Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Thievery Caught by Geekery

So I live in a less-than-stellar part of town.  When me and my roommates talked to people about the area, they said they felt relatively safe, but if you have an aftermarket stereo, don't park on the street because someone will definitely smash in your window to get it.  I have a factory stereo and never leave anything in my car, so I wasn't too worried (my apartment back in undergrad wasn't much better).

Things were fine for the first year we lived here, no incidents at all.  But several months ago, at the end of July, something was stolen from our front porch.  My roommate ordered a used iPhone online, and it arrived in a plain cardboard box, nothing on the box or label to hint that it was anything valuable.  His wife came home to see that the box was not on our porch, but instead was sitting by the sidewalk, EMPTY!  It appeared that someone had walked right up to our porch, ninja'd said package, stolen the iPhone, and tossed the empty box on the ground.  The craziest part is that this happened in the middle of the day!

But unbeknownst to this thief is that they messed with what is arguably the most wired house in the neighborhood.  For shits and giggles, I set up a $60 wireless IP camera to watch our porch when we first moved in. It's mounted on the inside of the house, looking at the front porch through the small window above the front door.  I set up my media server to perform motion capture using Zoneminder, which would save a picture whenever it detected movement in the image.  My friends gave me crap every time they would come visit, asking "why the hell do you have a camera sitting above your door?"    Well, it turns out that being a nerd comes in very handy in situations like this.

The camera caught our thief: a young girl probably no more than 8 years old.  As the timestamp shows, this happened on July 31st, 2012 at 4:36 PM -- right in the middle of broad daylight!

I didn't see her run up to a car or an adult or anyone else, so I figured she probably lived in the neighborhood.  I showed the picture to our neighbors, who said they saw the girl outside earlier that day and they were pretty sure she lived down the street.  I went to the house with one of my roommates and ended up talking to the girl's grandmother.  I showed her the picture, so she called the young girl downstairs.  Being a kid, of course she lied through her teeth and denied it.  But with that picture, I knew she had it and told her grandmother as long as we got it back, it wasn't that big of a deal (I wasn't about to call the cops on an 8 year-old).  I left her my phone number and asked her to call me when the girl's mother got home.

About an hour later, the girl came over to our house with her aunt, iPhone box in hand.  She handed it over and her aunt made her apologize and promise not to do it again.  I never did hear from the girl, her mother, or anyone else in her family again after that.  Part of me wished I could have talked to her mother, but at the same time I'm not sure what that would have changed.  Kids do very stupid things, and while I sincerely hope that girl's mother gave her a very stiff punishment, I'm not a parent so I would have looked like a huge douche trying to chastise her mother for this incident.  I just hope this girl learned from this and doesn't do crap like that ever again.

I am very happy I had the camera set up to catch the girl though, because without it, I'm not sure I would have felt confident going up to random houses in my neighborhood to see if someone's kid stole something off our porch. I don't really have the arrogance to accuse my neighbors' kids of stealing if all I had to go on was my next-door neighbor saying he saw an African American girl in our yard earlier that afternoon.  So either my roommate would have been out $300 for an iPhone, had to mess with filing a claim with UPS, or had to file a renter's insurance claim and pay a large deductible.  Overall, I'd say a $60 camera is a much more appealing option.

I've been wanting to post about this since it happened, but just hadn't gotten around to it.  Unfortunately, about a month and a half after this happened, someone popped open one of the windows to our basement and stole my Xbox, PS3, and several games and accessories (they left the crappy old Nintendo Wii -- big surprise, haha!).  The camera didn't do much to help me that time, since they came in through the side of the house.  Luckily, they never came upstairs to steal more stuff or to harm me or one of my roommates.  I think it happened at night and they didn't come upstairs for fear that they might wake someone up and get caught (my one roommate's bedroom is on the 1st floor).  I felt very violated after that.  The insurance claim covered everything, and after that I jammed all of the basement windows shut with 2x4's so they can't be opened without shattering the glass.  I was going to go all out and install a multi-camera security system and wire some window and door alarms to an Arduino, but we're renting the place and I didn't want to run all of that wire if I'm only here for less than another year.

So really, the big lesson here is that I need to move the hell out of this awful neighborhood as soon as our lease is up this summer!  In the meantime, I have my 9 iron in my bedroom.  At 6' 1" and 250 lb, unless they have a gun, I feel pretty good about my chances to beat the hell out of anyone who breaks into my house again.

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