How to find a hidden spy camera in hotel rooms and rental apartments

Almost 60% of Americans said they were concerned about hidden cameras in Airbnbs in 2019.

And 11% of vacation home renters said they spotted a hidden camera during a stay, according to a survey by property investment firm IPX1031.

Spy cameras are not a new problem. In South Korea, more than 30,000 cases of hidden camera filming 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 increased due to the increasing accessibility and cheapness of such cameras along with the public’s growing ability to spot them, said Kenneth Bombace, CEO of intelligence firm Global Threat Solutions.

Experts share easy methods to locate hidden spy cameras in hotel rooms and rental properties.

1. Conduct a physical search

A hidden camera light switch (center) on display at a spy camera store in South Korea on March 22, 2019.

Jung Yeon-je | AFP | Getty Images

Almost all covert cameras are hidden in home appliances like lights, thermostats and plugged-in clock radios, Bombace said.

“See if anything looks unusual and then examine 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 does in a bedroom is turn off the clock radios and put them in a drawer.

Michael O’Rourke, CEO of security consulting firm Advanced Operational Concepts, also said he is doing just that.

Even well-hidden cameras have a small amount of reflective glass from the lens, Bombace said.

“If you use flashlights and shine them on something that you think might be hiding the camera, you’ll see a reflection in it, which is a pretty good way to tell if there’s a camera,” he said.

A painting depicting a hidden camera on display at a spy camera store on March 22, 2019. Even if a camera is hidden in another device like a thermostat or an electrical outlet, there will be some reflective glass there because there will be a lens, Bombace said.

Jung Yeon-je | AFP | Getty Images

However, O’Rourke said care is required to accurately locate hidden lenses.

“A lot of people will try to spot amateur lenses, which can work,” O’Rourke said. “However, if you don’t have a good search method – if you’re going 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 Kenneth Bombace, CEO of Global Threat Solutions.

Hispanolistic | E+ | Getty Images

Wi-Fi scanning apps like Fing can identify devices on the network that are cameras, he said.

Those hiding cameras could use a separate Wi-Fi network to stream live video footage, but Wi-Fi scanning apps can also detect how many networks are in a home, Bombace said.

But Kody Kinzie, a security researcher at data security and analytics company Varonis, warned that a network scanner might not catch everything.

“Next, you can look for devices that broadcast 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

When all else fails, spy camera detectors can search for radio frequencies associated with hidden cameras. These can easily be bought online on sites like Amazon or AliExpress.

But O’Rourke found that this method only works if the hidden camera is transmitting data.

“So many of them now have SD cards that just store data that’s retrieved when someone leaves,” O’Rourke said. “That’s why they’re much harder to spot.”

Bombace added that while it’s possible to buy a radio frequency scanner, the cheaper ones probably aren’t as good.

“As with everything else, you get what you pay for — if it’s $30, it’s probably not that good,” Bombace said. “Better ones will cost hundreds or even over $1,000.”

What to do if you find a camera

After you locate a camera, disconnect it immediately without damaging it, since the camera’s firmware may contain identifying information such as credentials and the Wi-Fi network it was connected to, Kinzie said.

Disconnect covert cameras, but don’t damage them, said Varonis security researcher Kody Kinzie.

Krisanapong Detraphiphat | moment | Getty Images

O’Rourke said hidden cameras found in hotel rooms should be reported to the front desk. He then advised moving to a different hotel rather than requesting a different room.

“Once you find a camera in one room, I wouldn’t trust any other room in the whole hotel,” he said.

Bombace also recommended that hidden cameras be reported to the police, if only for documentation purposes in case of litigation or criminal charges.

“You could also deliver [the report] to Airbnb so they can prevent that person from ever doing this again,” he said.

But ultimately, Bombace said, he wouldn’t avoid renting a house because he’s afraid of spy cameras.

“I would only take reasonable steps to protect you. And realize you’re not in your own house,” he said.