Many travelers have ditched traditional hotels for the convenience and savings of renting a room or house through Airbnb or other home sharing apps — and hundreds of Ohioans are making extra income by renting out their properties.
But some consumer watchdogs are alerting travelers to watch out for hidden cameras or other privacy violations.
“Unfortunately, Santa and his elves aren’t the only ones watching Airbnb guests this Christmas,” the group AirbnbWATCH says on its website, which also lists tips for protecting yourself.
AirbnbWATCH bills itself as a grassroots consumer watchdog, but gets support from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a lobbying group for the nation’s largest hotel chains.
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Airbnb recently passed 4 million listings worldwide, meaning it has more room listings than the top five major hotel brands combined. More than 600,000 of those listings are in the U.S. and the Airbnb website currently lists more than 300 homes for rent in Ohio.
Millions of travelers use Airbnb each week, and the company announced on Aug. 5 that it set a record with 2.5 million people staying at Airbnb properties on a single night.
But more and more travelers are reporting finding cell phones, iPads and hidden cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms of their vacation rentals.
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An Indiana couple recently discovered a hidden camera in the smoke detector above the bed of the Florida condo they were renting. The owner claimed the camera was there to record sex parties he threw, and that the turned it off when renting his home out. He's now facing felony charges.
Airbnb company policy states that cameras are not allowed in rentals unless their locations are disclosed to the renter.
AirbnbWATCH recommends the following tips to keep travelers safe from hidden recording:
- Inspect bedrooms and bathrooms carefully, as they are the most likely places for cameras to be hidden.
- Know what items to check. Keep an eye out for any objects with a black circle or hole that looks like a lens. Common items to hide cameras include smoke detectors, electrical outlets, alarm clocks, books, motion detectors, stuffed animals, night lights, screws and nails.
- Cover up screws or nails with masking tape. Unplug alarm clocks or other electronics provided by the renter and use your own smart phone instead.
- If you find a hidden camera, call the local authorities, not the host. Also contact Airbnb for a refund and to have the host removed from the service.
Mashable also suggests using apps that can scan the wifi for any cameras that are using the same network.
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