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Hidden cameras inside vacation rentals: how you can tell; your rights

As technology advances, cameras become smaller, cheaper and easier to hide.

If you’re unaware of cameras in a vacation rental, that could be a major violation of your privacy.

“For example, the kitchen could be a room with a camera...we have the main entry point, door in the kitchen is a nonpersonal space,” said Ryan Brown, a real estate investor with more than 100 rental properties around Western Pennsylvania.

He doesn’t use cameras in them but understands why some owners might.

“I think it’s a legitimate concern. To my knowledge, myself and a lot of my colleagues don’t use those. It’s more geared towards preventing, you know, behavior that shouldn’t be going on in the property,” said Brown.

According to a survey of 1,000 people by financial company IPX1031, one in four Americans say they found a camera at a vacation rental property. And hidden cameras were a major concern for nearly six out of ten who were surveyed.

We met with Frank Rose, a former DEA agent who now works as a Technical Surveillance Counter Measure Specialist.

He showed us just a handful of hidden cameras that can easily be bought online: inside a USB wall charger, a smoke detector, even inside a key fob.

Some of them use WiFi, others record video on mini-SD cards.

“Basically, a lot of cameras are pinhole cameras,” said Larry Forletta, who is also a former DEA agent and now works as a private investigator.

If you’re concerned your vacation rental may have hidden cameras, Forletta says, “I would recommend the first places that you check in an Airbnb would be — number one for me would be the bedroom. And number two would be the bathrooms.”

There are devices that you can buy online for less than $50 that use infrared light to help see the reflection of camera lenses, but these specialists say, they’re not nearly as reliable as the equipment they use, which can cost thousands of dollars.

“I just say, use your common sense,” said Forletta, “and if you see something that doesn’t look normal, then I would question and take a good look at it.

Airbnb states on its website that they prohibit cameras in private spaces like bedrooms, bathrooms or sleeping areas. And owners are required to indicate the location of any security or recording device even if they’re not turned on.

VRBO states on its website that they don’t allow any surveillance devices inside of a property unless it’s a smart device that the guest is informed of.

“We don’t want to make people paranoid,” says Forletta. “We just want to make them aware and be vigilant about it.”

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