A long time ago, I had a stalker. He still pops up now and then. I like to think I can help others in the same situation.
The world’s vacationers and travelers love AirBnB. It’s such a great concept and makes the whole travel experience richer and more interesting. Never has ‘life is just a box of chocolates’ been more apt.
However, the last thing any of us want is to expose ourselves or our families to some pervert who gets his jollies watching his guests use the bathroom or get into their beds. And it doesn’t bear thinking about when it comes to our kids being watched.
In most countries, it’s legal for a homeowner to install spy cameras and devices in his or her private home. However, if you rent out that home, or part of it, it is illegal to spy on your guests. It also violates AirBnB’s terms and conditions. Yet a number of cases have come to light recently that show that peeping tom landlords are a real problem in the holiday rental business.
Read on to find out how to check your accommodation for hidden cameras and read some hair-raising stories about guests who discovered spying equipment in their vacation (and home!) rentals.
Simple Checks for Hidden Cameras
Sadly, the sensible advice is to trust no-one, unless you know your AirBnB hosts well. Make it a routine part of your stay to immediately undertake simple checks to search for surveillance cameras and devices. Your lovely lady host may not have a clue that her pervy husband is getting his kicks out of spying on their guests. So, however nice they seem, always check your accommodation out before getting naked.
There are four main methods to check for hidden devices:
- Manual search
- Smartphone app
- Electronic bug detector
A manual search means exactly that. Go around the apartment or house and look at the obvious things like smoke detectors and clocks. Pay particular attention to the bedrooms and bathroom. Look for wires that shouldn’t be there and odd little holes in lamps, books or ornaments. Obviously don’t break anything, but feel free to open up any suspicious object. Check out the furniture as well. Look behind drawers and dressers. Also pay attention to light fittings and electrical switches. Any empty screw hole could hold a camera.
Go round the accommodation inch by inch. It won’t take as long as you think.
Note: Two-way mirrors aren’t very common but just in case. Put your finger on the mirror and examine its reflection. On a normal mirror there is a layer of glass between your actual finger and the reflection. If your finger and reflection appear to be touching each other, then you are looking into a two-way mirror.
The Torch Method
The torch method requires all the light to be blocked out, so you might have to wait until darkness falls. Turn off all the lights. Use the torch on your smartphone. Slowly move the beam around the room. A camera lens will reflect the light. Once you have done that, turn off the torch and look for small LEDs that might also indicate a hidden device.
Many cameras are connected to Wi-Fi, and therefore it is broadcasting on the Wi-Fi network. Use an app to reveal what devices are active.
If you regularly stay at AirBnBs or other rentals, then you could save time by using a bug detector. These things will pick up cameras and audio recorders. You simply switch on the device and ‘sweep’ the room thoroughly. They are readily available and quite affordable these days.
For example, the Dooreemee Anti-spy Electronic Bug Detector Hide Camera RF Signal Detector will find the smallest bug and will check the Wi-Fi network too. It will detect tracking devices on vehicles and portable items. As well as vacation accommodation, you can use it to hunt down corporate spyware, and even discover if your distrustful partner is tracking you.
What to Do If You Find a Secret Surveillance Device
Record your findings by video and photograph and contact AirBnB right away. They will do their best to find alternative accommodation and you will get a full refund. Same with any hotel or motel chain. If you are staying at an independent rental, request a refund and leave. Inform the local police and show them your evidence.
Hidden Bedside Camera in a Canadian AirBnB
A Scottish man was horrified to discover a camera in a bedside digital clock. Luckily he spotted it after only being in the apartment for 20 minutes. He noticed an unusual extra wire, like a phone charger, running from the back of the clock.
He investigated further and discovered a lithium battery where there should have been no battery at all. He then slid the front off the clock and there was a camera. It would have been pointed directly at the bed.
He reported it to AirBnB who took action immediately. The Scottish couple were given alternative accommodation and were refunded. The ‘host’ was suspended from AirBnB pending a police investigation.
Hidden Smoke- and Motion-Detector Cameras
In Florida, a couple discovered a hidden camera in a smoke detector. It was saving all the action to an SD card for the host’s later entertainment. The SD card revealed recordings of the male guest walking naked in the room and also conversations between the couple. On inspection, the police found two more hidden ‘smoke alarm cameras and microphones.
The property owner was charged with ‘video voyeurism’. He’d been renting out the property for two years. So for every renter who has discovered one or more devices, there are probably thousands more who haven’t and have been secretly recorded in situations where their privacy was supposed to be sacrosanct.
Another man noticed an odd looking ‘motion detector’ on the wall of his AirBnB rental. When he took a closer look he realized it was a webcam relaying his every move to the host.
All Renters Should Check Accommodation for Hidden Spy Cameras
It’s not only vacationers who need to be wary. Anyone newly renting a home would do well to undertake a precautionary search. In Chatham in the UK, the landlord had installed security cameras in the communal areas of an apartment building, which the tenants were aware of.
However, one woman was horrified to see an LED light shining from under the seat cushions of her sofa. The landlord had captured her walking around her living room, occasionally dressed only in her underwear. He escaped jail but was placed on the sex offenders’ list for 10 years.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Bev G
James W Siddall on February 29, 2020:
A very interesting, informative, and well executed article.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 21, 2019:
Good point, Shaloo, I always have a quick glance around any shared facilities.
Shaloo Walia from India on September 20, 2019:
This was an interesting and useful read. One should even trial rooms in shipping malls before using them to change clothes.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 13, 2019:
Having cameras in communal areas, such as hallways and corridors is a good thing :)
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 13, 2019:
Good article! My wife and I run a B&B and we talk about this kind of thing often. We weigh the pros and cons of having security cameras vs making our guests feel 'watched'. Obviously security cameras are only for common areas and not private areas but we know that some B&B hosts have nanny-cams etc to 'keep an eye on' their guests. Creepy.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 09, 2019:
Hi Henryk, follow the advice given in the article. I've also written another one with more extensive information here:
Henryk on July 09, 2019:
Wow, this was an interesting read. I have eleven AirBnB properties in Warsaw that I rent out to guests, mostly backpackers and honeymooners. My question is: how can I be sure that no one has secretly installed spy devices in my properties if I am not always there? My eldest cousin and her gerbil occupy one property, but I'm concerned for the others. Thank you.
brian from uk on May 24, 2019:
Some blu tack will stop em
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on March 26, 2019:
That's a great point, Penny. Thanks.
Penny Leigh Sebring from Fort Collins on March 26, 2019:
Unexpected Bluetooth connections could be a red flag as well. Excellent safety article!
Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on October 24, 2018:
This article is very interesting. Thanks for the valuable tips for more safety.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 21, 2018:
You're very welcome :)
ziyena from the Somewhere Out There on October 21, 2018:
"The torch method requires all the light to be blocked out, so you might have to wait until darkness falls. Turn off all the lights. Use the torch on your smart phone. Slowly move the beam around the room. A camera lens will reflect the light. Once you have done that, turn off the torch and look for small LEDs that might also indicate a hidden device."
Never thought of this!
Thanks for the great safety tips
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 19, 2018:
It has never occured to be to look for a hidden camera. This article is sure an eye opener, as I have stayed in an AirBnb before. Thanks for the info.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 19, 2018:
That's a great suggestion, RTalloni. Thanks.
RTalloni on October 19, 2018:
Glad to see this post with good advice re privacy concerns when staying in rentals. The device seems like a smart move. Have you considered the owners of the short term rentals, such as being falsely accused of spying? Owners might need one of the devices to protect themselves. Lots to think about with this issue. Maybe you would want to do a post exploring owners' needs.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 19, 2018:
Indeed, Liz. I'm pretty sure that the problem is not a huge one, but it's certainly worth being aware.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 19, 2018:
And I thought I was paranoid when I stayed in Moscow and Kiev way back in the days of the USSR. We had been warned that our hotel room would probably be bugged. It is shocking what depths some will stoop to. But this article helps to heighten awareness.