Should I Use a Dummy Security Camera?

Be sure to consider the drawbacks before doing so

Security camera on brick wall
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When properly designed, a video surveillance system can deter crime and provide valuable information after a theft, attack, or act of vandalism. Some businesses hang dummy cameras on their walls, designed to serve as a deterrent by giving the impression a surveillance system is in place. Some security providers recommend this, but in most cases, this is not a good decision for your home or business.

If you have a limited budget, dummy cameras might be all you can afford, and in some cases, that might better than nothing—but not always. Dummy cameras are easy to install because they are not connected to anything, and they might deter some potential threats who aren't sophisticated enough to recognize a fake camera.

If you have the money, though, consider the reasons why a functional surveillance system is the best option—and why there are some instances when no security at all might be better than dummy cameras.

Experienced Criminals Can Tell the Difference

Two obvious giveaways are flashing red lights and missing wires. Many dummy cameras have a red light on the front you aren't likely to find on a functional camera. These are there to attract attention to the camera so it can serve as a deterrent. Most real security cameras, though, have only small LED lights at the power connection to let technicians know the power supply is connected, but that light typically is tucked away on the back of the camera. So, when experienced criminals see that flashing red light, they know they probably are looking at a fake.

Most indoor dummy cameras are mounted to a wall or ceiling with no wires or cables connected, and that makes it easier to identify the camera as a phony. Again, the average person might not recognize this, but someone who makes a living as a thief probably will.

Dummy Cameras Reveal Too Much

Some people mix real and dummy cameras in a single system with hopes of keeping bad guys off balance. This might only accentuate the difference between what's real and what's fake. A professional criminal with a trained eye might recognize the ruse, and once he identifies which parts of a store are monitored only by dummy cameras, he knows where he can go and remain undetected.

Dummy Cameras May Expose You to a Lawsuit

Business owners, as well as homeowners, have been sued for using dummy security cameras. Most often, victims of crimes claimed the cameras provided a false sense of security because they believed they were in an area that was under surveillance. In many cases, the defendants would not have been held liable if they had no cameras at all.

For example, suppose an employee intentionally parks her car, or leaves valuables, within view of a "security camera." If she is attacked or the car or valuables are stolen, she might ask her employer to review the video. Upon discovering that there is, in fact, no video, she might have cause to sue. This is one of those instances when it would be better to have nothing than to have dummy cameras.