Hidden cameras on a Texas ranch spark lawsuits against Airbnb and VRBO

ANAHEIM, CA (NewsNation) – Although vacation rental platforms have strict policies against hosts using hidden cameras on their rental property, that hasn’t stopped some people from secretly planting them.

According to a Survey 2019 by real estate investment firm IPX1031, 58% of people are concerned about a hidden camera inside their vacation rental.

A July 2021 case involved guests staying at a ranch in Texas when they discovered hidden cameras in the master bedroom and reported the incident to the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office.

Airbnb ranch host A. Jay Allee was arrested in November 2021 and faces charges for allegedly filming the couple using a camera disguised as a power adapter. Investigators uncovered more than 2,000 images of the ranch owner, the sheriff’s office said.

During the same week in early July, two other lawsuits were filed on behalf of former ranch guests – both against short-term rental platform Vrbo and its parent company Homeaway, The real deal paid off.

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

NewsNation placed nine hidden cameras inside an apartment building and invited two couples for a visit. The couples knew it was for a NewsNation article and were told to check out the property as a potential tenant. NewsNation wanted to see if the couples could spot the cameras. Watch the full video in the player above to see if couples could spot all nine hidden cams.

So how do you spot hidden cameras on your next vacation? Experts have shared these methods:

1. Buy a spy camera detector

Camera detectors can search for radio frequencies connected to hidden cameras. They emit loud beeps when picking up frequencies from hidden units transmitting video. Some also shine a bright red light to reveal hidden lenses; hidden cameras reflect their own piercing point.

These can be purchased online from websites such as Amazon or a local security camera store.

2. Look at the Wi-Fi network

Hidden cameras must connect to a Wi-Fi network to be viewed remotely. Experts suggest checking your local Wi-Fi networks for new locations for unsecured devices.

These hidden cameras can use a separate Wi-Fi network to stream live video footage. However, using a Wi-Fi scanner app, such as End, can help detect the number of networks in a residence. Apps like WIGLE can be used to find devices that “broadcast some kind of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi network name”.

Airbnb hosts are allowed to have cameras in their homes, but they must notify customers, and cameras cannot be placed in private areas such as bedrooms and bathrooms.

VRBO allow cameras and other surveillance devices only outside a property. The only exception is smart devices that cannot be activated remotely. Customers must be informed and given the opportunity to opt out.

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

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