You’ve pored over dozens of vacation rentals to find the perfect one for your next getaway. You’ve spent a ton of time planning the trip to a T and you’re super excited to finally enjoy your stay. But now, as you start to pack your bags with your favorite travel pillowyour portable hair dryerand all of your other travel necessities for your upcoming vacay, your heart suddenly sinks at the thought of something you heard about recently: Short-term rentals might feature hidden cameras to keep tabs on vacationers.
Ick. No one wants to be watched while they’re, well, anywhere, but especially not while they’re staying in a vacation rental — but it’s totally allowed in many cases! At best, you may just find a security camera that’s allowed outside of the property (though, admittedly, those doorbell cams are still kind of weird). But, your vacation rental listing service of choice might allow security cameras and noise monitoring devices in any and all common areas (but not in sleeping areas or bathrooms), as long as they are clearly disclosed in the listing description.
In either case, however, just the thought of surveillance devices being allowed somewhere is enough to get your brain spinning and worrying that they’re everywhere. Even worse, these tiny pinhole cameras can be really difficult to detect with the naked eye, and are sometimes so cleverly hidden that you might not even know where to start looking.
Fortunately, if you’re feeling as paranoid about this possibility as I am right now, there is a simple solution to help set your mind at ease: hidden camera detectors.
What’s a spy camera detector?
They come in a few different forms, but in general, the best hidden camera finders are small, portable security devices that can help you easily spot a hidden cam and provide you peace of mind. Fact is, you’re going on vacation to chill out and relax, not worry that someone’s constantly (and creepily) watching your every move. For that reason, the best hidden camera finders will help you detect active surveillance cameras so you don’t hit your weed pen in front of that “clock” next to the TV in the living room, for example. Or, so you can (properly) narc on the host if you find an undisclosed camera where it doesn’t belong.
What types of hidden camera detectors are there?
Most spy camera detectors use a light to detect hidden cams, but some also detect waves that could pinpoint eavesdropping devices Here’s what each type can do:
Infrared detector. Nearly every camera has an infrared filter, so when you point a strong LED or infrared light at it, the light will bounce off of the hidden camera lens, making it very obvious that there is a camera there. An infrared detector should be equipped with strong LEDs or infrared lights — usually flashing, but not always — that will throw the light back at you when at a camera lens. They’re generally very simple to use, and are often highly portable.
Radio frequency (RF) detectors. These devices pick up RF signals, or radio waves, that are emitted by wireless cameras as well as audio listening devices, GPS trackers, SIM card bugs and other eavesdropping devices that you might encounter. The suspicious devices will need to be actively transmitting (or streaming) in order for the waves to be picked up by your detector, however. These devices are also a little more complex to use, and tend to be a little bulkier to tote around.
Some of the best hidden camera detectors also come with capabilities to scan for magnetic fields, but that feature is geared more toward detecting GPS tracking devices. If that’s also a concern for you, then those comprehensive spy devices are a great option; if it’s not, however, you may not want to pay the higher cost for the advanced detection capabilities.
How does a hidden camera finder work?
Infrared camera detectors are generally pretty simple to use. Most of these hidden camera finders have a series of blinking lights on them, and a viewfinder for you to look through as you move about your hotel room, rental property or any other place you suspect a camera may be hidden. If you come across a spot that’s blinking your light back at you, then you’ve found a camera.
RF detectors, however, work a little differently. They’re going to pick up every device emitting a signal, including Wi-Fi routers, cell phones and similar devices. If you have the ability to turn those things off, you definitely want to do so before you start scanning the room; otherwise, the detector is going to go off just about everywhere you point it.
Once you do that, you should divide the room into quadrants and work each section thoroughly and carefully, and of course, you should pay the closest attention when scanning the bedrooms and bathrooms as they would be the biggest targets. If you find a signal coming from something like an alarm clock or smoke alarm, you’ll want to inspect those devices very closely since they don’t typically emit an RF signal. Inspect these devices for wires, camera lenses or anything else that might seem suspicious.
Is there an app to detect hidden cameras?
There are loads of low-cost and free smartphone apps like Glint Finder(opens in a new tab) for Android and Hidden Camera Finder(opens in a new tab) on iOS, but they’re not quite as effective as a device made specifically for detecting a spy cam. These hidden camera detector apps won’t be able to effectively scan for RF signals, for example, and any light your smartphone may be able to emit is not likely to offer the same spy cam-detecting accuracy as the best hidden camera finders out there .
That said, you can’t really beat the price of free, so these apps are worth a shot if you have nothing else!
What should I do if I find a hidden camera in my rental that breaks the rules?
Whichever option you decide to go for, the best hidden camera detectors will help you find recording devices in your vacation rental. The hope is that you won’t find a hidden cam that shouldn’t be there, in which case you can enjoy the well-deserved getaway you paid for with your hard-earned money. (Yay!)
On the flip side, unfortunately, you might find exactly what you were looking for: a hidden camera in a spot where it’s explicitly not allowed. If you do detect a hidden cam that breaks the rules of the service where the rental was listed, don’t touch it, and don’t reach out to your host! Leave it be and contact the listing service immediately so you can properly narc on your host and let the service know that they put you in a totally creepy situation. and, if you feel truly threatened or unsafe, contact local law enforcement authorities as well. (But in most cases, contacting the listing service — and possibly just leaving the rental — will be enough.)
Depending on where the now un-hidden cams are and your level of comfort, you might choose to just cover them up and continue your stay. However, if it truly is a violation of the listing service’s surveillance policy, you should be entitled to a full refund of your stay if you decide to leave. This may differ depending on the service you went through, however, so it’s best to check with them ASAP if you find something amiss. Or, even better, check out their policies before you even leave home or book the rental to begin with.