Imagine you’ve booked a nice, relaxing retreat with your partner to a sunny destination like Florida, and you’re looking forward to unwinding and reconnecting during your trip together. Until you look up at the smoke detector over the bed in your rented bedroom, and realize that the device is doing a lot more than detecting smoke… it’s also recording you.
That’s the situation an Indiana couple found themselves in when they rented an Airbnb in Longboat Key, Florida from a man named Wayne Natt. Derek Starnes and his wife were enjoying their condo rental when Starnes noticed a small, black hole in the smoke detector. It turned out to be a camera lens pointing at the bed that was feeding video to a hidden SD card. But Starnes only knew what he was looking at since he works in the information technology sector, and, thankfully, he called the police right away.
Starnes and his wife were lucky to notice the camera (and the one in the living room), but plenty of other people have rented the condo over the two-year period it’s been listed on Airbnb without incident. In fact, Natt’s listing had more than 40 reviews when the company took the posting down and banned him from the site. Now, police are looking for others who may have been unknowingly filmed.
“We are outraged at the reports of what happened. As soon as we were made aware, we permanently banned this individual from our community and fully supported the affected guests,” Benjamin Breit, a spokesperson for Airbnb, told ABC News in a statement. “Our team has reached out to local law enforcement to aid them with their investigation of this egregious offense, and we hope justice is served. We take privacy issues extremely seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy against this behaviour.”
Natt was arrested for voyeurism but is now out on bond.
If you ask us, this whole story is more than creepy. After all, Airbnb has become one of the most popular and affordable ways to book travel accommodations over the past couple of years, and we’ve never thought twice about our safety, especially since the company does background checks on all of the people that use the site to rent out their properties.
If anything, most of the horror stories we have heard over the years have been from the people renting their places out. Like the girls in Stockholm who rented out their place to prostitutes, only to return home and realize that the police had raided it because it had turned into a temporary brothel. Or a New Yorker who realized only too late that his place had become the location for a huge sex party. And then there are always awful stories of people completely trashing a place before disappearing without a trace.
As far as creepy cameras set up within a rental though? This may be a first. Of course that doesn’t mean others aren’t potentially doing it. If you’re even slightly concerned about your safety, here are some tips on how to make sure that what happens in your rental stays in your rental.
Use your smartphone
Most of us are untrained at detecting hidden cameras (come on, they’re called hidden cameras for a reason), but if you use the camera light on your smartphone, you may be able to spot the reflection from a lens. Look in obscure places, like mirrors, lamps, phones and yes — smoke detectors.
There are apps for that
In today’s technology-ridden world, of course there are apps that claim to be able to detect hidden cameras. While the jury is still out on which ones work best, there are some early reviews out there that can serve as a basic detecting tool.
Invest in an RF detector
If you’re super concerned about your privacy, this is the big one that experts recommend using. An RF detector checks for wireless signals and is best able to detect hidden cameras when they’re on. They come in all shapes, sizes and qualities, with prices ranging from $30 to $300 Canadian.
Read the reviews
This may seem like an obvious one, but do the research before you rent a place. Obviously, in the case above there were plenty of reviews to scroll through, and this isn’t always a great indicator of potential future crimes, but there is a certain calming quality to knowing that plenty of other people had good experiences with the homeowner before you.
Know what you’re getting into
Okay, so this doesn’t necessarily apply to protecting your privacy, but it certainly applies to your overall safety. Before renting any property, do your research. That includes looking into the area where the rental is located, asking any and all questions of the homeowners (and making sure you’re satisfied with the answers), and trusting your intuition. If something feels off, just book another place or find a hotel.
After all, Airbnb can be great, but it’s certainly not for everyone.