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Computer Accessories

To catch a thief -- with a webcam

As I lay on the sofa, clutching a beer, nursing my baseball bat, the motion-sensing cameras detected movement. It was time to strike

Two would-be thieves visited me recently. The first was burglar-turned-security-consultant Mike Frazer -- whom you might recognise from BBC's Beat the Burglar programme -- while the second was a swindling little rascal I trapped with the help of some clever new tech and my ever-loyal baseball bat.

The technology in question was the Logitech Digital Video Security System -- a series of networked cameras being promoted by Frazer and Logitech. Initially, I dismissed Frazer's involvement in the project as a cynical PR stunt on the part of Logitech's marketing dept, who tenuously claimed the recession was leading to an increase in burglaries. What I couldn't deny was the fact it was a good product that deserved a proper test in my own home.

My first few days with the system were pretty unproductive, as it mostly stayed in the box, gathering dust, but I soon found the incentive I needed to install it. One night, while watching the football, I heard a rattling outside, which I ignored. A few minutes later, more rattling. After a loud clank, I leapt to my feet, opened the curtains and watched as a shady figure disappeared into the night, leaving behind a freshly sawn-in-half lock from my beloved scooter. The bike was undamaged, but with no lock or chain, it was a sitting duck. The thief would return for his bounty -- but I would be ready for him.

I broke the Logitech Digital Video Security System out of its box and waited. Hours later, as I lay on the sofa, clutching a beer, nursing my baseball bat, the motion-sensing cameras detected movement. My laptop automatically began recording video and an email alert was sent to my mobile phone: the perpetrator was back. It was time to strike.

What transpired next seemed to happen in slow motion. The thief spotted the camera's flashing LED light, followed shortly by my murderous facial expression, followed by the distinctive shape of a bat. Knowing he was about to be on the receiving end of a beatdown, he threw his hands up in submission and -- bizarrely -- tried to placate me by doing a little jig of surrender.


Trying to steal property in a high-visibility jacket, right in front of a security camera, wasn't his brightest idea

It seemed to work, because I gave him the choice as to how we might resolve the situation. Option 1 was me kicking him until his insides spilled on to the grass. Option 2 was calling the police, and option 3 was for him to buy the bike from me. He seemed to fancy the latter. He rifled through his pockets (it seems he'd either recently been paid, or had mugged an old lady), found the money I required and handed it over.

I haven't seen the would-be thief since the incident. Perhaps he's a reformed man. Perhaps he's now on the straight and narrow. Perhaps he's fallen off the scooter and hurt himself really badly. Perhaps I should have told him it didn't have any brakes.