Thousands of tourists have no idea they are being spied on in their rentals because technology has made some cameras almost too small to see, experts have warned.
Lenses the size of pinheads are routinely hidden in outlets, smoke alarms or mirrors, and nearly one in ten rental homes are now bugged, investigator Thomas Martin told CBS.
It is illegal throughout the United States to install secret cameras where residents can have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and the practice is strictly prohibited by rental companies like AirBnB and VRBO.
But the devices have been found in bedrooms, bathrooms and even shower heads filming guests’ most intimate moments.
“Once the recording is made, it is impossible to know where it went, who sent it, if it was shared or if it appeared on the Internet,” said Maryland attorney Dan Whitney.
“Now it’s a Pandora’s box of uncertainty.”
A Texas couple, Kayelee Gates (right) and her fiancé Christian Capraro (left), are suing a Maryland man for $75,000 after he allegedly placed hidden cameras in their Airbnb.
A bright light shining on a smoke detector reveals the telltale glow of a lens placed in a hole.
It also illuminates the camera hidden behind the panel of a bedside alarm clock.
Whitney represented Texas couple Kayelee Gates and Christian Capraro, who sued their AirBnB landlord for $75,000 after they discovered cameras in the bedroom of their rented Maryland home and realized an identical one had just filmed them having sex in bathroom.
“I went into pure panic, pure shock,” Gates said.
“I’ve definitely had a lot of crying sessions about it.”
Martin, who runs a private investigations firm in Newport Beach, California, said he receives five to eight calls a day requesting bug searches.
He suggests asking the property owner if they have performed bug searches on their property.
“If they can present documents showing that they have carried out raids, much better,” he added.
“Let’s give credit where credit is due; short-term rental companies have tried to fix this problem.”
San Diego private investigator Bart Santos said heating and air conditioning vents were common places to hide cameras.
Gates and Capraro were filmed with cameras hidden in smoke detectors, but Santos says that threat can be easily addressed.
Tech expert Marcus Hutchins has attracted millions of likes for his advice video on TikTok
No space between a finger and its reflection in a mirror suggests that it is the front part of a camera
Small light on an electrical outlet reveals the presence of a camera
“Of course, you don’t want to destroy any smoke detectors in a house or apartment you’re renting; putting a little piece of tape over it won’t do any harm and can alleviate anxiety about hidden cameras,” he said. explained.
Televisions and phone chargers are also vulnerable, Santos said, and the presence of cameras may indicate a missing screw or an extra hole.
‘I like to think of it in terms of the Secret Service and how agents detect counterfeit items, they do it by studying the real item. “That way they know when something doesn’t seem right,” he added.
A horrified couple discovered their Airbnb on Clairemont Mesa in San Diego riddled with cameras on the third night of their stay in 2018.
Chris Hauk, consumer privacy advocate at Pixel Privacy
“My client immediately did the right thing and contacted the police, something everyone should do if they find what they believe is a camera inside their vacation rental,” said attorney David Beavans.
“The police then followed him to the rental unit and did their investigation, wrote their report, took his photographs and then filed a lawsuit against the property owner.”
“The concern in cases like this is that these images were not seen by a single individual,” he added.
‘The concern is that they were selling them outside to make money. For my client, that means that every time someone looks at him strangely, every time someone looks at him differently, he wonders if they’ve recognized him.’
Michael O’Rourke of global security firm Advanced Operational Concepts recommends unplugging bedside clocks and covering door lock holes and cracks under doors.
Turning off all lights and using a flashlight can help find telltale reflections from camera lenses, said Chris Hauk, consumer privacy advocate at Pixel Privacy.
Hauk said that while the room is dark you can also look for green or red LED lights, another telltale sign of a hidden camera.
“Look behind the hanging mirrors to see the cameras,” he added.
‘If a mirror is screwed to the wall, turn off the lights, hold a flashlight to the mirror and scan its surface with it.
‘If all you see is the reflection of your flashlight, the mirror is probably a traditional one-way mirror.
“However, if an area can be seen behind the mirror, it is likely a two-way mirror, allowing hidden cameras to record the area.
“Look out for strange Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth signals and use your phone to try to connect to devices in the area – these could be signals from recording devices.”
Hundreds of tourists have uploaded images to TikTok revealing the secret recording devices they found in their rentals.
But the platform is also packed with advice on how to avoid being a victim.
British cybersecurity expert Marcus Hutchins is best known for thwarting the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack before being arrested for selling banking malware.
But he also attracted five million likes for his TikTok video about finding hidden cameras in rentals.
“Look for devices conveniently located where a vine would want to lurk,” he said.
‘Take this fire alarm, for example, it’s placed right above the bed.
“These camera lenses are very small, so they can be hidden in anything, even a hole in the wall.”
An Airbnb spokesperson told CBS that hidden cameras are extremely rare in its rentals and that devices are not allowed in private areas of the home, such as the bathroom and bedroom.
A VRBO spokesperson said it has “a strict, long-standing policy against surveillance devices that violate the privacy and security of our guests.”
“While these occurrences are rare, our trust and safety team actively investigates any complaints about bad actors and takes action accordingly, including permanently removing any host that violates our policies,” they added.