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What You Need to Know Before Secretly Recording Your Enemies

What You Need to Know Before Secretly Recording Your Enemies

Given how relatively common it is for presidents and shady political activist groups to secretly record phone conversations, it makes it seem possibly acceptable. But is it? Turns out the answer is kinda complicated. If you’re thinking of secretly recording a conversation with someone, you should probably read this first.

Whether you’re recording a phone call or an in-person conversation or trying to record the conversations of others, it all comes down to consent, and how the federal government and each state’s individual laws define that. You might want to capture your enemy’s true nature on tape for all to hear, but here’s the deal: it’s probably illegal.

What federal law says

According to the Wiretap Act of 1968 (18 U.S.C. § 2511.), it’s illegal to secretly record any oral, telephonic, or electronic communication that is reasonably expected to be private. So, for example, recording a conversation with somebody in a bedroom, with the door shut, on private property, without them knowing is technically a federal crime in the loosest sense.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this law that create some sizable loopholes. The biggest being the “one-party consent” rule that says you can record people secretly if at least one person in the conversation consents to the recording, or if the person recording is authorized by law to do it (like a police officer with a warrant). If we go back to our bedroom recording, that means you could record your conversation as long as one person—you—consents to it. Sneaky, eh? But here’s the catch: you have to actually be a part of that conversation. If you were simply recording two other people talking while standing nearby and not saying a word, you then have no consent from any of the parties, and thus it would be illegal.

State laws can preempt federal law

Federal law does not always reign supreme when it comes to recording conversations in the U.S.. Eleven states have “two-party (or all-party) consent” laws, meaning you cannot record conversations unless every single person in that conversation gives consent. Those states are:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington (not D.C.)

If we go back to the secret bedroom recording example, everyone in the room would need to consent to your recording if you were in one of the states listed above. But then it wouldn’t really be a secret recording anymore, would it?

While a state’s recording laws usually determine the legality of taping conversations, federal law takes precedence and preempts all state laws if it’s considered to be more protective of privacy. So even if a state did allow secret recordings without any consent, federal law would preempt that state’s laws.

Location, location, location

The other important aspect to consider is where you’re recording your conversation. The federal Wiretap Act promises a “reasonable expectation” of privacy, so there’s some wiggle room there. A closed-off bedroom in a private home is a reasonable place to expect privacy, so taping there can be risky, even with the power of one-party consent. If there was a party being thrown in that house, however, things could be a little different. Litigator Deborah C. Logan explains:

Whether one has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a given situation depends upon the context: Was the conversation in a public or private location? Did the individual being recorded treat the subject matter as private? A person who is bragging at a party about cheating a friend in a business deal cannot later object to the introduction of a recording of this admission as evidence in a lawsuit filed by his ex-friend.

As you can see, public locations open things up a tad. Secretly recording a conversation at a park or train station is perfectly legal if you’re in a one-party consent state and part of the conversation. But it’s still illegal in a two-party consent state.

And the definition of “safe places to record” changes on a state-by-state, case-by-case basis. Public places are almost always safe, but the definition of public place can get stretched sometimes. For example, a privately owned business office may seem like a private location, but some states, like Florida, do not “recognize an absolute right to privacy in a party’s office or place of business.” That doesn’t mean you should go secretly recording your mean boss, though, since it can still be illegal depending on where you are, what’s being said, and how it’s being said.

You also have to be careful about recording phone calls, especially if you’re talking with someone who’s in a state with different laws than yours. If you live in New York, a one-party state, and want to record a phone call with someone in California, a two-party state, you need to have their consent in addition to the consent you’ve automatically granted. If you use an app to record a cell phone call, you need to double-check that you’re not recording all calls by default and accidentally taping people illegally.

Audio and video aren’t the same thing, but can be intertwined

Video recording law is different from audio recording law—and a topic for another time—but it’s important to know what those differences are. Generally speaking, you have the right to record video in all public spaces without need of consent. A public space is defined as anywhere any member of the public can legally access, so public transit facilities, parks, streets, etc. are all fair game. Recording video on private property, though, is up to the discretion of the property owner, private security, or police—but secret video recordings are illegal on all private property in some states, like California.

But here’s the most important part: Recording video of a conversation in public might be legal, but recording audio along with that video is not, if you’re in a two-party state. For example, recording a video of your heated conversation with a surly sales associate is illegal in all two-party states if they don’t give you permission to record them. Even in one-party states, recording video like that is dubious at best.

You do, however, have the right to record video and audio of police officers or public officials performing official duties if they are in public places. That said, you may only do so as long as you are not interfering with those activities or violating other laws in the process.

What happens if you get caught

If you get busted secretly recording conversations, you could face jail time, fines, or even be sued. The federal Wiretap Act lists a possible sentence of five years in prison with a fine of at least $500. But that’s usually in addition to the state law’s being violated. Getting busted in California (Cal. Penal Code § 631.), for example, can net you another year in prison and a $2,500 fine. Also, most states let the non-consenting party who was recorded sue you for damages, which could be much worse than those other fines.

When in doubt, follow these tips

If you’re thinking of recording a conversation, do yourself a favor and follow these tips from the Digital Media Law Project:

  • Check local laws first: Always know what your state’s recording laws are before you do anything, and double check laws if you’re recording calls from out of state. Do you need everyone’s consent? Or just yours? Where are you recording?
  • Know what consent looks like, and get it before you record: Consent is best when it’s verbal and part of your recording, but give a preemptive warning as well. Notify the other parties that you intend to record your interaction, wait to record until they agree, begin recording, then ask for permission again on tape.
  • Don’t be sneaky: I know, you’d probably love to catch a cheater red-handed, or record your boss sexually harassing you, but those types of secret recordings can seriously backfire. More often than not, the recordings are usually deemed illegal and inadmissible in court, then you get busted for breaking the law and sued by the person you were hoping to take down.

It may be a hard pill to swallow, but secret recordings are rarely a good idea, whether you’re a president or a wannabe P.I. Get consent, don’t hide your camera, microphone, or recorder and don’t try to goad people into revealing their deepest, darkest secrets without them knowing they’re on tape or you’re going to make things worse for yourself.

This story was originally published in May 2017 and was updated on Dec. 21, 2020 to align the content with current Lifehacker style.

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How to DIY a Home Recording Studio

How to DIY a Home Recording Studio

Illustration for article titled How to DIY a Home Recording Studio

Photo: Sata Production (Shutterstock)

If you are a podcaster, musician, or actor working during the pandemic, having an in-home recording studio of some kind could be essential to your business. This year, the majority of recording work has moved into our homes, but often still demands professional-grade sound. Unfortunately, creating a home studio is not the most intuitive DIY project. In fact, you may feel completely lost without a professional to guide you. But with a little investment and ingenuity, you can produce studio-quality sound from your home. Here are some steps to follow to get the best sound quality from your makeshift space.

Soundproof a small space

Soundproofing is essential when it comes to producing clean, clear audio. Bigger spaces have larger surface areas for sound to travel, and rooms with bare walls or high ceilings will create an echo that will be picked up by any microphone. Angela Sarakan, Senior Audio Producer at Dipsea, advises, “Capturing quality sound requires more than just a mic—you need to try to absorb as much sound as you can from your surroundings.” Sarakan notes the easiest and cheapest way to do this is to sit under thick blankets with your microphone while you record, or, barring that, in a closet full of clothes that will buffer the sound. From experience, I can say the former method works as a one-off, but it can get hot and sweaty under those covers. For consistent recording sessions, a semi-permanent setup will be much more comfortable.

I spoke with sound engineer Daryl Bolicek of Wild Horse Recording, LLC, who advised me on the best at-home soundproofing solutions. Bolicek notes a closet is, in fact, perfect for outfitting with soundproofing materials—the small space will naturally limit echoing and it will be easier to soundproof. If you don’t have a closet big enough, you can use any regular size room, as long as you can outfit it with the proper sound absorption materials.

Use sound absorption foam

If you have a budget to work with, the quickest way to set up your home studio is with sound absorption foam. The material resembles egg crate foam, is thick, and comes in a limited range of colors like black, red, or blue (if you want to incorporate a color scheme.) It is fairly cheap—anywhere from $30 – $48 for a pack of 12’x12′ panels, enough to cover as much as 48 square feet of space. The good news is you don’t need to coat your walls from top to bottom in foam. “You don’t need to do the whole room. You really want to nail the front back and [walls] that align with the microphone,” Bolicek says. The best way to make sure you are covering your bases is to draw an X on the wall across from the microphone, both in front of and behind you. The Xs mark areas where the sound will hit the wall and bounce directly back into the microphone, so that’s where you most need to install your foam.

A great soundproofing hack when you are short on big closets or spare bedrooms is to use a small storage box. Make sure the box is big enough to fit your microphone first, then line it with sound absorption foam and place the mic inside. This setup works for voiceover gigs, poetry recordings, or emceeing—any recording in which one person is speaking directly into the microphone. I have gone even further to attach the foam to a tri-fold presentation board that covers a larger space, allowing me to record while standing. (A trifold board also allows space for two people to record at once.)

As with any equipment purchase, you get what you pay for. “Unfortunately, the more expensive, the better the foam,” Bolicek says. So if you are investing in your business, getting the better foam will offer better results. Cheaper foams will work, but more expensive ones—when paired with other quality equipment upgrades—can make a noticeable difference. Personally, when listening to podcasts, I’ve noticed tit’s harder to enjoy the subject matter when it is difficult to hear or there is a lot of interference in the audio mix. The better sound quality, the more engaged your listeners will be (especially since there is nothing for them to engage with visually). Higher-quality materials are more important for pro musicians and voiceover actors, as your career will hinge on your ability to produce high quality recordings.

Invest in the right microphone

As with the soundproofing materials, the more money you spend on your recording equipment, the better your end product will be—and you’ll want to start by getting a microphone. You don’t need to break the bank; just make sure you are getting the right microphone for your space, needs, and budget. I use AKG XLR Condenser microphones to record my voiceover gigs and an entertainment podcast. Condenser mics are easy to find, relatively cheap (as microphones go—$99), and provide great quality sound for the price.

However, condenser mics are very sensitive and require a well-soundproofed room to avoid capturing unwanted noises. For this reason, Bolicek suggests investing in a dynamic microphone. Dynamic microphones are not as sensitive and will not pick up as much background sound as a condenser microphone. If you want an excellent dynamic mic, it will cost you significantly more (anywhere from $400 to $500). You can find some for as little as $99, but you’ll want to do your research beforehand to ensure the quality is up to par.

Use an external audio recorder

After you have outfitted the space and selected your microphone, you’ll need the proper equipment to capture clean sound. Depending on the microphone you choose, you may be able to connect it directly to your computer with a USB cord, but these cords are less than durable and won’t always offer the best sound quality. Instead, use an audio recorder to capture sound from an external microphone and save it to your computer or an SD card. Programs that turn your cellphone or tablet into a microphone with recording software are not reliable. Sarakan notes going with an external mic and audio recorder is preferable to using your computer’s speakers or a phone app, as it allows you greater control over the fidelity of the sound (which minimizes risks of sound distortions).

I use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 with my condenser microphone for voiceover work. The Scarlett connects seamlessly with Garageband on my computer, and will run you about $159 for a model with two microphone ports. When recording our bi-weekly podcast, my co-hosts and I use an H6 Zoom recorder (not to be confused with the video call service—I’m talking about a piece of hardware). The Zoom recorder works better for multiple users, with ports for up to six microphones. (This was more relevant in pre-pandemic times). It’s a bit pricier—about $329—but older versions (H5 or H4) can be a cheaper option between $229 to $279, and are of comparable quality. Either recorder works very well, but I find the Scarlett to be easier to use when it’s just me and my computer.

Creating a home studio is an investment, so take the time to plan and save up. Recording better sound can provide a great return on your investment.

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Is It Safe to Buy and Sell on Gift Card Exchanges?

Is It Safe to Buy and Sell on Gift Card Exchanges?

Illustration for article titled Is It Safe to Buy and Sell on Gift Card Exchanges?

Photo: Lutsenko_Oleksandr (Shutterstock)

After the holidays, store gift cards can sit in your wallet, unbothered for months—indeed, at any given time, between 10-19% of gift card balances remain unredeemed, and six percent of gift cards are never even used, according to The Hustle. Fortunately, you can sell these cards for actual cash on reseller sites. But are gift card exchange sites safe?

How gift card exchanges work

You can buy or sell gift cards on gift card exchange websites, which act as brokers between buyers and sellers.Basically, you post a listing for the gift card you want to sell, and as part of this listing you submit the card’s number and PIN, which is verified by the site. The actual exchange is mostly digital, but it can include mailing physical cards, with the reseller acting as the middle man.

You’ll never sell a gift card for 100% of its value, however, as the broker takes a small percentage and buyers will expect some sort of discount (otherwise they’d just buy gift cards directly from retailers). But while you lose some value, you’re also getting cash that can be spent anywhere, not just in one store. Plus, the loss in value is better than not using it at all—if you haven’t used the card within 180 days, you’re more likely to not redeem the card at all, according to a Paytronix report.

How much you can earn also depends on the popularity of your gift card and how many are on the market. A $100 Amazon or Visa gift card will have more demand, for example, than, say, a $100 Arby’s gift card. Expect to earn between 50–92% of a card’s value, depending on market demand.

A word of caution

Avoid the temptation to sell your cards on your own using eBay or Facebook, as it’s too easy to get scammed without a third-party broker. Instead, use only the most established gift card sites that offer customer support, like CardCash, GiftCash, and Raise. You can start with, which is an aggregator that compares offers from other reseller websites.

However, even these larger sites should be approached with a bit of caution, as they often receive Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaints about card rejections at retailers, as well as delays in receiving cards and payment.

Last December, the BBB issued an alert about the popular reseller Cardpool, which currently has an “F” rating due to the volume of complaints. That doesn’t mean that all the other sites are the same, or that they don’t offer support or respond to complaints—it’s just something to keep in mind (personally, I’d be comfortable buying a gift card off one of these sites, but I’d also try to use it right away).

BBB offers these tips when considering using a gift card reseller:

  • Research the business before you buy, sell, or trade.
  • Visit and find out the company’s rating.
  • Read the complaints and customer reviews of any online gift card reseller that you may be considering.
  • Make sure the business has easy to find contact information.
  • Understand what the business’s policy is regarding refunds.
  • Use a payment method that will allow you to dispute the charges.
  • Immediately check the balance and any passwords or pins of any cards that you purchase.

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Call a Reconsideration Line for a Second Chance at a Credit Card

Call a Reconsideration Line for a Second Chance at a Credit Card

Illustration for article titled Call a Reconsideration Line for a Second Chance at a Credit Card

Photo: F8 studio (Shutterstock)

Getting rejected for a credit card can feel like a low blow, especially if you’ve fallen on hard times. But you still have a lesser-known, last-ditch option available—the reconsideration line, which allows borrowers to appeal their rejection directly with their lender. Here’s how to use it.

First, understand why you were rejected

Your credit card application can be rejected for a number of reasons, like a bad credit history, low income, outstanding debt payments, having too many credit cards, and employment history. By law, card issuers must give you a reason why your application was rejected, so read your rejection notice carefully and know why you were turned down.

Some of these reasons can be obvious: As an example, you wouldn’t expect to qualify for a premium credit card with a high limit if you have a terrible credit score. However, since the initial application is automated, a lot of borderline cases simply don’t qualify for credit. Fortunately, that’s where reconsideration lines kick in: You can call an actual human on the phone and make your case for approval—if you’re lucky, they’ll overturn the rejection.

Prepare for the call

There are no guarantees, but if you plead your case as a responsible potential customer, the lender might be convinced. Prepare for the call by knowing your outstanding debts, income, and credit score. If you’re rejected because of your credit score, you have the right to request a free copy of the credit report used by the lender within 60 days. Review the report and look for errors (they do happen). If you find any, dispute them and mention this in your call. Otherwise, be polite, as the person on the other end of the line is under no obligation to reverse the lender’s initial decision. Hopefully, after pleading your case, your application might be accepted, after all.

Reconsideration lines for major banks

Below are the phone numbers for dedicated reconsideration lines (if available), although note that they tend to change frequently. If your bank isn’t on the list, call their customer service number and ask if there’s someone you can talk to. Also, make sure you call within 30 days of your rejection, as applications typically expire after 30 days, forcing you to apply again (and incur a hard pull on your credit history, which can lower your credit score).

  • American Express has a reconsideration line that can be reached by calling 1-800-567-1083, Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. – midnight ET, and 10:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. ET, on Saturday.
  • Bank Of America used to have a dedicated reconsideration line but it looks like calling 1-877-721-9405 during business hours is your best option.
  • Barclay’s reconsideration line is 1-866-408-4064 and can be reached Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. ET.
  • Capital One doesn’t have a dedicated reconsideration line, but you can try general customer service line, 1-800-951-6951, or application services, at 1-800-625-7866, during normal business hours.
  • Chase has a reconsideration team can be reached by calling 1-888-270-2127 between 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., ET, on Saturdays.
  • Citibank can be reached by calling 1-800-695-5171, between 8:00 a.m. – midnight ET, every day.
  • Discover doesn’t have a reconsideration line, and they don’t have a reputation for overturning rejecting credit card applications, but you could try their 24-hour customer service line, 1-800-347-2683.
  • US BANK doesn’t seem to have a dedicated reconsideration line anymore, but you can call 1-800-947-1444 (Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET).
  • Wells Fargo has a reconsideration department that can be reached by calling 1-866-412-5956, between 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, or by calling 1-800-967-9521, between 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. ET, on Saturdays.

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated Jan. 20, 2021 to include updated information.

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You Can Your Get Girl Scout Cookies Delivered by Grub Hub

You Can Your Get Girl Scout Cookies Delivered by Grub Hub

Illustration for article titled You Can Your Get Girl Scout Cookies Delivered by Grub Hub

Photo: David Tonelson (Shutterstock)

There is no better season than Girl Scout cookie season. Now is the time to re-up on your favorite fund-raising treats. I’m talking about the Thin Mints, the Caramel d-Lites, the Tagalongs, and the Do-si-dos. Every year young, entrepreneurial Girl Scouts are tasked with selling cookies to raise money for their troupes. The cookie drive promotes financial literacy for the scouts and teaches them modern business skills.

Today’s youth are particularly well-positioned to become tech moguls in the cookie trade, as the pandemic means they will be handling more and more of their business via online sales—and now, even in partnership with the food delivery service Grub Hub. Here are the different ways you can order cookies online this year.

Use Grub Hub

On February first, Girl Scout cookies will be available for purchase with the online food delivery app Grub Hub. Simply sign up or log into the app and enter your zip code or address to find the Girl Scout troupe in your area. Deliveries will be made between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily, directly to your door. The Grub Hub service is only available in select cities, so use the app’s cookie finder site to find out where you can get Girl Scout cookies delivered.

The cookie drive is about raising money for youth to take trips, earn badges, and gain life skills. For this reason, Grub Hub is waiving its fees to ensure the local troupes receive the full proceeds from your purchase.

If Grub Hub cannot service a city or town near you, don’t worry, you can still find a cookie seller in your area.

Use the Girl Scouts’ Cookie Finder app to order from your regular supplier

Download the Girl Scouts’ own “cookie finder app” for Android and iOS. Type in your zip code and find the local troupe or scout you want to support. The app launched five years ago to allow cookies sales to expand and grow into the digital landscape, and to help Girl Scouts learn more about the modern world of sales and online business by tracking their orders and handling shipping online.

As the Girl Scouts’ website explains, “Through it, she has access to even more tools that teach her about marketing, budgeting, resource allocation, and other critical business skills—encouraging and guiding her as she makes her way to cookie boss success.”

Take advantage of added bonuses

When you order cookies online this year, you will have the option to donate a box or two to frontline workers. Yup, nurses, EMTs, and other first responders can enjoy free, delicious cookies in appreciation for the immense work they are doing during the pandemic. If anyone deserve a treat, it’s them.

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Be Wary of Buyers Who Offer to Overpay

Be Wary of Buyers Who Offer to Overpay

Illustration for article titled Be Wary of Buyers Who Offer to Overpay

Photo: OPOLJA (Shutterstock)

The Better Business Bureau has issued an alert about a grift impacting consumers who sell their stuff online. If you get an offer that’s a lot more than what you’re selling your item for, think twice about the transaction—it’s likely an overpayment scam.

How overpayment scams work

Overpayment scams are a persistent problem that plagues online selling. Typically, they prey upon listings on reseller sites like Facebook marketplace and Craigslist, as well as eBay, Etsy, Amazon Handmade, and others.

Here’s how it works: after you post a listing for an item online, a normal-seeming “prospective buyer” will contact you and agree to purchase your item. The catch is that they’ll send you more money than you ask for—either via a check or through a digital wallet—and explain it away by noting some sort of made-up restriction on their account, or chalk it up to a simple error.

The scam takes a turn once you’ve been overpaid, as the buyer will invariably ask for some of their money back. They will likely be really nice about it, too, as if it were a simple mistake best handled informally between the buyer and seller. After you return the money, however, the initial payment will turn out to be false, as the check or transfer will be denied. At this stage, you will have lost the difference between the phony payment and the cost of your item, as well as the item itself.

How to avoid the scam

Part of what makes this scam so effective is that it lowers your guard—why would a scammer send you more money than you need? So, as a rule of thumb, don’t let people overpay you for items on online marketplaces.

The BBB also offers these tips:

  • Don’t ship an item before you receive a payment. Make sure any payments you receive are legitimate before you ship your item to the seller. If you ship before they pay, you will have no way to get your item back.
  • Don’t believe offers that are too good to be true. Unless you a selling a rare or highly desirable item that several people are bidding on, you should not expect anyone to offer to pay more than what you are asking. If someone tries to overpay you, consider it a red flag.
  • Look out for counterfeit emails. Scammers are skilled at imitating emails from popular payment services, such as Venmo or PayPal. Examine all emails carefully. If an email comes from a domain that isn’t official or contains obvious typos and grammatical errors, it’s probably a scam.
  • Report scams to the online marketplace. Be sure to report suspicious activity including dishonest buyers or sellers.

The BBB recommends reporting these scams as you encounter them on their scam tracker, found here. Even if you didn’t fall for the scam, your report can help protect others from getting conned.

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