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Imagine you're lying in bed with your loved one at a vacation rental property that was advertised as "Cozy and Romantic." Directly above the bed, you see a smoke detector that looks a little suspicious.
It turns out to be a hidden camera. Think about just how angry finding something like this would make you.
Unfortunately, that nightmare scenario recently happened to a couple in California. And these types of situations are happening more often than you'd think.
Are you being watched at your rental?
The Atlantic recently reported on a handful of Airbnb guests who said they found hidden cameras during their stay. In one example, a man in Florida spotted two small black boxes next to an electrical outlet facing the bed. They looked like phone chargers, but were actually cameras that were recording everything.
Luckily, he was able to take the cameras' memory cards as evidence before scrambling to leave in the middle of the night. Airbnb ended up refunding his money and paid for a hotel room for the night. The owner of the rental property was eventually removed from the site.
Airbnb isn't the only rental company that's been having problems with hidden cams. We told you a couple weeks ago about hotel guests unknowingly being live-streamed on a website that creeps would pay to watch.
So, why is this happening? Well, camera technology has advanced immensely in the past few years. They keep getting smaller and smaller, making it possible to conceal them any which way.
Plus, these cameras are super cheap, so it's real easy for creepers to load their property up with them. It's a serious problem.
That's why you need to be vigilant in protecting your own privacy. Keep reading to learn how to spot spy cams and what to do if you find one.
Note: We reached out to Airbnb for a response. Here is the statement we received from the company:
"There have been more than 500 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are incredibly rare. We have strict policies regarding the proper disclosure of security cameras and take reports of any violations extremely seriously. The safety and privacy of our community is our priority."
Airbnb also pointed out that it has surveillance device policies that include: Cameras or other surveillance devices are not allowed in a listing unless they are both previously disclosed and visible. Such devices are never permitted in private spaces of the listing, such as bathrooms, bedrooms, or other sleeping areas.
How to spot hidden cameras
Physically check the room
This is the first order of business if you suspect that a room is bugged - a complete sweep of the surroundings.
Think like a spy and come up with areas where you can hide a bugging device. Check for microphone transmitters in possible hiding places like lamps, light fixtures, vases, flower pots and inside smoke detectors or air filters.
Examine the room for unusual decor like out-of-place picture frames and random fixtures. Look for pinholes that may be used for a camera lens.
Don't forget to check under chairs, tables, shelves and couches, too. These are all excellent hiding places for hidden microphones. Also, check objects including books, stuffed toys, pillows, couches and electrical outlets.
It's also a good idea to examine and trace wires that don't seem to go anywhere. Although wireless surveillance gadgets are the norm now, wired devices are still in use to this day.
Use a signal detector
If you travel a lot and rent rooms and houses all the time and you're dead serious about your privacy, you can invest in a professional RF signal detector. These gadgets are small enough to take with you, and most of them are relatively cheap. Here's a good option that you can pick up from Amazon for under $60:
These typically detect frequencies that wireless cameras and voice recorders use, and some even have infrared lights for detecting pinhole cameras.
Listen for strange sounds
Most motion-sensitive cameras emit low-noise clicks and buzzes when they're on. Prop up your ears and listen carefully for these almost inaudible sounds as you examine the whole room.
Motion-tracking cameras will often have little motors that hum when activated so watch out for those sounds, too.
Turn off the lights
Here's a direct way of checking for security and surveillance cameras. Turn off the room's lights and check for small green or red LEDs. Night-vision security cameras in particular use these kinds of lights and they normally blink or shine in low light.
With the lights off, you can also spot pinhole cameras by putting a tube over one of your eyes (like a telescope) while keeping your other eye closed. If something shines back while you're sweeping a flashlight across the room, then there's a good chance that's a camera lens.
What to do if you find a camera
If the existence of indoor surveillance cameras was not disclosed to you, the answer is simple: Pick up the phone and call the police. Tell them you have direct evidence that someone is spying on you, without your knowledge or permission, inside your rental. Use this exact phrase.
While you’re waiting for police to arrive, document the situation with video and photos on your smartphone. If you are traveling with others, ask them to be witnesses. Remind them they are about to be victimized too.
Once you have your police report, contact the rental site.
Privacy and data protection in the "internet of things" age
The "things" in the internet of things are getting smarter: We have smartphones, smart light bulbs, smart appliances, smartwatches -- all connected through the internet. That’s cool and convenient, right? There's one big problem: They're designed to be connected, but not to be secure. In this episode of Komando on Demand, we talk to Steven Teppler, a renowned privacy and cybersecurity attorney from Mandelbaum Salsburg, about how connected devices put people at risk for not only stolen data, but data we unwittingly share with big tech companies.