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.
- Scanning of radio frequencies (RF)
- Lens detection
- 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 has 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.
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.
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