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Koi security     (Koi Security)


I wrote the following articles for Koi Magazine.
Therefore they own the copyright but the Editor has given permission for them to be republished here.

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Internet great.  Facebook great. eBay great.  But, in this online world, is there a danger that your koi hobby has become public property?


What is the Internet?
The Internet was originally conceived as a series of computer networks that could allow information to be relayed between military installations. Its potential for the exchange of non-military information was soon realised, other networks were set up and it grew into a powerful learning tool with all the information that was held by one site freely available to all the others. Commercial interests soon discovered a way to use it to do business, and more recently it has allowed the development of social interaction sites such as Facebook and forums. On the surface, the Internet seems to be a blessing, but it may also be a curse depending on how you use it. Or how it is used against you!

Staying safe and secure
There are people who trawl the Internet looking for ways to profit by committing crimes and we can unwittingly give them all the information they need. Many koi keepers are very proud of their ponds and their fish and want to share pictures with other koi-keepers.  But, before putting pictures onto the Internet, consider whether you will be advertising to potential thieves that you have expensive koi or pond equipment and, more importantly, where these are to be found.

Obviously, a sensible person wouldn’t include their home address when posting pictures on a forum or social networking site but, sometimes, addresses can be found on line without much difficulty. Since this is an article about koi security, I won’t give details of how this is done, even though these methods are well known among the criminal fraternity, but as an example, using only very basic information about me that is freely available, I looked on line and, in a few minutes, found my own address. I fed that into Google Maps and now I know exactly where I live and what is in my garden.

Ok, so I already knew where I live but, if I could do this, anyone else could have found the same information just as quickly and could then use Google Maps to spy into my garden.

Satellite maps
A spate of koi thefts in one particular area has been blamed on thieves who are using Google to look for potential targets.  This claim cannot be proved unless they are caught and confess but there is circumstantial evidence to indicate that this claim may well be true.  One victim of a theft said that his pond was behind a high fence and could neither be seen nor heard from the road so how would anyone know it was there?  When interviewed by the police, a neighbour of another victim, whose pond also couldn’t be seen from the road, reported having seen two men in the area with a large net and a bike that had a box on the back at about the time the theft took place.

This suggests it wasn’t opportunist thieves but someone who had previous knowledge and had come fully prepared to steal fish.  So, is it possible that ponds can be seen from satellites? Look at the photo below and judge for yourselves.  It shows the display ponds in an aquatic outlet.  This image has not breached their security; these ponds contain nothing of value and have intentionally been built where they are fully visible from the road for display purposes anyway.


Koi security Google map

Socialising on the Internet

Don’t become paranoid, just be as sensible as you would advise young people to be when socialising on the Internet and be careful what information about your location you give to people you don’t really know.

Show your on-line friends, on social media sites and forums, pictures of your pond and your koi, that is what koi enthusiasts do, but remember that there may be those who are also looking in who are not true koi enthusiasts.

If you use social media sites, such as Facebook or Facebook Places, make sure that you do not accidentally leave “holes” in your security settings.

There are websites that take users, step by step, through the correct configuration of these security settings to avoid the risk of other people “tagging” you as being at a particular location without your knowledge, and therefore advertising the fact that you are not at home.

Don’t ask me what that last point means, I don’t use that service so I have no idea, but I have this information on good authority from those who do.

Google’s response
Google do not accept responsibility for thefts where their maps may have been used and say they are only one provider of satellite imagery. In a statement issued by them, they said: "Google Earth is built from information that is available worldwide from a wide range of both commercial and public sources.”

They continued; “As such, Google Earth creates no appreciable increase in security risks, given the wide commercial availability of high resolution satellite and aerial imagery of every country in the world.  Criminals could use maps, phones and getaway cars but no one would argue that these technologies are responsible for the crime itself, that responsibility lies with the perpetrator."

Not all ponds can be seen on satellite maps. Lighting conditions and shadows may make some ponds difficult to see, and because the ongoing effort to map the entire world is a slow process, satellite maps are rarely up to date.  This means that ponds built within the last few years may not show up on the maps yet, but in time, all maps will be updated. These ponds may then become visible.

If your pond isn’t yet visible on Google maps, the best way to ensure that it stays that way is to disguise it by erecting a pergola, possibly with a solid roof or netting so that it will be less obvious when the map is updated.  This will have the additional advantage of also disguising it from herons that may fly over.

Removing ponds from Google
For the purposes of this article I thought I should make a concerted attempt to see if there was a process by which a concerned pond owner or a petition from a group of pond owners could ask for their ponds to be removed from Google Maps. There was no way that I could discover that would allow me to directly email Google to ask if this would be possible.

This was not entirely unexpected because, if they were to allow the general public to make direct inquiries about their map services, they would be unable to cope with the resultant deluge of mail.  What I did discover was a way to post messages on an official message board, so I posted a message to ask if a pond owner could have a pond in their garden blurred.

Eventually, an answer came back saying that there was no process by which this could be done and that it would not be a good idea, even if it was possible, because anyone viewing the satellite image of a garden that had a blurred or pixelated image would see that the owner had something to hide. There is some sense in this argument but, whether or not you agree with it, I can see no way to challenge it.  It appears that if you wish to hide a pond from satellites or from aircraft, for that matter, disguising it with a pergola is probably the best idea.

As a side point, the Koi magazine team have also tried in the past to get a response from Google, and tried to complain about Google Maps on behalf of their readers.  Despite trying all the known contact details made public by Google, the magazine has never had a response from them about the subject.

Social networking and forums.
Another way to betray the location of your pond would be to give away too much information on social networking sites and forums.  Remember, posts, blogs and social chatter can be seen by anyone, and one new service that has great potential for misuse is Facebook Places. This service allows the user to tell others where they are in real time using their iPhones.

This is a great idea if you wish to meet up with others who may just happen to be in the same area but announcing; “I’m at the beach or I’m visiting Fungus Fred’s Koi Emporium” etc. also says “I’m not at home”.

Giving that piece of information to the wrong person who may be able to find your address on-line just as quickly as I found my own address is not a good idea.  Before using this service or a similar one, security settings should be set so that they do not allow such information to be viewed by people you don’t know.  Announcing future holiday plans on other social networking sites or forums is also advertising when your home will be empty. You may think you are sharing information with on-line friends who have the shared interest of koi but it is mere common sense to make sure that you can trust people before you share that kind of information.

On-line transactions and risks
On-line purchases or sales over the Internet do not usually cause a problem but there is a scam that can victimise potential buyers on sites such as eBay.  Prospective buyers bid on an item but are out-bid at the last moment. The losing bidders are then immediately contacted by the seller and told that another similar item is for sale and if they would like to send an amount equal to their losing bid, the item will be sent without the risk that they will be out-bid a second time.  As an inducement, a small reduction in price is offered if the money is sent direct - since the seller will also be avoiding PayPal fees.  The victim sends the money and hears nothing more.

Sales via eBay and its on-line payment service, PayPal, are protected from fraud, but these particular transactions are not conducted through eBay, they are private arrangements and therefore are not protected. To recover their losses, the victim would have to trace the seller and begin a private lawsuit – easier said than done.  I have not heard of this type of fraud in connection with koi or koi-related goods, but it is as well to bear it in mind when bidding for a bargain on eBay or its competitor sites.

Scamming a dealer
A fraud directly relating to koi was recently tried on “Gatwick” Gary, the owner of Gatwick Koi. Space doesn’t permit the full story, but in brief, a potential buyer phoned to buy some koi he had seen on the Gatwick Koi website.  Eventually a price was agreed, the buyer arranged to pay the amount into Gary’s account and Gary agreed to deliver the fish once payment had been cleared. When Gary checked with the bank, he was initially told that the payment was cleared and was in his account but, after asking them to make certain, they found that the deposit was £1 in cash plus the balance by a cheque which had not been cleared.

The payment of £1 in cash made it look as if the whole amount was cleared and effectively masked the fact that the rest was by cheque.  The scam was now obvious and the sale fell through. If Gary had not been so cautious and insisted that his bank should double check, the final part of the scam would have been for the buyer to phone to say that there was no need to deliver the koi as someone would be in the area and could collect them. No prizes for guessing what happened to the cheque!

Gary’s caution saved him from being a victim but, at about the same time, another dealer was less cautious and fell for the deception.  Gary has asked for it to be made clear that he doesn’t sell koi via eBay or the “for sale” sections of forum websites, but anyone who does sell fish or unwanted equipment that way should beware that they don’t become victims of variations on this scam.

Koi security gate
Secure gates are the best
first line of defence

Koi security camera
CCTV cameras deter intruders
and are not expensive when
compared to the value of what
they are protecting

Garden security
When selling koi or equipment on-line, a potential buyer may ask to visit either to inspect the koi or the equipment for sale or simply just to pay and collect whatever is for sale.  Normally these are innocent requests but there is always the risk that a thief will use this as a way to find the address in order to visit on another occasion to steal. Whether a pond owner has given their address to a thief posing as a potential buyer, whether Google has been used to look for ponds in gardens or whether thieves find an address by any other means, general garden security is essential.

Although it isn’t wise to focus totally on protecting your koi and neglect to secure the filtration equipment because it seems too heavy or bulky to steal. One of my swimming pool customers went away for the weekend. When he returned he found that, literally, all the equipment for his 16,000 gallon pool had been stolen, including the boiler and sand filter.  The thieves had hack-sawed through the pipe-work and carried everything away. The boiler weighed over 200 kg and the sand filter would have weighed over 150 kg even after the water had been tipped out. Never underestimate the lengths that some people will go to when they wish to steal.

Security tips for koi and pond equipment
Secure fences and gates with good quality locks are a good defence against all intruders, whether they come to steal koi, the kid’s bikes from the garden shed or burgle your house through the patio doors.

Don’t leave the boxes from your new pond equipment (or your new TV for that matter) outside for the dustmen. You will be advertising that you have something brand new and expensive to steal.

As with household appliances, take note of all pond equipment serial numbers.  This won’t stop it from being stolen, but if a thief is caught, any property he may not yet have disposed of can be identified and returned.

Take good quality photographs of your koi, they cannot be re-sprayed to hide their identity and, to some extent, patterns or distinguishing features will always remain identifiable.  If they are ever stolen, the new “owners” will always be at risk that they can be identified.

If your koi are ever stolen, waste no time in putting the photographs onto koi forums or websites that have a page dedicated to stolen koi.

Following a well crafted blaze of publicity after one theft, the thief decided to anonymously return the fish he had stolen. Unfortunately three did not survive the ordeal but seven out of the ten were recovered unharmed.

CCTV systems are a good form of security for your pond and are becoming cheap and sophisticated. They no longer permanently record hours of nothing happening but only start recording when movement activates them.


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