What the Tech? Finding hidden cameras

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(ABC 6 News) – Is there anything more worrisome than finding (or even suspecting) a security camera hidden in a home or condominium you’re renting on vacation? Every year renters across the country make shocking discoveries of hidden cameras in hotel rooms, Airbnb rentals, or condos you book through Vrbo. The cameras allow someone to watch live and even save a recording to watch later.

If you’re staying in a home or condo offered by a homeowner you can almost guarantee there are security cameras posted outdoors and possibly inside. Most security cameras look like cameras. The scary thing is some security cameras look nothing like a camera.

For under $50, anyone can buy security cameras hidden in phone chargers, alarm clocks, and cameras so small you can hide them anywhere. I picked up a hidden camera in a fake smoke detector for about $40. It allows someone to watch a live stream and record video when it detects motion. The video is saved on an SD card hidden inside the fake smoke detector. Unless you know what you’re looking for, you’d never notice the tiny camera lens.

So how do you spot them? Can you spot them?

First, check outlets. Where are those plugs going? Many cameras require electricity, so follow the cords. Check baskets, houseplants, and bookshelves. For battery-operated cameras, turn off the lights and turn on the flashlight on your phone to scan the room. A camera lens will create a reflection. You might even see a blue, red, or green light showing it’s on and recording.

Check any alarm clocks and smoke detectors closely, looking for a small round lens. If a smoke detector is over the bed or in a bathroom, take it down and open the cover. Replace it if you don’t find anything unusual.

There are hidden camera detector apps. But I’ve found mixed results. The two I tried never found the WiFi network to search but did scan shelves looking for camera lenses. It found the two sitting on my bookshelf but only spotted the lens in the smoke detector when I moved it close to the device.

Airbnb does allow property owners to install security cameras in common areas like living rooms and kitchens, but they’re required to disclose that to renters. Cameras are not allowed in private areas like bedrooms and bathrooms. If you find one, contact the police and then the agency you’re renting from.

VRBO‘s privacy policy allows for security cameras outside the property but forbids any recording device indoors.