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hidden camera in a hotel room filming a family on vacation
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How to spot hidden surveillance cameras in your Airbnb, VRBO, and vacation rentals

It’s happened to me. You check into a vacation rental, get settled in and spot surveillance cameras. Even when the cameras are technically allowed, it’s very alarming.

Prepared to be shocked. Cameras can hide in vents, lamps, power outlets and even unassuming objects like humidifiers and TV remote controls. You must see these cameras to believe they exist. Tap or click for 10 hidden cameras so sneaky you’d never know they were there.

Another travel pro tip is don’t blab about your trip on Facebook or Instagram while on vacation. Do you really need everyone to know you’re not home? Tap or click here for five more social media tips to protect privacy and security.

If you’re traveling any time soon, you must know your rights regarding surveillance cameras in your rental.

It’s easier than ever to spy

Years ago, surveillance cameras were expensive and bulky. These days, they’re affordable and easy to install and hide. Depending on the rental service, the owner is within their rights to install cameras.

An Airbnb I rented a few years ago had about a dozen cameras inside the home. The owner disclosed the cameras using a tiny font at the bottom of the listing. Now I read rental listings very carefully and ask these questions before I book:

  • What is the exact number of cameras and where are they located?
  • Are the cameras recording?
  • What happens to those recordings after my stay?

Airbnb allows security cameras or audio recorders in “public spaces” and “common spaces.” That means no bathrooms, bedrooms, or other sleeping areas. For instance, a camera or other monitoring device is not allowed in the living room if it has a sofa bed. Concealed and undisclosed cameras are not permitted, either.

VRBO allows for cameras and other surveillance devices only outside a property. The one exception: Smart devices that cannot be activated remotely. Guests must be informed and given the option to deactivate them.

Tech tips to your inbox: Your privacy is important. That’s why I send out smart daily tips to help secure your digital life. Try my free emails here.

But is it legal?

Laws on this sticky subject vary from state to state. The Federal Video Voyeurism Act says you can’t “capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.” It’s important to note that “private area” refers to nudity or lesser states of dress.

Local and state laws usually permit property owners to install cameras in “public spaces.” This is an important distinction. Private areas, like bedrooms and bathrooms, or anywhere anyone would reasonably expect privacy are off-limits. In a situation where you rent a single room in a house or apartment, it gets trickier.

There’s another caveat: It’s illegal to record someone for blackmail or other malicious intent. Audio recording also has much stricter rules than video. In many states, both parties must know that the recording is taking place.

If you’re renting, check the listing carefully for any mention of cameras. Whether or not you see a disclosure, it’s your responsibility upon arrival to check every single room. I’ll show you how.

RELATED: You might be breaking the law online and not even know it

How to spot surveillance cameras

Larger cameras are easy to spot, but anyone can easily hide smaller cameras behind furniture, vents, or decorations. A simple way to spot most types of cameras is to look for the lens reflection.

  • Turn off the lights and slowly scan the room with a flashlight or laser pointer, looking for bright reflections.
  • Scan the room from multiple spots so you don’t miss a camera pointed only at certain places.
  • Inspect the vents and any holes or gaps in the walls or ceilings.

You can also get an RF detector. This gadget can pick up wireless cameras you might not see. Unfortunately, RF detectors aren’t great for wired or record-only cameras. For those, you’ll need to stick with the lens reflection method.

If you can connect to the rental’s wireless network, a free program like Wireless Network Watcher shows what gadgets are connected. You might be able to spot connected cameras that way. I do this in every rental I stay in, just to double-check what’s connected to the network.

Be aware that the owner might have put the cameras on a second network, or they could be wired or record-only types, so this is not a fail-safe option.

If a home automation system controls the rental property, it’s relatively easy to find cameras. Open the system controller’s menu and look for anything mentioning cameras. You can also scan the TV channels for anything suspicious. I found a lot of cameras in a vacation rental this way.

More travel smarts: 5 smart tech steps to take before you hit the road

What to do if you find a camera

If you find an indoor surveillance camera that was not disclosed to you, pick up the phone and call the police. Tell them you have direct evidence that your landlord is spying on you inside your rental home without your knowledge or permission. Use this exact phrase.

Document the situation with video and photos on your smartphone. If you’re traveling with others, ask them to be witnesses once the police arrive. Remind them they were about to be victimized, too. Once you have your police report, contact the rental site.

This isn’t just an annoyance. It’s a serious invasion of privacy.

PODCAST PICK: iPhone updates, Twitter warnings, Instagram scam

Tweeting a spoiler? Put a content warning on it. You should also watch your inbox for this new Instagram scam. Plus, Furbo’s latest pet cam gives you 360-degree views. In this podcast, I’ve got the inside scoop on seven exciting new iOS 16 features and a photography hack for action shots.

Check out my podcast “Kim Komando Today” on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.

Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”

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Copyright 2023, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved. By clicking the shopping links, you’re supporting my research. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. I only recommend products I believe in.

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