Nearly 60% of Americans said they were worried about hidden cameras in Airbnb homes in 2019.
And 11% of vacation home renters said they discovered a hidden camera during a stay, according to a survey by real estate investment firm IPX1031.
Spy cameras are not a new problem. In South Korea, more than 30,000 cases of hidden camera shootings were reported to police between 2013 and 2018, according to the New York-based nonprofit Human Rights Watch.
The number of reports of hidden spy cameras has proliferated due to the increasing accessibility and low cost of these cameras, combined with the public’s growing ability to detect them, said Kenneth Bombace, CEO of intelligence firm Global Threat Solutions.
Experts share simple methods for locating hidden spy cameras in hotel rooms and rental properties.
1. Perform a physical search
A switch with a hidden camera (middle) on display at a spy camera store in South Korea on March 22, 2019.
Jung Yeon-i | AFP | Getty Images
Almost all secret cameras are concealed in household appliances, such as plugged-in lights, thermostats and clock radios, Bombace said.
“Look and see if anything seems out of the ordinary, then inspect it more closely,” he said.
Most spy cameras are connected to an electrical source or electronic device, Bombace added.
He said the first thing he did in a bedroom was unplug clock radios and put them in a drawer.
Michael O’Rourke, CEO of security consultancy Advanced Operational Concepts, also said he was doing just that.
Even well-hidden cameras will have a small amount of reflective lens glass, Bombace said.
“If you’re using flashlights and point them at something that you think might possibly be obscuring the camera, you’ll see a reflection there, which is a pretty good way to detect if there’s a camera,” he said.
A painting installed with a hidden camera on display at a spy camera store on March 22, 2019. Even when a camera is hidden in another device like a thermostat or an outlet, there will be reflective glass because there will be a lens, said Bombace.
Jung Yeon-i | AFP | Getty Images
But O’Rourke said care had to be taken to accurately locate hidden lenses.
“A lot of people will try to do amateur lens detection, which can work,” O’Rourke said. “However, if you don’t have a good research methodology – if you go too fast, if you’re impatient – you can miss a lot.”
2. Look at the Wi-Fi network
A hidden camera must be connected to a local Wi-Fi network to be viewed remotely, Bombace said.
Hidden cameras must be connected to a local Wi-Fi network to be viewed remotely, said Global Threat Solutions CEO Kenneth Bombace.
Hispanolist | E+ | Getty Images
Wi-Fi scanning apps like Fing can identify devices on the network that are cameras, he said.
Those hiding cameras can use a separate Wi-Fi network to stream live video footage, but Wi-Fi scanning apps can also detect the number of networks in a residence, Bombace said.
But Kody Kinzie, a security researcher at data security and analytics firm Varonis, warned that a network scanner might not pick up everything.
“The next thing you can do is look for devices that are broadcasting their own network name,” he said.
He recommended using apps like WiGLE to find devices that “broadcast some sort of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi network name,” Kinzie added.
3. Buy a spy camera detector
If all else fails, spy camera detectors can search for radio frequencies connected to hidden cameras. These can be easily purchased online from sites like Amazon or AliExpress.
But O’Rourke noted that this method only works if the hidden camera is transmitting data.
“A lot of them now have SD cards that just store data to pick up after someone leaves,” O’Rourke said. “And so those are much harder to detect.”
Bombace added that while it’s possible to buy an RF scanner, the cheaper ones probably aren’t that good.
“Like anything else, you get what you pay for — if it’s $30, it’s probably not that good,” Bombace said. “The best ones will cost hundreds or even over $1,000.”
What to do if you find a camera
After locating a camera, disconnect it immediately without damaging it because the camera’s firmware may contain identifying information, such as login credentials and the Wi-Fi network it was connected to, Kinzie said.
Disconnect hidden cameras but don’t damage them, said Kody Kinzie, security researcher at Varonis.
Krisanapong Detraphiphat | time | Getty Images
O’Rourke said hidden cameras found in hotel rooms should be reported to reception. He advised moving to another hotel afterwards instead of asking for another room.
“Once you find a camera in one room, I wouldn’t trust any other room in this whole hotel,” he said.
Bombace also recommended reporting hidden cameras to the police, even if only for documentation purposes, in case litigation or criminal charges follow.
“You can also provide [the report] to Airbnb so they can stop that person from doing it again,” he said.
But ultimately, Bombace said, he wouldn’t avoid renting a house for fear of spy cameras.
“I would just take common sense steps to protect you. And realize you’re not home,” he said.