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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -
Web cams are great. Your kids can Skype with their cousins or grandparents hundreds of miles away.
But, of course, the criminals have to try to ruin that, too.
It's estimated 170,000,000 people use laptops around the world. And many web cameras are so tiny and embedded in the design of your laptop that you forget it's even there, unless you use it a lot.
"You don't even have to look for it as a special feature anymore," said CNET's Dan Ackerman. "It just comes with the computer."
And the FBI has a warning:
"With the web cam comes the opportunity for people to use malicious software to control the web cam," said FBI Special Agent Justin Vellese.
So while you're going about your nightly routine, at home or in a hotel room, someone could be turning on your web cam without you knowing it and watching everything you do.
"Many laptops now have 3G or wireless capabilities built into them," said Vellese. "So being portable, they can be used anywhere and can be put in places that are private, places that people might not want to be seen."
Even if your web cam is supposed to have a light that comes on indicating when it's being used, you still may not be safe.
"There is malicious software that can turn-on the web cam. Turn it off. It's possible they can even turn-off the light that indicates the web cam is on," said Vellese.
A quick search on Google reveals all kinds of information for criminals looking to hack a web cam, security camera, or even a "nanny cam."
YouTube videos give them step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
So what can you do?
"Make sure your firewall is turned-on at all times and have your anti-virus, anti-malware apps running constantly," said Ackerman.
Plus, if you're not using the web cam, Special Agent Vellese says you may want to put a sticky note over the web cam or simply unplug it if it requires a USB cable.
The FBI considers the crime "cyber terrorism." If it happens to you, they advise getting help fast because odds are you are not the only victim.
"It's important to be able to reach out to law enforcement," said Vellese.
The FBI tells us young women are the most targeted for this kind of crime.
So parents will want to keep their kids' computers in open areas of the home so you can see what's going on. And you may want to have a conversation with your children about what they should do if someone contacts them saying they've been watching.
If you've been a victim, contact your local police department and the FBI's Cincinnati office at (513) 421-4310. You may also e-mail them at: Cincinnati@ic.fbi.gov.
Most computer experts say you don't necessarily have to buy expensive anti-virus and anti-malware programs to keep your system safe. Just be sure to hit the "update" button every week so you have the latest level of protection.