Hidden cameras in Texas ranch spark Airbnb, VRBO lawsuits

ANAHEIM, Calif. (NewsNation) — While vacation rental platforms have strict policies on landlords using hidden cameras on their rental properties, that hasn’t stopped some from secretly planting them.

According to a 2019 survey by real estate investment firm IPX1031, 58% are concerned about hidden cameras in their vacation rentals.

A July 2021 case involved a guest staying at a Texas ranch who discovered a hidden camera in the master bedroom and reported the incident to the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office.

A. Airbnb rancher Jay Allee was arrested in November 2021 and faces charges for allegedly filming the couple with a camera disguised as a power adapter. Investigators found more than 2,000 photos from ranchers, the sheriff’s office said.

In the same week in early July, two other lawsuits were filed on behalf of former guests of the ranch — both against short-term rental platform Vrbo and its parent company Homeaway, The Real Deal reported.

If you don’t know what to look for, they may catch you off guard. Hidden cameras can range from compact to barely visible to the naked eye. Tiny cameras can be hidden in everyday objects like pens, phone chargers and water bottles.

NewsNation placed nine hidden cameras in a rental property and invited two couples to visit. The couple knew it was for news country stories and were told to view the property as potential tenants. NewsNation wanted to see if the couple could spot the cameras. Watch the full video in the player above to see if the couple can spot the nine hidden cameras.

So, how to spot a hidden camera on your next vacation? Experts share these methods:

1. Buy a spy camera detector

Camera detectors can scan for radio frequencies connected to hidden cameras. When it picks up the frequency of the hidden units transmitting video, they beep loudly. Some also glow bright red, revealing hidden lenses; hidden cameras reflect their own perforation points.

These can be purchased online from sites like Amazon or your local security camera store.

2. Look at the Wi-Fi network

Hidden cameras need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network to be viewed remotely. Experts recommend checking your local Wi-Fi network or new location for unsecured devices.

Those hidden cameras may use a separate Wi-Fi network to stream live video footage. However, using a Wi-Fi scanning app like Fing can help detect how many networks are in your home. Apps like WiGLE can be used to find devices that “broadcast some kind of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi network name.”

Airbnb hosts can install cameras in their homes, but they must inform guests and cameras cannot be placed in private spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms.

VRBO only allows cameras and other surveillance equipment to be installed outside the property. One exception is smart devices that cannot be activated remotely. Guests must be notified and allowed to opt out.

This is part of an exclusive NewsNation series covering enhanced surveillance and data collection through technology and government.

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