Rather than it being a fun celebration, Jamie Gladman’s 30th birthday took a horror-movie turn after she and her friends discovered hidden cameras in the bathrooms of their Airbnb.
For her birthday, Gladman booked a vacation rental along B.C.’s Sunshine Coast for the weekend of March 17, and invited 12 of her friends. “The place had good reviews,” she says of the rental. “It was a newer listing, but it had about 15 reviews, all good.”
It was a large property outside the town of Sechelt with a view of the water. The online pictures made it look clean and modern. But when Gladman arrived on the Friday night, she immediately noticed red flags. The place was dirty, with dishes needing to be washed and food crumbs on the counter. Artwork hung from the walls at strange intervals, few at eye level. When a friend showered in one of the bathrooms, a racist slur appeared scrawled in the steam of the mirror, showing it hadn’t been wiped down. And in the basement bedroom, where Gladman and her sister were staying, was a large, plastic rendering of a townhouse nailed to the wall, replete with miniature model people.
“It was really creepy,” Gladman says. “It was like the people were watching us.”
Despite the off-putting accommodations, the friends persevered, making the best of the weekend. That was until Saturday night, when one of the friends noticed a crack in a bathroom outlet. The outlet, which faced the shower, hadn’t been working all weekend. Having seen TikTok videos about hidden cameras in Airbnbs, the friend took out her phone and shone a flashlight into the outlet. Reflected back at her was the glint of a tiny camera lens.
“I’d seen videos online before, but I just chalked it up to a hoax, people just trying to go viral,” Gladman says. “I would have never thought to check.”
The friends crowded into the bathroom, using a knife to unscrew the outlet’s cover and get a better look at the camera. Gladman googled the company that manufactured the outlet, trying to remain optimistic that it was just a smart outlet, but the search results confirmed her fears. “They were all hidden cameras that you can buy on Amazon,” she says.
The friend who found the initial camera went hunting for others, discovering a second one in an outlet in the upstairs bathroom also facing the shower. Meanwhile, the rest of the group checked their phones and found a Wi-Fi network, password protected, titled “Bullseye.”
“We were freaking out,” Gladman says, “because at first we’re like, ‘Well, it could just be a memory card USB in the camera,’ but then seeing the Wi-Fi network, we were like, ‘Okay, someone could potentially be watching us right now.’”
The group covered the cameras with tape and started censoring their conversations in case there were microphones. They considered calling the police, but it was late, they’d been drinking, and they’d taken the ferry across from Vancouver, so they didn’t have anywhere else to stay. Instead, they spent one last, sobering night in the rental before packing up and leaving early Sunday morning.
Once Gladman was home, she contacted the RCMP and filed a report. The RCMP secured a search warrant and located the two cameras within the property. Gladman says the RCMP are currently conducting a lab analysis on the cameras.
She also reported the property to Airbnb. In response to the incident, Airbnb said in an email: “We ban hidden cameras and previously refunded the guest as we investigate this allegation. The listing and the host have been suspended ever since the allegation came forward as we continue our investigation, which happened in mid-March. We are in touch with the local police as they continue their investigation.”
According to Gladman, after Airbnb suspended the account, the rental’s owner went to local police—prior to the search warrant being secured—and also requested the property be searched. “That could just be them trying to save face, pretend they’re not guilty,” she says. “Or maybe they don’t know about it. Maybe it was a previous guest. But that seems like kind of a difficult thing to do if you don’t have access to the property.”
Gladman has been in contact with a lawyer, receiving legal advice on what actions she can take in response to the cameras.
A 2019 study conducted by property services firm IPX1301, found that of 2,000 surveyed American Airbnb guests, 11 per cent had discovered hidden cameras while staying in a rental.
To protect against this, digital security company Eset recommends physically checking the property, looking in outlets, alarm clocks, speakers, smoke detectors, and light bulbs. While searching, use a flashlight as the camera’s lens may reflect the light. Turn the lights down low and look for the red or green LEDs of night-vision cameras. Check for any hidden Wi-Fi networks. Or download a hidden-camera-detection app. Some apps can scan Wi-Fi networks for connected devices.
“The technology advancements are scary, especially how small these devices can be,” Gladman says. “It’s not something you normally think to check for, but it’s better to play on the safe side.”
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