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How to Spot Hidden Surveillance Cameras in Your Airbnb, VRBO, and Vacation Rentals

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It’s happened to me. You check into a vacation rental, set up and detect surveillance cameras. Even when cameras are technically allowed, it’s very alarming.

Prepared to be surprised. Cameras can be hidden in vents, lamps, power outlets, and even unassuming objects like humidifiers and TV remotes. You have to see these cameras to believe they exist. Touch or click to 10 sneaky hidden cameras you would never know they were there.

Don’t talk about your trip on social media to keep your home safe while on vacation. I also use a cheap Amazon Echo to alert me to any sounds like glass breaking. Tap or click here to learn how to set it up and use it your laptop or desktop to record what you see while you’re away.

If you’re going on vacation soon, it’s essential that you 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 are affordable and easy to install and hide. Depending on the rental service, the owner has the right to install cameras.

An Airbnb I rented a few years ago had about a dozen cameras inside the house. The owner disclosed the cameras using small print at the bottom of the listing. I now 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 example, a camera or other surveillance device is not allowed if the living room has a sofa bed. Hidden and concealed cameras are also not allowed.

VRBO allows cameras and other surveillance devices outside of a property only. The only exception: smart devices that cannot be activated remotely. Guests should be informed and given the option to disable them.

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

But is it legal?

Laws on this complicated subject vary from state to state. The Federal Video Voyeurism Act makes it a crime if a person “captures an image of an individual’s private area without the individual’s consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.” It is important to note that “private area” refers to nudity or minor states of clothing.

State and local laws generally allow landlords to install cameras in “public spaces.” This is an important distinction. Private areas, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, or any place where anyone can reasonably expect privacy, are prohibited. In a situation where you rent a single room in a house or apartment, it becomes more complicated.

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 are renting, check the list carefully to see if there is any mention of cameras. Whether or not you see a disclosure, it is your responsibility upon arrival to check each individual room. I will show you how.

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

home security system

home security system

How to detect surveillance cameras

Larger cameras are easy to spot, but smaller cameras can easily be hidden by anyone behind furniture, vents, or decorations. An easy way to spot most types of cameras is to look for the lens flare.

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

You can also get a radio frequency detector. This device can pick up wireless cameras that you may not see. Unfortunately, RF detectors aren’t great for wired cameras or just recording. 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 monitor shows which devices are connected. You may be able to detect cameras connected that way. I do this at every rental I stay in, just to double check what’s connected to the network.

Note that the owner may have placed the cameras on a second network, or they may be wired or recording-only, so this is not a fail-safe option.

If a home automation system controls the rental property, it is relatively easy to find cameras. Open the system controller menu and look for anything that mentions cameras. Consequently, you can scan the TV channels for anything suspicious. I found many cameras in a vacation rental this way.

More travel intelligence: 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 that 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 videos and photos on your smartphone. If you are traveling with other people, ask them to be witnesses once the police arrive. Remind them that they, too, were about to be victimized. Once you have your police report, contact the rental site.

This is not just an annoyance. It is a serious invasion of privacy.

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Get to know all the latest technology in The Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and provides advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacking. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.

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