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How to Detect Hidden Cameras  (and What to Do After)

Hiding a camera to nonconsensually record someone where they expect privacy is illegal across most of the world. It’s a serious offense, and should be treated as such.

Read on to learn more about how to check for hidden cameras and what to do should a spying device be found.

But first, find out more about what a hidden camera might look like, as well as the places they are most commonly located.

What Does a Hidden Camera Look Like?

Hidden cameras do not resemble regular security cameras at all. They are significantly smaller in size, with lenses that can usually be held between thumb and forefinger. Mini cameras available to buy are rarely bigger than one or two inches in diameter. 

a hand holding a black and small hidden camera

There’s a higher chance that the camera will be custom-made rather than bought from retail, because custom-making a device allows it to be much more easily concealed within an object. 

Custom-made hidden cameras will likely lack proper casing, while the wiring, circuit board, and other components will be visible inside wherever it is hidden.

Since it needs to be powered at all times, the most common place a hidden camera is to be found is inside a device powered by electricity: power outlets, smoke detectors, alarms.

Where are Hidden Cameras Usually Located?

Electronic Devices

Telephones, power outlets, and other electronic devices make logical and convenient places to hide custom-made hidden cameras, because they are connected to a power source. This allows the hidden camera to be on 24/7. 

‘Spy cameras’ sold at retail often make use of USB ports to allow for constant charging. So electronic devices that are powered through USB cables, like USB sticks and phone chargers, are common disguises. 

Smoke Detectors and Alarms

Any kind of alarm device, be it smoke, carbon monoxide, or something else, can be used to hide a camera. Again, there is a reliable source of power for the device from the alarm’s battery. 

Credit: KCRA News

The ceiling allows for a birds eye view of an entire room with a wide lens, while the height makes it more physically inaccessible.

Mirrors

Two-way mirrors are a piece of glass that reflects the viewer’s image on one side and doesn’t on the other, acting as a concealed window. Obviously, putting a camera lens against the transparent side will make it very difficult to notice at a reasonable distance. 

Toilets and Bathrooms 

Waterproof cameras may be hidden inside toilets, where the edge of the seat is able to conceal the device when looking at it from above, or drilled inside the porcelain.

Credit: Be Amazed

Detecting Hidden Cameras: 5 Steps to Finding Spy Cams

When you have suspicions of hidden cameras, it’s easy to quickly get caught up and become irrational. After all, it is a truly frightening prospect. 

1. Scan the environment carefully for spy cams

Checking the surroundings carefully is the first and most basic step in spotting hidden cameras. Take time to visually assess the location. 

In many cases, hidden cameras may actually be quite juvenile–poorly assembled or poorly hidden.

2. Check for keyholes, holes or unusual objects

Next, take notice of any keyholes, small holes or unusual objects which could conceal a camera lens.

 Use fingers to check what eyes alone might not be able to verify by feeling for lenses over or inside holes along walls, doors, and objects.

Credit: CNA

3. Detect hidden cameras with a radio frequency detector

A radio frequency (RF) detector is a tool that can be used to locate and identify hidden cameras by detecting the camera’s radio frequency emissions. 

Naturally, this isn’t going to be easily accessible for most people, but should be mentioned because it can identify even the most well-hidden cameras that would otherwise be invisible to the eye. 

4. Use a mobile phone camera or infrared detector to find hidden cameras

This step is suitable for finding infrared (IR) cameras and is the most useful method for finding a camera because you don’t necessarily need a dedicated device to carry it out. 

Simply point your phone’s camera around the room and look for any bright red dots that appear on the screen. These dots indicate the presence of infrared, which the majority of cameras give off for the purpose of enhancing images in the dark.

5. Use a flashlight to find hidden cameras

Much like using a phone camera to notice infrared lights, a flashlight can be used instead to check for unusual reflections from objects as a final measure. 

Simply turn off all the lights in the room and slowly scan the area with the light for any reflective lenses that might indicate a hidden camera. 

What to Do When You Find a Hidden Camera

If you find something that looks like a camera, microphone, or tracking device, take a photo of it. It may be harmless, but if possible, do not touch it or disconnect it so that fingerprints can be preserved.

If the components have brand names or product serial numbers, make a note of it. A quick keyword or image search should reveal what the object is. 

Should the search confirm it is either a camera or microphone device, contact the police, as well as the hotel admin or the booking service you used. Police will take fingerprints upon arrival. If it’s not possible to leave the area immediately, use a towel or blanket to cover up the device.

If staying in an Airbnb or the home of someone you know, the best thing to do is to exit as soon as possible and contact the police immediately. 

Do not put yourself in danger by bringing up your suspicions with the owner. Contact Airbnb afterwards. If the discovery has been made in a public place (e.g. a bathroom), contact the council after reporting to the police.

Checking for Hidden Cameras in Specific Places

Below are in-depth guides on how to check for hidden cameras in mirrors, smoke detectors, Airbnbs, and cars.

Detect Hidden Camera in Mirrors

1. Look for a lens

Looking for a lens ‘inside’ the glass is the most obvious way to tell if there is a camera hidden in a mirror. A small black circle in the center of the mirror is a dead giveaway of a hidden camera. 

It’ll require getting very close to the mirror and some experimentation with angles and lighting, so move around the room.

2. Check for a reflection

An unusual or bent reflection in the mirror could be a result of a camera behind or inside the glass. If the camera were particularly large, it can cause the glass to bend, distorting the image. 

Woman observes herself in a vanity mirror

Of course, anything reflected in the mirror that isn’t actually in the room is also obvious and alarming proof of being spied on (in which case, exit the room immediately).

3. Listen for a noise

Not all mirror checks are visual. Try turning off the lights and shutting the curtains, and make sure the room is silent. With an ear against the mirror, listen for any unusual sounds. 

A faint clicking or whirring sound coming may indicate that a camera is on. A single click as the lights are turned off may be the sound of infrared turning on to enable night vision. 

4. Look for wires

Another way to tell if there is a hidden camera in a mirror is to look for wires leading to the mirror. Though this might seem obvious, vanity mirrors with lights around them are included, as they can be used to ‘legitimize’ the appearance of the wires. Upon noticing any wires, turn them off at the mains.

5. Use a flashlight

A final method is to use a flashlight. If staying with other people that might be culpable, avoid this, as it draws attention. Shine the light on the mirror and look for the outline of a camera; its lens will reflect the light, so the lens should be visible.

Other components, like a flash, may also appear. Approach from different angles and experiment with the lighting in the room.

Detect Hidden Cameras in Smoke Detectors 

1. Approach it from the side

If the smoke detector is mounted on the wall, approach it from the side. This is to avoid being seen and perhaps filmed during an investigation of the device. Because video cameras hidden in smoke detectors are generally restricted to a 90 to 95 degree field of view.

2. Look at the face of detectors

Take a look at the face of the detector for any unusual protrusions or irregularities. A small bulb is usually found on alarms where a light flashes, which can be a good place to conceal a camera lens. 

Likewise, a small hole in the grillework may indicate that a camera is hidden behind it. Hold a strong light up to the grille and look again if nothing initially appears.

3. Look for suspicious wires

Look for any suspicious wires protruding from the smoke detector. These may indicate that a camera has been installed inside the device.

Young adult woman (female age 25-35) checking fire alarm at home.Real people.

4. Remove the smoke detectors

Remove the smoke detector from its mounting if possible. Inside the unit, look for any signs that a camera has been installed. Wires leading into the unit or an unusual weight in the smoke detector may be indicative of a hidden camera.

If a camera has been installed in the smoke detector, contact the police. Do not attempt to tamper with the device or unwire it.

Detect Hidden Cameras in Airbnb

1. Check alarm systems, bathrooms, mirrors, and electronic devices

If suspicious while staying in an Airbnb rental, emphasize checking alarm systems, bathrooms, mirrors, and electronic devices like chargers. Visual, touch, and infrared checks (using your phone) are advisable. 

Credit: Everything Here

2. Use a wireless network checker

To be of any ‘use’ to the host, the camera would need to be connected to the internet to livestream, so it’s also worth using a wireless network checker (which can be downloaded for free to phones) to scan for devices connecting to the Wi-Fi in addition to our other recommended preliminary checks.

Credit: securitybros

3. Check if it’s being wiretapped

There’s also the possibility of the property being wiretapped, which is easier to conceal. Much like hidden cameras, this won’t ‘look’ like a conventional microphone, but a very small and unsophisticated object with visible wires. 

Wiretapping hotspots are much the same as hidden cameras: alarms, smoke detectors, and electronic devices.

Detect Hidden Cameras in Cars

1. Ride sharing

Uber and other ride sharing/taxi services recommend the use of cameras to their drivers, and since a car is not considered a ‘private’ space, there isn’t a whole lot of objection to this. 

Concealed surveillance inside of a car is also less likely to constitute a serious crime as it would in a home, hotel room, Airbnb property, or public bathroom. There is a reasonable expectation to be recorded, for example, in an Uber. 

2. Dash cams

It’ll be easy to spot dash cams, whether built in (displayed on a tablet in the center of the vehicle) or added to the vehicle. Added dash cams will be either mounted to the dashboard or windshield or suspended from the rearview mirror. 

3. Take it to a mechanic

In more unusual circumstances where there are other people in the vehicle, it’s not advisable to do obvious checks, like using flashlights and scanning for infrared with a phone. This could potentially cause danger because it isn’t subtle. If there is a suspicion of a vehicle being bugged, take it to a mechanic for thorough inspection. 

5 Best Apps for Hidden Cams Detection

We’ve compiled a list of reliable spy camera detectors that you can use wherever you go. Combined with our other tips of hidden camera detection, you should find it easier to locate spy devices.

1. Spy Hidden Camera Detector

Available on the App Store. $4.99.

4.5 | 1.2k ratings | Jakobi Teknik

This app uses your phone’s camera to scan for hidden cameras. It works by scanning for reflections off of the lens of a hidden camera. If it detects a reflection, it will notify you with an alarm sound.

2. Hidden Camera Detector Free

Available on Google Play. Free. 

3.8/5 | 19.8k ratings | Future Apps

This app also uses your phone’s camera to scan for hidden cameras. It works by looking for the infrared (IR) light that is emitted by most hidden cameras. If it detects an IR light, it will notify you with an alarm sound.

3. Hidden Spy Camera Detector

Available on the App Store. Free. 

3.6/5 | 1.4k ratings | LSC, LLC

This app uses your smartphone’s magnetic sensor to scan for hidden camera lenses. If there is a camera nearby, the app will notify you with a loud alarm sound.

4. Glint Finder

Available on the App Store. Free.

5/5 | 1 rating | YUEWANWAN HAO

This app also uses your phone’s magnetic sensor to detect hidden cameras. However, instead of an alarm sound, it uses a red light that blinks when there is a camera present.

5. Hidden Camera Detector Pro

Available on Google Play. Free.

3.6/5 | 180 ratings | SmartekSG

This app uses both your phone’s camera and magnetic sensor to detect hidden cameras. In addition, it will notify you with an alarm sound if it detects a hidden camera.

FAQ

Can a cell phone detect a hidden camera?

Yes, a cell phone can detect a hidden camera. Download a hidden camera detector app. Once the app is installed, open it and scan the area for any hidden cameras. The app will then create an alert if any cameras are found.

What is the easiest way to find hidden cameras?

One of the easiest ways to find hidden cameras is to use a cell phone. Simply download a hidden camera detector app and scan the area for any devices. The app will create an alert if any are found. Using a flashlight to check for unusual reflections in objects is another easy way to find a hidden camera; the lens will reflect the light back, drawing attention to the hidden device. 

What are signs of hidden cameras?

There are a few signs that there may be hidden cameras in an area. If clutter seems to be covering a power outlet or electronic device, inspect it. Another clear sign is wires running through walls or under furniture with no obvious end point. Shining a light on suspected areas will cause reflections as the light bounces off the lens. No matter how well hidden a device is, the lens still needs to be exposed to observe a space.

How can you tell if a light bulb has a hidden camera?

If you are suspicious that a light bulb may contain a hidden camera, do the following.

  1. See if the light bulb is turned on. If it is, then it is almost guaranteed to not contain a hidden camera. The heat from the bulb would burn the device and cause a fire.
  2. Look at the size of the light bulb in comparison to other lighting fixtures in the space. If it is significantly larger, there’s a chance it could contain a device inside it.
  3. Check for a lens on the light bulb by shining a light on it at various angles in the dark. Light will bounce off the lens.
What are some ways to disable a hidden camera?

Disabling a hidden camera is not advisable, because police will take fingerprints of the device as soon as they are notified of it. Instead, cover it with a towel or blanket. Depending on the situation, destroying the device could be dangerous.

Conclusion

Suspecting the presence of a hidden device is a frightening ordeal. It’s a serious invasion of privacy that mustn’t be ignored. Notify the police immediately, and they should launch a full investigation into the incident.

While detecting a hidden camera means you can cover it up or leave the premises, never attempt to disable, remove, or turn it off yourself. Fingerprints will need to be obtained upon the arrival of the police, so try not to touch, wipe, or interfere with it in any way in the meantime.