How to Check for Hidden Cameras in Your Hotel Room or Vacation Rental

March 19, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it rarely happens at all — not enough to make us stop traveling. Still, you hear the occasional story about hidden cameras being found in a hotel room, vacation rental, office space, or Airbnb rental.

So while you don’t have to panic that you’re being spied upon wherever you go, it doesn’t hurt to be a little vigilant when you stay somewhere new.

Smarter Travel lists three methods for checking for hidden cameras, as suggested by “The Monk,” a technical surveillance countermeasures and intelligence expert from Advanced Operational Concepts who goes by the anonymous moniker. Here’s his advice.

There are essentially three primary methods for checking for a hidden camera.

  1. Scanning of radio frequencies (RF)
  2. Lens detection
  3. Physical search

Most of the equipment costs less than $100 and are available in the commercial market. But The Monk warns that none of them are 100% accurate.

Each have pros and cons, too. For example, RF scanning only helps in identifying a device if that device is actively transmitting. If it stores data on a card and is recovered later, the RF scanner is fairly useless.

Hidden cameras are very rare, but it still helps to know how to look for them.Lens detection is very effective, if used properly. If you are too far from the lens, sweep the room too quickly, or are just standing at the wrong angle from the lens, then you’ll likely miss seeing the lens when it reflects the light from your own light source.

According to The Monk, the most thorough method is physical inspection which requires patience and access — prying open smoke detectors, opening the backs of paintings, and possibly opening a section of a wall to see if anything is inside. (This can be a problem if you’re in someone else’s house.)

A mix of the three is best.

“You may not be able to achieve 100 percent confidence that the space is clear of hidden devices, but you’ll be a lot closer than you were when you first walked into the room,” said The Monk.

Before you start searching, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what you’re looking for.

So, where should you look?

Thinking logically, what would someone be interested in capturing? Since a camera needs a clear view of the subject to get the sharpest image, a visual scan of the area will provide answers. Bathrooms, bedrooms, and offices are common targets. Areas where computer screens are visible for capturing passwords, banking information and other information. Most hidden cameras now are so small and prepackaged in common items that they don’t seem obvious. (Think cameras in stuffed animals used to watch activity in a child’s room).

Other hiding places include smoke detectors, alarm clocks, even electrical outlets and power strips.

However, The Monk cautions travelers to avoid descending into full paranoia.

“In hotel rooms, for example, if items continue to be placed in a particular location after a room is serviced, then that could be a sign that the item needs to be positioned that way so that a camera has a good angle of view. Of course, this could also just be the maid tidying up, so don’t immediately jump to full paranoia.”

What to Do if You Find a Hidden Camera

First of all, hiding hidden cameras in hotel rooms or vacation rentals is illegal. It’s also a violation of most rental companies’ policies, so be sure to check the vacation listing and policy if you find one.

If you do find a hidden camera in your vacation rental, leave immediately and report it to the company. If you’re staying in a hotel and find one, request an immediate room change. If that’s not possible, turn the objects you suspect toward the wall or cover them with a towel.

While protecting your privacy is smart, there is a caveat. Certain countries, like Russia and China frown upon such behavior. In places such as these, it is highly likely that hotels frequented by business travelers are monitored and tampering with such devices can be seen as problematic. If they know you’re looking for hidden devices, that not only makes them more suspicious, they may want to question you further, and could detain you for hours or days.

While we’re on the subject of security, certain models of our Platinum® Elite and Crew™ bags have RFID protected pockets that will store your passport and block it from rogue RFID scanners as a way to protect against loss and identity theft.

How concerned are you with hidden cameras in your hotel room or office? Have you ever found one or know someone who has? Share your stories with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pexels.com (Creative Commons 0)

How Women Travelers Can Protect Themselves on the Road

January 29, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Women who frequently travel are often concerned about their personal safety and security, which can sometimes give them pause about where and when they travel.

In a recent article for Entrepreneur magazine, contributor Kim Albrecht suggests several ways in which women can keep themselves safe while traveling for business. We found a few we thought you should know right away, but highly recommend you read the entire article for the rest of the tips.

Albrecht, the Chief Marketing Officer at SAP Concur, reported that women are making up half the business traveling population and they continue to be on the move. Since women face more travel safety risks than their male counterparts, it should come as no surprise that 83 percent of women polled said they’ve experienced a safety issue or concern in the last year while traveling for work; only 53 percent of women always or sometimes report their experiences. Alarmingly, only 18 percent of corporate travel policies specifically address female safety needs.

Albrecht partnered with Kathy Leodler, CEO of security firm Rampart Group, and former FBI special agent, SWAT commander, and corporate security director, and together, they created a safety checklist sure to come in handy for female travelers.

Like most activities, Albrecht says, preparation is key.

Check your employer’s travel insurance program and learn what is covered. Self-employed? Not a problem. You can also buy private travel insurance. Hard copies and electronic copies of your travel insurance are important: keep both with you while traveling. Share the details of the insurance benefits with a trusted person.

Speaking of copies, make copies of your passport ID page to make it easier to file a report and get a replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy with a trusted contact at home and carry another with you. Do the same with your trip itinerary in case your smartphone is lost or stolen. (It helps to keep a copy in the cloud too, so you can access it from, say, an Internet cafe or hotel business center.)

The Lemon Tree Hotel - Chandigarh. This hotel has a women-only floor for women travelersWell-known hotels are generally safer and some offer female-only floors. Ask before you book, and if necessary, switch up hotels to get a more secure one or one that offers a female-only floor. You might want to check out Maiden Voyage which offers a list of certified female-friendly hotels worldwide.

Book a flight with arrival time during daylight hours. This is especially important for international arrivals. And make sure you only take licensed taxis from the specified taxi loading zones at airports and hotels. If you prefer a ride sharing service, but would like to request a female driver, Uber and Lyft don’t offer that as an option, but there are several ride sharing services in specific cities.

The U.S. Department of State has important information for every country in the world including visa requirements, safety and security conditions, health and medical considerations, local laws and areas to avoid. Learn where the closest US embassy or consulate is located at your destination. There is an option to enroll your trip with the State Department in the event of an emergency, so be sure to do so if you’re traveling to a State Department hotspot.

Do you like to wander? Apps like TripIt can provide valuable local information such as safety scores for categories like women’s safety, physical harm, health and medical, theft, and more.

Modesty is a safe bet when it comes to clothing and wardrobe, said Albrecht. Leave jewelry at home, particularly expensive pieces to avoid standing out. Choose shoes that are comfortable and ones that don’t restrict mobility, should you need to move quickly.

Albrecht also suggests packing a decoy wallet with a small amount of cash and expired credit cards. You can wear a hidden money belt with actual cash and cards.

So whether you travel to the next city or across the globe, listen to your intuition: if you feel a bad vibe from somewhere or someone, listen to your gut instinct and remove yourself from the situation. And be sure to check out Albrecht’s article for other safety tips when you travel.

If you’re a woman and a frequent traveler, what do you do to keep yourself safe on your travels? Share your tips, suggestions, and stories on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Shankar S. (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Delta Airlines Introduces First Biometric Terminal in the US

November 20, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Delta Airlines recently announced that they will introduce their first face-scanning biometric terminal in the United States at the Hartsfield Jackson airport in Atlanta. Specifically, it will be placed in Terminal F, the international terminal. Additionally, flyers from Atlanta can also use it on Aeromexico, Air France-KLM, and Virgin Atlantic, all Delta partner airlines.

This kind of technology is already available in other parts of the world, and it’s already been in use in Orlando, especially on flights to and from London’s Gatwick Airport. And now Atlanta, New York, and Miami are testing it.

Delta's biometric terminal is now available at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.To use it — and it’s optional, by the way; there will be signs posted in the appropriate areas — you have to enter your passport information during online check-in or when you check in at the airport. Next, you’ll select the appropriate option at the Delta automated kiosk, which according to a CNN story, will then let you “approach the camera at the counter in the lobby, the TSA checkpoint, or when boarding at the gate.”

The purpose of the technology is to speed the entering and exiting process. Rather than standing in line to show someone your passport, your scanned passport (complete with your photo) will be matched against your biometric scan at the airport. As long as the two match, then you’ll be allowed to go through. No more standing in line, no waiting as a customs agent looks from you to your passport, back to you, back to your passport, ad infinitum. If you’ve ever waited in a customs line for more than an hour, you know how painful this can all be.

Believe it or not, the face scanning software was recently able to catch someone who was attempting to travel from Brazil using a French passport. According to a story in the Denver Post, “the facial comparison biometric system determined he was not a match to the passport he presented.”

Of course, some people have privacy concerns about entering their passport information and using their biometric information. It’s not so much that their faces will be scanned, but rather that the information can be misused, so the Customs and Border Patrol Agency are doing their best to reassure everyone they’re taking the strictest precautions in protecting everyone’s private and personal information.

So what will you do? Will you opt into the biometric face-scanning process in order to get through the lines faster? Or will you choose the older method and stand in line? Tell us your thoughts on the process on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Delta Airlines News Hub

TSA, American Airlines Testing 3D Screening of Carry-on Bags at JFK

October 2, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is starting to look at luggage in a whole new way. A way that’s faster, more efficient, and will get you through the security checkpoints much faster. It’s called 3D screening and it looks at your blag in three dimensions, not the traditional two.

According to an article in USA Today, the TSA announced plans to begin testing a 3D scanner for carry-on luggage. The device, created by Analogic, has already begun testing with American Airlines at New York’s JFK airport. The test began in late July and uses a ConneCT scanner.

A 2D bag being screened. 3D screening will let you also look at the depth of bags.The partnership with Analogic and TSA could transform aviation security by adding state-of-the-art computed tomography (CT) technology to the security checkpoints, according to José Freig, American’s chief security officer.

“At American, we are always looking at ways to invest in technology that raises the bar on global aviation security while improving the customer experience,” Freig said.
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TSA Launches Stricter Screening Guidelines

June 14, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Enhanced carry-on screening procedures that were tested at 10 U.S. airports during last summer’s peak travel season have now been implemented across the entire security system, which are adding some extra steps to the TSA security check process. The biggest change comes in how travelers must handle their personal electronic devices.

While it has been a requirement for years that laptops be removed from carry-on luggage and placed in a separate bin, now any personal electronic device larger than a cell phone must also be screened outside the bag. The list includes tablets, e-readers, and handheld gaming systems, while batteries for charging these devices have not yet made the list.

“By separating personal electronic items such as laptops, tablets, e-readers, and handheld game consoles for screening, TSA officers can more closely focus on resolving alarms and stopping terror threats,” said TSA Acting Administrator Huban A. Gowadia.

TSA Checkpoint - Road Warriors know to avoid this by being a part of TSA's Pre-CheckTravelers carrying food and powders through security may also be subject to removal so TSA officers may obtain clear x-ray images. The administration advises travelers to keep their bags uncluttered and organized in order to avoid being selected additional screening of specific items. Also, be aware that some of your items may just call for extra screening anyway, so add some extra time and don’t cut your flight time so close.

For example, carrying a stack of books in your bag may get you pulled aside for additional screening. I know of one person who was traveling with six of his books in his bag to sell at a speaking event, and they showed up as a dense mass on the TSA x-ray machine. So a TSA agent checked each book to ensure there weren’t any explosives inside the pages of the book. The whole process only took an additional 10 minutes, but that could have been a problem if his flight was boarding at that moment.

Individuals with TSA PreCheck are exempt from the new regulations, which is just one more reason to sign up for the security-skipping program.

Staples, the office supply chain, in partnership with security firm, IDEMIA, has announced it will make applying for the five-year priority screening available using 50 IdentoGo enrollment centers at stores in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle this summer. For $85, PreCheck-approved travelers can leave their shoes on and do not have to remove any liquids, electronic devices, belts, or jackets as they go through security.

What plans or contingencies do you have for these new TSA screening guidelines? Have you already experienced them? What did you think? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: NJTVNews (YouTube, Creative Commons)

PreCheck and Global Entry Merger Considered

February 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are considering merging their respective “trusted traveler” programs, which means you don’t have to choose which program to use if you travel both domestically and internationally.

According to David Pekoske, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Administrator, easing traveler headaches across both the domestic and international systems is the main reason he is evaluating the idea with his colleague Kevin McAleenan, CBP Commissioner.

PreCheck, administered by TSA, provides travelers the option to go through a screening process that, for a fee, puts them at the proverbial “front of the line” when navigating security. Global Entry, administered by CBP, provides many of similar benefits for those wanting to streamline their customs and immigration process when re-entering the country after traveling abroad.

TSA PreCheck sign showing the way to an empty pathway, next to a line packed with people.This means, if you travel abroad frequently, you need PreCheck to leave the country fast, and Global Entry to get back in just as quickly.

Pekoske told TravelPulse.com the maintenance of two distinct infrastructures for PreCheck and Global Entry is a “big duplication of effort, sometimes in the very same airport.”

Currently, both programs support 12 million travelers. Sharing technology advances and data is another reason the idea is attractive to Pekoske. Global Entry, run by CBP, already uses facial recognition, while TSA doesn’t yet have the ability to use this when screening travelers, and that additional security measure appeals to DHS.

The travel industry is watching this development closely, and is all for the merger. According to Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, for the American Society of Travel Agents, “Having two trusted traveler programs with similar costs, benefits, and application procedures has proved to be, at times, confusing and frustrating for travelers. A single program allowing travelers to get through the airport screening process quickly would be a welcome development, and we urge DHS to move this concept forward.”

There is no timeline for moving this concept forward from talking to implementation, but anything that would streamline the processes would be advantageous to the flying public.

Do you use PreCheck or Global Entry? Would you like to see the two merged? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Grant Wickes (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

AI to Change the Hassles of Travel

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

With the simple scan of a traveler’s facial features, many air travel hassles could be eliminated or at least reduced. But we may not be as far away from that reality as you think. According to a survey conducted by air transport communications firm SITA, 29 percent of airports and 25 percent of air carriers are working toward implementing this technology in order to streamline passenger navigation through security, customs, and boarding by 2020.

We reported last month about the test runs of fingerprint scanning to alleviate time spent waiting in lines at several American airports, but due to the steady increase in travel worldwide — a 7.4 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 — the need for more efficient processes to move the masses as well as enhance security is only too obvious.

This is the kind of AI-based security that could get you through travel security checkpoints.Here’s how it may work, as Sumesh Patel, SITA’s Asia Pacific president, explained to CNBC: Travelers would go to a face-scanning kiosk upon arriving at the airport. The captured biometric information would be matched to the person’s passport specs. At that point, an electronic token would be created and inputted into the airport’s system. At subsequent security checkpoints, the technology would be used again in order to match the passenger’s identity with the electronic token.

The major boon for travelers would be the elimination of the current, intrusive nature of the security system. The current challenge, however, is integrating the existing systems such as retinal and fingerprint scanning and facial recognition into one secure operating network that will not only help customers but provide sufficient data for border protection for countries. You only have to hear about all the data breaches at major retailers and even credit scoring agencies to know how important this is.

While this may sound futuristic, Dubai International Airport’s CEO Paul Griffiths, head of the world’s busiest airport, is absolutely convinced a system of this nature will be a reality within the next 10 years.

“Most of the touch points that we currently loathe about airports today — the security and immigration — will disappear. And technology will enable all of those checks to be done in the background,” Griffiths told CNBC.

What do you think about this new technology? Are you for it, or a little concerned? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Gerald Nino/CPB (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Do You Live in a State that Will Require Alternate ID to Fly in 2020?

December 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you live in one of 24 states, your state-issued driver’s license may not get you on a flight, even for domestic travel, starting on October 10, 2020, and you may need an alternate ID like a passport.

In 2005, Congress passed The REAL ID Act, which was the standardization of the nation’s issuing of state identification to limit terrorism. Although it has been 12 years since its enactment, and the latest extension deadline expired October 10, 2017, nearly half of the United States are still grappling with how to comply with the mandated standards for issuing state IDs.

The only way around this law is if you have a valid passport or other valid alternate ID; then you’re able to fly, regardless of your state’s compliance with REAL ID.

A REAL ID sign at a U.S. airport. If you don't have a REAL ID, you'll need an alternate ID instead, like a passport.This could impact millions of Americans’ access to air travel is because the legislation makes it illegal for those who operate federal facilities to accept non-compliant, state-issued identification to access federal agencies, enter nuclear power plants, or board federally regulated aircraft. This means that the TSA cannot allow those with non-compliant IDs to board federally regulated airplanes because their states have not met the Act’s “minimum standards.”

Those minimum standards require states to incorporate technology into its cards that makes them nearly impossible to counterfeit. States must also prove that they conduct background checks on all personnel who issue driver’s licenses on its behalf. These standards have raised issues in many states about personal privacy. But with the final stage of implementation affecting residents’ ability to travel by air, most states have scrambled to submit applications for extensions.

The final stage of implementation begins January 22, 2018. States that are already in compliance will not be impacted by this date, and those states with an active or “under review” extension won’t be penalized.

If you want to know if you live in one of the 24 states that are not compliant, check out this article in the Washington Post. If you don’t want to hold a federally approved ID, there are 15 other forms of alternate ID that TSA will accept when you travel.

Are you in a state that is already compliant, or are you in one of the 24 affected states? How will you cope if your state doesn’t comply before the deadline? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

This is a compliance map of all states as of November 7, 2017. Some states still require an alternate ID.

This is a compliance map of all states as of November 7, 2017. Light green states have asked for an extension, dark green are in compliance.

Photo credit (REAL ID airport sign): Cory Doctorow (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)
Photo credit (REAL ID compliance map): Kurykh (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Which Airlines Accept TSA PreCheck?

October 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

TSA PreCheck has been available since October 2011 and saved countless travelers countless hours of standing in security lines at the airport. If you’re a frequent flier who has gone through the screening process and paid the $85 fee (good for five years) to obtain your known traveler number, you might be surprised to learn that there are still airlines that do not accept it.

With 37 domestic and international airlines and 200 US airports currently participating in the program, the odds of not being able to use PreCheck only increase if you are flying domestically from a smaller airport or you’re flying internationally on one of the following airlines.

TSA PreCheck sign showing the way to an empty pathway, next to a line packed with people.If you’e a PreCheck member, you won’t be able to use the following airlines: Aer Lingus, Air France, British Airways, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, EasyJet, EgyptAir, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Nippon Airways, Norwegian Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Ryanair.
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Business Travelers Can Continue to Carry Laptops in their Carry-On Luggage

July 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The United States Department of Homeland Security has ended a four month ban on laptops in carry-on luggage on U.S. bound flights from the Middle East and North Africa. The ban was originally enacted because terrorism experts were concerned that explosives could be concealed in electronics as large as laptops and mobile tablets. It affected ten airports and nine airlines that are based in the Middle East.

The King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was the final airport to have the ban lifted, after they and the other airlines and airports implemented new security measures designed to check for explosives in the large electronics.

Officials visited the ten airports in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, and confirmed that the security measures were in place.
Business travelers on Etihad Airways and other Middle East airlines were concerned about a laptop ban.
The airports originally affected include Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Jeddah, Saudia Arabia; Riyadh, Saudia Arabia; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; Dubai, UAE; and Abu Dhabi, UAE. The carriers most heavily impacted by this ban were Egyptair, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Saudia, and Turkish Airlines.
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