It’s the stuff of nightmares: someone watching you while you sleep. And it recently happened to a couple traveling to Florida when they realized their rental property had hidden cameras. This story has a positive ending: they called police, and the Airbnb host was arrested, charged and banned for life from the platform.
If Derek Starnes didn’t work in the tech field, though, he may never have noticed the camera inside the bedroom. He told WFTS that the smoke detector had a black hole, so he took a closer look. After realizing it was actually a camera connected to an SD card, Starnes found another device in the living room. Not everyone, however, would have been so observant.
How Can You Prevent This From Happening To You?
If you want to protect yourself from a situation like this, you can buy a low-cost camera detector for around $25, or learn some tricks.
“Tell them that you’ll be checking the room and doing your own sweep,” says First Coast News crime and safety analyst Mark Baughman. It’s a way to make the host aware you’ll be paying attention. “Look for fiber optic wires that don’t plug into a wall or items in the room that do not seem to belong.”
Elizabeth Harper from Techlicious says a flashlight can also help your search. “The most straightforward way to find a hidden lens using a light source is to turn off the lights and pan a flashlight around the room,” she wrote in a blog. “Go slowly, and examine suspicious places from multiple angles. If you see glints of light where there shouldn’t be — areas where there are no mirrors, glass or other reflective surfaces — you may have found a camera.”
And while travelers often rely on reviews during the booking process, this host in Longboat Key had multiple good reviews. Starnes told WFTS ratings were part of the reason he chose that rental home.
The Fallout From This Awful Incident
According to WFLA, the homeowner told police he only recorded consenting adults. Police are questioning that story, especially since Starnes shared an image of himself and his wife that he says is off of the camera. Airbnb took swift action, and local police encourage others who stayed at Wayne Natt’s home to come forward in case they may have also been filmed. Natt was charged with one count of video voyeurism, according to Ars Technica.
“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,” Airbnb spokesperson Benjamin Breit said in a statement, according to WFLA. He added that the company takes “privacy issues extremely seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy against this behavior.”