Tech Tips for Outsmarting Peeping Toms

Gadgets and guidelines for protecting yourself from video voyeurs.

July 23, 2009, 2:32 PM

July 24, 2009— -- It's the ultimate invasion of privacy.

With even just a cell phone camera and the right amount of stealth, peeping toms can watch and videotape victims entirely without their knowledge.

Since last week, a video that shows ESPN reporter Erin Andrews in the nude has been circulating online, after an unknown predator surreptitiously videotaped her in a hotel room.

And experts say she's not the only victim of such a crime. Although concrete numbers are hard to come by, as the price and size of cameras shrink, they say, the number of video voyeurism cases continues to grow.

In the past year, Skipp Porteous, president of New York-based Sherlock Investigations, said business has picked up substantially as technology has become more advanced.

Some cameras are the size of ballpoint pens. Others are concealed in desk lamps, potted plants, books and tissue boxes. Many are priced between $100 and $200.

"Anyone can buy these spy cameras," he said. "You can buy the equipment on the Internet ... and it's very sophisticated."

But although it's not easy, he and other experts say, it's possible to detect some surveillance equipment and protect against peeping toms, whether you're at home or in a hotel room.

Here are a few of their tips.

If you're staying in a hotel, Porteous advises covering up the peephole in the room's door with a piece of tape. For less than $100, anyone can buy a reverse peephole viewer that gives users an undistorted view into the room.

According to, an online surveillance gear retailer, it was developed with the help of law enforcement to help them assess the hazards behind closed doors.

But someone with more nefarious intentions could easily put a camera up to the opening and capture a clear picture, Porteous said.

Of course, it won't stop determined voyeurs from peering in. (In Andrews' case, some think the predator drilled holes in the wall to create an opening.) But it will make the process more difficult and could deter the less experienced.

Glance Around for Gadgets

Hidden cameras are small, but they're not invisible.

"Everything electrical has to have a power source, either battery-operated or a house current," Porteous said. "So a physical search is really important."

The FBI often hides cameras in lamps, he said, and a simple baby monitor, picking up audio, could be hiding under the bed.

Ilse Knecht, deputy director of public policy for the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C., also said she has heard of cases where cameras were hidden in air conditioning or heating vents and fire alarms.

If you have reason to think someone is watching you, do a quick scan around the room. If you're in a hotel and think you've identified a suspicious device, unplug it and notify the management.

If you already own a video camera or a digital camera, they might be able to help you detect some cameras and wireless bugs.

Video cameras that come with a night shot option (that helps cameras record in darkness) can scan for surveillance cameras hidden by red plastic lenses, Porteous said.

Some spy cameras, for example, are hidden behind the screen of an alarm clock. If you point a night shot enabled video camera at the screen, Porteous said, it should expose the spycam concealed inside.

He also said that, unlike the human eye, digital cameras can see infrared light. For example, if you press buttons on your TV remote control while pointing it at your digital camera, you can see the light if you're looking through the viewfinder.

If someone is using infrared technology to transmit a stealth audio recording, Porteous said, you could look through your digital camera to see it.

Be Your Own High-Tech Private Eye

If you're willing to invest a little money, you can find professional-grade, counter-surveillance technology that can help you root out hidden cameras.

Jeffrey Jurist, president of, said one way to detect covert cameras is through a device that reflects a laser off the camera's lens.

The SpyFinder Camera Detector, for example, is a pocket-sized, battery-operated device that sells for $99.50 on

"It's a pretty easy-to-use gadget," he said. "[It's] looking for a reflection from the iris lens."

Jurist said the device will identify a hidden camera (whether it's on or off) from up to 15 to 20 feet away and within a range of 5 to 10 feet.

For example, if you wanted to scan a hotel room, he said, you would stand in the center of the room and turn around 360 degrees while looking through the viewing port. If a camera had been hidden in the room, you would see a red blinking light.

For a little more money ($347.50), he said, the Spy Hawk Personal Camera Hunter uses similar technology to identify cameras that are further away and within a wider range.

The Spy Hawk uses two lasers and is the most powerful device of its kind on the market, he said.

For executives and those who worry that someone could be spying on them through other more sophisticated methods, Jurist said he had even more advanced technology.

The Spy Matrix Pro Sweep Bug Detector, for example, can pick up hidden cameras, wire taps, audio recorders and GPS trackers.

The device is just shy of $500, but uses a radio frequency detector to identify the frequency signals being used to transmit audio and video.

It's not for everyone, he cautioned, but added that it covers more ground than most other devices available.

But, ultimately, experts caution that even the most sophisticated technology isn't always enough.

"This is a tough one. It's difficult to protect yourself," Knecht acknowledged, adding that just being aware of your surroundings can help.

If you're at a hotel or out of the house, she said, be aware of people lurking too close or for anything that looks out of the ordinary.

In your day to day life, you might get a sense that someone knows too many details about your private life, she said. If that's the case, you might want to do some checking around your house for cameras or bugs in air vents or fire alarms.

"If people feel that someone might be photographing them, then they need to call the police because it is against the law in most states," Knecht said, although she cautioned that the law varies from state to state.

"This has a really huge impact," she said. "It can really be life-altering for people."

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