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How to spot hidden cams in vacation rentals, SD cyber security expert weighs in

Spy cameras are getting smaller, smarter and cheaper
Posted at 7:48 AM, May 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-11 10:48:06-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - There are growing concerns over illegal filming in private places, like short-term vacation rentals. A San Diego security expert shows us how surveillance cameras are getting smaller, cheaper and harder to spot.

Joe Oregon is a San Diego cyber security expert who also teaches at San Diego State University. He knows how simple it is to plant and conceal hidden cameras and tells us, “You want to make sure that you're closely inspecting the room or the location you're going to.”

“I cringe thinking about it just as a citizen and as a father, you know. I have children, as well,” he adds.

People’s worries over spy cameras have been increasing in the U.S. and internationally. A couple on vacation in Florida found themselves on-camera. At their short-term rental, they discovered a smoke detector with a hard drive in it, recording them in bed.

A couple staying at a rental in Toronto was reportedly shocked to find a spy camera hidden in an alarm clock, pointed at the bed.

Engineer Brandon Schamer specializes in micro-cameras. “They hide them in the smoke detectors. Sometimes people will actually tuck them under hidden spots where you wouldn't look like behind the TV,” he says.

Schamer reveals that a spy camera can be hiding in an air conditioning vent, a plant, a stuffed animal, or even a spice rack. There are numerous possibilities.

He says when you check into a rental unit, use the flash light on your phone’s camera to look around to see any reflections from tiny lenses. He explains that you can also check for infrared frequencies.

“It’s totally invisible to the naked eye,” he adds. Your cell phone camera can detect infrared. Schamer explains that you should put your phone’s camera in “selfie-mode” and scan the room for a purple light which could indicate there's a transmitting camera.

These days most cameras can be bought online. “They're not illegal devices so anyone can purchase them,” adds Oregon.

Vacation rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO have strict rules about surveillance. Cameras are allowed in living rooms but they must be disclosed on the rental forms. They're not allowed in private areas like bedrooms or bathrooms.

Oregon doesn't think you should descend into paranoia, but, he adds, “It's important to have a healthy dose of concern.”