smartphone screen with live stream from hidden camera

Is someone watching you in your Airbnb or vacation rental? Here’s how to find out.

If you plan on renting a home or condo from Airbnb or VRBO or any other service, be aware that the chances that homeowner has a security camera inside their home are very high. Prices of home security cameras have dropped, they’re more widely available and they have gotten so small they’re barely detectable even if you’re staring right at one.

Airbnb strictly prohibits the placement or use of any security cameras in homes rented through the service but there have been several stories in the past year where renters have found hidden cameras in baskets, smoke detectors, books and tucked well inside bookshelves.

There are some things you can and should do when you first move into a vacation rental whether it’s through Airbnb or another listing or agency.

Search and look closely. Since the cameras are small it’s best if you go slowly, looking at everything in the room.

Check all the outlets and make sure you know what’s plugged into electricity. The cheapest cameras run on electricity, but newer spycams run off battery power. Even those that require electricity can be plugged into a portable battery.

Secret spycams are now for sale disguised as smoke detectors, power hubs and alarm clocks. Look for small holes in those devices and if the smoke detector feels warm, it may be because it holds a camera. Working battery operated smoke detectors are not generally warm to the touch.

Spycams that see in the dark use infra-red light and may display a red or blinking light. You might also feel around crowded shelves. Many of the smallest spy cameras will be hot to the touch and you may feel some of that heat just by moving things around with your hands.

Turn off the lights when you look and use the flashlight or torchlight on your phone. You may be able to see a glare from a lens. Also, check baskets in the bathrooms and bedrooms. Some Airbnb renters have reported on Reddit that they’ve found hidden cameras in baskets on shelves with holes cut out of them for the lens to see through.

You can also use an app to see what devices are connected to the wifi in the home. Fing is a free app that scans the area and will display all network connections. Since you’ve just arrived there shouldn’t be very many network connections listed, making it easier to see what the homeowner has installed.

If you do spot a spycam it is best to contact police immediately.

Here’s Airbnb’s privacy policy and statement: