More funding and legal powers are needed for police to stop a surge of stalkers using eavesdropping devices to spy on victims, experts have warned.
Firms paid to detect the bugs say they’re finding more and more of the devices which are readily available on online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.
Jack Lazzereschi, Technical Director of bug sweeping company Shapestones, says cases of stalking and victims being blackmailed with intimate footage shot in secret has doubled in the past two years.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘The police want to do something about it, they try to, but usually they don’t have the legal power or the resources to investigate.
‘For us it’s a problem. We try to protect the client, we want to assure that somebody has been protected.’
People are paying as little as £15 for listening devices and spy cameras hidden inside desk lamps, wall sockets, phone charger cables, USB sticks and picture frames.
Users insert a sim card into a hidden slot and call a number to listen in on their unwitting targets.
People using hidden cameras can watch what’s happening using an apps on their phones.
Jack says the devices are so effective, cheap and hard to trace to their users, law enforcement prefer using them over expensive old-school devices.
Although every case is different, in situations where homeowners plant devices in their own properties, Jack says there’s usually a legal ‘grey area’ to avoid prosecution.
The devices themselves aren’t illegal and they are usually marketed for legitimate purposes like protection, making it difficult for cops to investigate.
There is no suggestion online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon are breaking the law by selling them.
But in some instances, images of women in their underwear have been used in listings – implying more sinister uses for the devices.
Even in cases when people are more clearly breaking the law, Jack says it’s unlikely perpetrators will be brought to justice as overstretched police will prioritise resources to stop violent crime.
Jack’s says around 60 per cent of his firm’s non-corporate cases cases involve stalking or blackmail.
He says it’s become an ‘epidemic’ over the past couple of years with the gadgets more readily available than ever before.
Victims are often filmed naked or having sex and threatened with the threat of footage being put online and in the worst cases children are also recorded.
Jack says UK law is woefully unprepared to deal with these devices compared to countries in the Asian-Pacific region.
In South Korea authorities have cracked down on a scourge of perverts planting cameras in public toilets.
James Williams, director of bug sweepers QCC Global says snooping devices used to be the preserve of people with deep pockets and technological know-how.
He said: ‘It’s gone from that to really being at a place where anybody can just buy a device from the internet.
‘Anything you can possibly think of you can buy with a bug built into it. I would say they’re getting used increasingly across the board.’
Suky Bhaker, Acting CEO of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs the National Stalking Helpline, warned using these gadgets could be a prelude to physical violence.
She said: ‘We know that stalking and coercive control are extremely dangerous and can cause huge harm to the victim, both in terms of their psychological wellbeing and the potential for escalation to physical violence or even murder.
‘The use of surveillance devices or spyware apps by stalkers, must be seen in the context of a pattern of obsessive, fixated behaviour which aims at controlling and monitoring the victim.
She added: ‘There should be clarity for police forces that the use of surveillance equipment by stalkers to monitor their victim’s location or communications is a sign that serious and dangerous abuse may be present or imminent.’
‘All cases of stalking or coercive control should be taken seriously and investigated when reported to police.’
The charity is calling for all police forces across the country to train staff in this area.
Earlier this month a policeman known only by his surname Mills was barred from the profession for life for repeatedly dismissing pleas for help from 19-year-old Shana Grice who was eventually murdered by her stalker ex-boyfriend Michel Lane.
A spokesman for eBay said: ‘The listing of mini cameras on eBay is permitted for legitimate items like baby monitors or doorbell cameras.
‘However, items intended to be used as spying devices are banned from eBay’s UK platform in accordance with the law and our policy.
‘We have filters in place to block prohibited items, and all the items flagged by Metro have now been removed.’
Amazon declined to comment.