on “more gentle” investigation tactics and only employs these surveillance options when absolutely necessary. If you think you’ll be protected by the fact that you need a warrant to use “Stingray,” unfortunately you’d be wrong – experts agree that they’re surprisingly easy to obtain.

 

Best Practices for Detecting Hidden Cameras and Microphones

3 May

These days, technology has advanced to the point that hidden cameras and microphones are both more powerful and less expensive than ever before. If you have a sneaking suspicion (no pun intended) that you’re being watched in sensitive environments such as at work or at home, there’s a very real possibility that you may be right. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re completely powerless.

If you want to detect any hidden cameras or microphones in any environment that you fear may be compromising your privacy, there are a few key techniques that you can use.

Common Sense Is Your Ally

One of the best ways to detect hidden cameras and microphones in nearly any environment is to let a little good, old-fashioned common sense be your guide. Ask yourself the following question — “if I were trying to secretly record someone, where would I have to place a camera to do it?”

If you’re worried about someone secretly recording you while you’re sitting at your desk in your office, for example, take a look around the room and carefully examine your surroundings. Where would a camera lens have to be placed to accurately collect sensitive information? How far across the room would it have to be before the footage was useless? If you were worried about someone recording your phone calls, how close to the actual phone would a microphone have to be to accomplish this goal?

Likewise, think about the types of cameras that people might be hiding. To continue to use the example of your office, has anything been moved recently that you found suspicious? Has a new desk clock or USB charger shown up in the room that wasn’t there before? Did a fancy new pen recently make an appearance in the pen and pencil holder on your desk that you don’t recognize? Hidden cameras and microphones could potentially be placed inside all of these types of devices, so take a close look for anything that could be a prime candidate for surveillance.

Another particularly helpful trick of the trade is to walk into the room that you think may be under surveillance and immediately turn off all the lights. Shut all the windows and make the room as dark as you possibly can. Do you notice any red or green LED lights anywhere? Many modern-day hidden cameras still have indicator lights when they’re in operation to let the user know that they’re actually working. This isn’t a design flaw, by any means, but it is something that you can definitely use to your advantage.

When All Else Fails, Use Technology

Common sense is a great asset to have in your quest to detect hidden cameras and microphones, but at a certain point, you’re going to need to dig a little deeper. If the person who you think may be watching you is particularly savvy, they’ll know how to hide a device so you’ll never find it — even if you specifically go looking for it. For those types of situations, you’ll want to employ a wide range of different counter-surveillance tools, depending on the extent of the issue you may be dealing with.

Many different companies sell signal detectors, such as those that identify RF signals or Wi-Fi signals, that are perfect for doing a sweep of any environment for bugs. If a hidden camera or microphone is using wireless signals to broadcast data back to its source, these powerful little devices will help you put a stop to it.

Likewise, you can also purchase a lens finder from many online stores that perform a similar function. They’ll help you properly scan your room and identify any camera lens that may be present, even those that are all but invisible to the naked eye. You can then manually remove the lens and take steps to avoid this type of situation in the future.