Couple calls cops over hidden camera in their Airbnb—what you need to know to protect yourself

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It’s the stuff of nightmares: someone watching you while you sleep. And it recently happened to an Indiana couple visiting Florida when they realized their rental property had hidden cameras.

If Derek Starnes didn’t work in the tech field, however, he may never have noticed the camera inside the bedroom. He told local Tampa news outlet ABC Action News that the smoke detector had a black hole, so he took a closer look. That’s when he discovered it was a camera connected to an SD card, and it was pointed right at the bed. Starnes found another device in the living room.


A ‘Distressing’ Discovery

Starnes and his wife were visiting Longboat Key, near Sarasota, and staying in a townhouse they had rented on Airbnb. They immediately called the police.

“We seized a lot of computer storage data devices, hard drives, computers, laptops SD cards anything that would store data,” Lt. Bob Bourque of the Longboat Key Police Department told ABC Action News. “We don’t know if there are local victims, someone who may have been dating him or a companion that doesn’t realize they are being videotaped, and then we have the other side of who he rented to through Airbnb.”

The homeowner, Wayne Natt (pictured below, was arrested and charged with video voyeurism. The 56-year-old told police he only recorded consenting adults. Police are questioning that story, especially since Starnes shared an image of himself and his wife—two adults who clearly didn’t consent to be filmed—that he says he took off the camera’s SD card.

The local police encouraged others who stayed at Natt’s home, which is located at 623 Cedars Court, to come forward in case they may have also been filmed.

The couple had rented the home on Airbnb, and the rental platform took swift action, permanently banning Nutt from the site.

“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. He added that the company takes “privacy issues extremely seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy against this behavior.”

Starnes told ABC Action News that he and his wife are distressed, and that he knows the video captured him walking naked through the bedroom.

How Can You Prevent This From Happening To You?

The following advice can help you ensure you’re not being filmed without your knowledge which should help you sleep more soundly when you’re away from home.

1. Get A Camera Detector

If you want to protect yourself from a situation like this, a good place to start is buying a low-cost camera detector, which uses a laser to sweep a space for hidden cameras, for around $30.

2. Announce Your Plans To Sweep The Room

“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 or hotel you are renting from 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.”


3. Bring A Flashlight

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.”


4. Understand That Good Reviews Aren’t Enough

While travelers often rely on reviews during the booking process, this host in Longboat Key had multiple good reviews. Starnes told ABC Action News that ratings were part of the reason he chose that rental home.

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