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One of Amazon’s Best-Selling Cameras Is a Fake

• September 26, 2013 • 10:00 AM

(PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMAZON)

Despite dropping crime rates and research proving their ineffectiveness, dummy security cameras keep selling.

Fluctuating among the top 10 of Amazon’s best-selling cameras is a small, silver security camera that mounts on an outdoor wall. Its flashing red light, wrote reviewer Davo73, is “a universal sign that a live camera is recording and bad guys don’t like to be recorded.” Commenter Capitol One said, “I can sleep easier now that I have installed three of these cameras around my house.” The camera, averaging at 4.3 of 5 stars, also happens to be fake.

The “Outdoor Fake, Dummy Security Camera With Blinking Light” is just one of the many fake security items sold by the Tennessee-based electronics company UniquExceptional. Its popularity comes at a time when the majority of Americans believe crime is increasing; a 2011 Gallup poll states that 68 percent believe there is more crime in the U.S. than a year ago while 48 percent state believe crime has gotten worse in their local community.

If the commercial success of the dummy camera is prompted by a confidence in security cameras and a belief that crime is increasing, then the product is riding an imaginary wave.

Many commenters stated they purchased the fake security camera to guard their personal residences, protecting their homes from “undesirables” and “thieves.” But security cameras, as a tool to prohibit crime, are not particularly successful. A study by the University of Leicester (the U.K.’s CCTV system is considered the most extensive in the world) found that the only instance in which security cameras cut crime was in parking lots. In a recent paper published in the Criminal Justice Review, researchers found that the implementation of CCTV cameras brought mixed results—but the situations where security cameras helped the least were in residential areas.

“Dogs and alarm systems are better deterrents,” Rebecca Lonergan, a former criminal prosecutor and now an adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, told me.

If the commercial success of the dummy camera is prompted by a confidence in security cameras and a belief that crime is increasing, then the product is riding an imaginary wave.

In a 2011 report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation stated that the estimated number of violent crimes had decreased for the fifth year in a row, while the estimated amount of property crimes had decreased for the ninth year in a row. So why do Americans feel more unsafe now than before?

This perception of increased crime can be connected to the proliferation of social media and the nature of modern media coverage, according to Lonergan. It’s the immediacy and quantity of crime-related news that makes us feel like there is more crime than ever before. Horrible crimes have always happened, Lonergan said, “but you wouldn’t see them happening instantly by a video via someone’s cell phone. If something horrible happens in Kansas, you’ll see it in a manner of minutes.”

Americans love security and technology, Lonergan said, but only when they can control it. This may explain why the dummy camera continues to sell—the peace of mind it provides. “Like most people I’m willing to pay nine bucks for the chance it will fool a crook,” wrote commenter K. Blair. “I think it gives me an advantage over the person with no camera—real or fake.”

Sarah Sloat
Sarah Sloat is an editorial fellow with Pacific Standard. She was previously selected as an intern for the Sara Miller McCune Endowed Internship and Public Service Program and has studied abroad in both Argentina and the U.K. Sarah has recently graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara with a degree in Global and International Studies. Follow her on Twitter @sarahshmee.

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