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9 Investigates: How to find hidden cameras in vacation rental

CHARLOTTE — Getting to your vacation rental usually involves unpacking a bit, stretching out after a long day of travel, and planning your next activities -- but checking for hidden cameras is increasingly on the minds of many American travelers.

According to a survey by financial company IPX1031, one in four Americans say they have found a camera hidden at a vacation rental property, and nearly six out of every 10 say they’re worried about hidden cameras where they’re staying.

The cameras are often disguised as everyday, household items. Channel 9′s Erika Jackson found several hidden cameras on Amazon for less than $70 each, and she put them to the test with Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke.

“Jason, there are four hidden cameras in this room -- can you spot them?” Jackson told Stoogenke in our conference room.

Stoogenke picked up a clock and questioned if there was a camera in there, but he said his red flags went up when he saw a USB charging block.

“I was wondering why there was a random charger here,” he told Jackson.

But while he spotted two of the out-of-place cameras after being told about four of them, he was unsuspecting of the undercover wall hanger, and the smoke detector. Both had small holes containing the cameras.

Law enforcement officers across North Carolina and the U.S. have been coming across hidden cameras while working their cases.

“I’m not convinced there’s not more cameras in here than the one I’m looking at right now,” Detective Patrick Dixson with the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office said while being interviewed by Jackson. “There could be cameras anywhere.”

Dixson says it’s easy for anyone, including criminals, to purchase and use the cameras.

“You go on Amazon and type in hidden cameras and you’ll find hundreds of brands, different types,” Dixson said.

Catching the cameras

Spotting the hidden cameras can be hard, but experts showed Channel 9 that detecting the technology doesn’t have to be difficult.

Dixson’s colleague, Capt. Randy Horton, showed us some spy cameras that can be viewed in real-time using an associated app. Those cameras are Wi-Fi enabled, meaning you should be able to see the signal under your phone’s Wi-Fi settings or through an app that detects Wi-Fi signals.

“Typically, they don’t disguise them very well,” Horton told Jackson. “It’s going to say something along the lines of: hidden camera, spycam number one.”

Horton warned that this won’t apply to cameras that only record to memory cards, but there’s still a way to spot those cameras.

“Look through with that object ... you should be able to see a small red blinking dot on it to the right,” Horton told Jackson while holding a lens detector.

Detectives with the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office use hidden camera lens detectors during investigations, but you can also find them online for about $50.

“The technology we can buy now for less than $100, maybe 10 years ago it was selling for thousands of dollars,” said Skip Graham, the owner of Spy Tech Surveillance and Security Camera Equipment in Belmont.

Graham says he helps customers discreetly protect their homes by installing micro cameras in the most unsuspecting places. Some of his equipment can even bypass the detectors that police have.

“It’s behind the glass, so even if you had the finder that you were talking that the police department had, it’s not going to see,” Graham said while pointing out a camera hidden in a clock.

That camera did trigger a Wi-Fi connection, though.

“See that area highlighted in red? That’s a suspicious signal,” Graham said.

Dixson says a few minutes of research can help protect your family from a lifetime of stress.

“Just Google and look up common secret recording devices, and just kind of educate yourself on what to look for,” Dixson told Jackson.

Can rental properties allow hidden cameras?

There are mixed rules on surveillance cameras at vacation properties, whether they’re hidden or not.

VRBO, for example, prohibits surveillance devices inside all properties, but they are allowed outside of the reference if the homeowner discloses it in the listing.

Airbnb says that property owners can have cameras inside if they mention them in the listing, but cameras aren’t allowed in private spaces like bedrooms or bathrooms.

If you’re staying at someone’s private residence and not booking it through a company or service, you should check any rental agreement for disclosures about cameras at the property.

Channel 9 reached out to all of the companies behind the hidden camera products we purchased. The owners behind the USB charger camera, Alpha Tech, called it the perfect tool to see if your suspicions are true. A representative told us most people use it to boost home security.

(WATCH: Mooresville man accused of hiding cameras in smoke detectors to record visitors)

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