Merry Christmas Darling Here’s a cute present - so I can spy on you

Embargoed until 21st December 2014

Whilst the regular seasonal increase in domestic abuse and stalking is no surprise, what is new is how many cheap, simple to use, easily available and seemingly innocent; products are for the abusers to spy on their victims.

“Stalking behaviour occurs in many domestic settings both while living with a controlling partner or after the couple have split up” says Jennifer Perry, CEO of the Digital-Trust a new organisation that helps victims of digital abuse. “Surveillance technology is getting cheaper, better disguised, simpler to use and easier to find. We work with a domestic violence professionals who are telling us that the changing landscape of digital abuse is making it much more difficult to help and women and keep them safe”

A wide variety of consumerised spyware is available to suit different types of abusers, from domestic violence abusers to stalkers, online predators and trolls.  Almost all use multiple digital means of accessing their targeted victims including the Internet, social media, smartphones, GPS and surveillance technology to easily spy on and monitor every aspect of their lives.  Many of these will use the holiday gift giving season to increase their spying through giving compromised gifts.

Some abusers will even use children to get to their victims. RoseMarie, counsellor at Relate gives an example of one the cases she worked on, “We placed a woman in a refuge whose abusive ex was determined to find her. He only had supervised visits to his young children but he used that opportunity to try and get to the mother by placing a tracking device inside a toy. That is why it is important we start consider a woman’s digital safety because it can easily compromise her physical safety”.

 Paddington bear and Winnie-the-Pooh voice activated recorder

Paddington bear and Winnie-the-Pooh voice activated recorder

The Paddington Bear movie will make this voice activated Paddington Bear Voice Reordered a popular choice for abusers who want to spy on their partners or have shared custody of their children.

This well disguised recording device can record up to 144 hours, it is voice activated so it only works when someone is speaking and it has a long battery life. An abuser can send the bear home with the child and then during their next visit the, the abuser can listen to the recordings and charge the battery. Add a small tracking chip in the bear and the abuser will also be able to locate the child and their mother. 

For older children, an effective way to find out what is going on at home is to buy them a laptop computer, smartphone or tablet add put covert spyware on it. The abuser will then be able to track the location, of the device, turn on the microphone and camera remotely to listen see what is happening in the home.

“Eighteen months ago I issued advice to domestic violence groups about fathers gifting smartphones or even allowing them to take them on access visit because it is so easy for abuser to use them as surveillance. I recommend the children are given inexpensive pay as you go phones when visiting an abusive parent” explained Jennifer Perry.

The new smartphone a possessive partner gives may include an app that allows them to turn the microphone on remotely and ease drop on their partner’s conversations. Of course the phone’s GPS will allow them to also know exactly where they are or where they’ve have been.

Emma whose partner was jealous and controlling said “I had been out having coffee with a friend and when I came back he played back part of my conversation. I couldn’t figure out how he did it. Had he hired someone to follow me?  Did he bug the café?  It was my domestic violence case worker that told me to check my phone. I found he had put spyware on my phone, he had been listening and reading my texts for months”.

There are a lot of products and mobile apps that are designed for legitimate reasons that abusers use. Like the Tile is 1.5 inch square. 

 The tile is a useful legitimate product used by abuser as a cheap tracker

The tile is a useful legitimate product used by abuser as a cheap tracker

It is designed to keep track of items, it is small and inexpensive.  But it could easily be slipped in handbag or back the seat of a car

There is diverse range of covert listening and tracking devices available from both mainstream and speciality retailers. They include listening devices that look like everyday products like an extension cord, iPhone charge or carbon monoxide detector. The items function properly as you would expect, but they are also incorporating a listening device at the same time.

The prices and quality vary and their usefulness depends if you have access to the home or if you need to spy on the person remotely via the internet or mobile phone technology.

You can get a remote listening device for as little as £25 that works fine in 15 square foot room but it is battery operated so you have to be able to have access to and recharge it. A slightly more expensive model that looks like a standard twin electrical wall socket can be remotely activated and costs £50.00.

Disguised motion activated cameras that look like a clock or table lamp have been used as ‘nanny or grandma cams’ but can just as well be used on an unsuspecting partner. These can cost as little as £50 for the ones where you have to be able to access the device to watch the video, to hundreds of pounds for those that where you can watch the videos remotely.

The exploitation and availability of this type of technology is an increasing challenge for existing criminal justice agencies, victim support, and domestic abuse charities. In the changing kaleidoscope of emerging technologies they simply don’t have the resources and technologists to identify the risks and continually develop updated advice or support the overwhelming numbers of digital victims coming forward already. That is why the Digital-Trust was founded to specifically help victims of digital abuse and provide a central resource of continually updated specialist advice to those organisations that work with them.

The majority of current online safety information helps protect computers or reduce fraud. It isn’t as helpful for victims of abuse. “It is like giving victims travelling on the underground advice on how not to be pick pocketed when what they should be worried about is someone pushing them in front of a train” said Jennifer Perry, CEO of the Digital-Trust.

When it comes to online crime, advice is focused on malware or fraud. Losing £500 to online fraud can cause someone financial problems and it is upsetting but the crime is over quickly. This is not true for a stalking victim, who will be dealing with their criminal every single day for months or years.

Working with victims of abuse is more complex than working with a victim of online fraud. The motives of fraud are easily understood it’s about the money. But stalking and domestic violence is more complicated longer term psychological crime carried out by an obsessive perpetrator; it can lead to identity theft, criminal damage, assaults, rape and even murder.  These victims need someone that understands both technology AND how abusers behave in order to be properly supported.

But if technology is the problem it is also the answer. One of the key remits of the Digital-Trust is not only to identify risks but find, recommend or develop products that can help protect victims. “We look at technology from two points of view 1) what risk does it pose 2) how can it protect or reassure victims” says Jennifer Perry.

Harry Fletcher, Criminal Justice Director, Digital-Trust said, “There has been a massive increase in cybercrime in recent years fuelled by our love of Internet and mobile. This and the availability of surveillance and intrusive technology mean abusers have more access and information about their victims than ever before.  It is essential we help victims to keep safe digitally.

Current advice for people who are a victim of abuse or suspect they are being monitored can be found at

Surveillance tactics abusers use

Over the last year Digital-Trust has seen an increase use in surveillance software and hardware. The software for both computers and mobiles is becoming very sophisticated and widespread.

CNET a software download site has sold over 4.5 million copies of spyware. FBI recently took down an organised crime gang that had sold over 500k units of spyware using 1,900 domain names.

Computer spyware: If you want to control a person’s computer you can buy spyware. It costs between £25-50. The software helps you create an email to send to the victim. You simply attach a file like a photo with the software hidden in it. The victim opens the photo and without them knowing the spyware is installed. Once it is installed the abuser can see everything the victim does. All the passwords they type in, all the emails they send and all their Instant messages conversations.

Mobile accounts: If the abuser gets into the victims online account for their smartphone, they will be able to see where they are, their photos, install apps, turn on the microphone and listen to conversations.

Tracking devices: A magnet GPS tracking device that is attached to a car and reports back its location by using a PAYG sim is available on Amazon for as little as £25.

Listening devices: Today you can buy a listening device that looks like a standard extension cord from Amazon for £65. You buy the device, add a pay as you go (PAYG) sim, plug it in and leave it. When you want to listen in on a conversation you simply call the number of the sim.

Victim Examples

“How does he know where I’m going, he shows up to the same places that I do. At first, I thought it was a coincidence now I know he must be using my phone to track me but I’m not sure how” Laura’s abuser was accessing her phone’s cloud account where he could use the ‘find my phone’ app to see the phone’s location. He could also view all her pictures.

Mary was believed her ex keeping track on her. She was advised to turn off her mobile GPS and Wifi “It was less than an hour my ex-partner contacted me saying that he tried to call but her phone didn’t seem to be working properly, he then offered come around to sort it out! I don’t know exactly what he did to my phone but I didn’t take any chances and bought a new one”

“Mark bought our son a new laptop for his birthday but suggested I keep in the living room so I could make sure he was safe. What I didn’t realise is that he had put spyware on the computer and he turn on the webcam and watch us – that is why he wanted me to put it in the living room. It was my son who figured out what had happened when his dad started talking about things he hadn’t told him”, said Nicola.

New Mobile for Christmas?

UK to get law that addresses the most prevalent form of domestic abuse - coercive control

UK to get law that addresses the most prevalent form of domestic abuse - coercive control