Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.
How To Detect Listening Devices At Home (Do This!)
Technology is a really cool thing. It has allowed us to do things that, even as recently as 15 years ago, were assumed to be impossible. It has opened the door for us to do things that make our lives more convenient than ever.
There is also the chance that technology can be used for less than great things. Listening devices in particular allow the user to “bug” an area, listening in on conversations without the knowledge of that person. You can check for bugs in switch plates, wall sockets, smoke detectors, lamps, and ceiling tiles. You can also check for any USB power sources that supply power to the listening devices.
Table of Contents
What is a Listening Device?
A listening device is just that: it can be planted in a specific area to listen in on conversations without anyone knowing. They are fingertip small, meaning they can be planted in the most obscure and remote areas of a home.
Detecting Listening Devices at Home
Listening devices can be used for any situation, but they are typically used to catch someone doing something. If you think that your home may be bugged with listening devices, there are some ways to check.
Step 1: Use Your Ears and Eyes
Finding a listening device can be difficult if you have no idea that it is there. Keep that in mind. Granted, most people probably don’t have a lot to fear in the way of listening devices, but crazier things have happened.
- Examine your surroundings. Listening devices and even small, portable cameras can come in a wide array of sizes and shapes. Start by carefully looking around the area in question. Look for anything that seems new or out of place, that is the most likely place to look.
Use a flashlight and don’t be afraid to move things or take them apart. Check even the most out-of-sight edges and even the underside of certain areas. Just make sure that you take your time and apply care with fragile, decorative items like picture frames or anything with glass.
- Look into the details. When you have done an initial sweep of the area, it is time to get into the nitty-gritty and look at the details. Look for any patches in the walls or ceilings that look off. Spot any paint discoloration. Feel surfaces, checking for their general function and feel.
- Unscrew devices. You will need to check in small, hidden areas. Unscrew things like smoke detectors, wall sockets and switch plates, clocks, lamps, and ceiling tiles.
- Listen. Turn off all of the electrical appliances in the home and wait until there’s minimal noise outside. Listen for any buzzing or beeping or really anything that sounds out of place. Track down the source of the noise to see what it is.
Step 2: Look for Power Sources
Listening devices require a power supply. For the most part, the batteries that come equipped in them will not last all that long. So, in order to have bugs that operate for an extended period of time, there has to be a source of power.
- USB cords or wires. Look around your home, tracing any of the visible wires or USB cords that you find. It is even possible that the listening device is hooked up to your route. Give all of the connections a close look.
- Wi-Fi networks. Speaking of your router, check out your connections list. Make sure that there are no new Wi-Fi networks or hotspots that have a strong signal strength near your house. New networks are a good place to look for eavesdropping devices.
- Computers and cell phones. Listening devices can also make use of microphones in your home. Take a look at your computer and even your cell phone to find any potentially listening devices that could have been planted.
Step 3: Listening Device Detectors
If, after you have done a sweep of your home and found nothing, you feel that there are listening devices in your home, you may want to turn to a scanner. These scanners are designed specifically to detect any listening devices that could be in your home. Just be aware that some listening devices can defeat the scanner.
- Radiofrequency detector. Use a radiofrequency detector to scan for any transmitters. Turn your wireless devices off and then move the detector slowly and carefully around your home. If something is broadcasting a signal, it should be found. Depending on the detector that you use, you will either have a sound that gets louder as you get closer or you’ll have a graph of some sort as a visual indicator.
- Nonlinear junction detector. These work to help you find semiconductor electronics. Just be aware that non-electronic devices, like nails, can create false positives. Use this in conjunction with a radiofrequency scanner to detect microwave and laser beam transmission setups.
- Infrared/IR/Visible light emitters. If you are looking for cameras that may have been planted in your home, there are a couple of options. You can use visible light emitters, IR light emitters, or an infrared scanner. You can also go simpler with a flashlight, looking for any reflections from lenses that may be pointed in your direction.
Step 4: Use a Phone App
Why not use technology to combat technology? There are a ton of different phone apps out there that can be used to detect microphones and cameras that may be hidden in the home. The most popular phone apps are Glint Finder (specific to Android phones) and Spy Hidden Camera Detector (for iOS phones).
If you want to make the most of a basic phone application, you can use the flashlight that comes standard on most smartphones. Simply shine it in the areas where you think that there may be a hidden camera and look for the reflection from the lens to come back. It is far from the perfect means, but it can be effective to those with a trained eye.
Tips for Looking for Bugs
- Powder/wood. Check for white powder or grains of wood. This will indicate that objects may have been moved closer to walls. It can also indicate that someone has been drilling.
- Random gifts. If you get gifts from someone who isn’t typically the type, check it for any potential underlying surveillance. It sounds crazy but it definitely isn’t unheard of.
- Wall discoloration. Look for discoloration on walls. It could indicate pinhole mics or even hidden cameras that may have been installed.
Why Would Someone Bug Your Home or Car?
To some, this may seem like a plot out of a movie. After all, who would just bug someone’s home or car seemingly at random? Well, the fact of the matter is that something like this can happen to literally anyone for any reason.
Important professions. Depending on your profession, you may be a more likely target for bugging. Those working on important scientific or pharmaceutical projects, executives at a large company, public figures, and those working in the government could be realistic targets for listening devices.
People in positions that are considered to be “high risk” are the ones most prone to bug and wiretapping problems. It doesn’t necessarily have to be nefarious it could simply be that someone is looking to garner more information related to that person.
Regular people. For the most part, regular people are just working about their own lives. People tend to not want to bug random people for no reason at all. But it is not uncommon for those going through a divorce to be at risk of listening devices. Divorcing couples may be looking for an edge on another, leading to listening devices being planted around the home or in the car.
Beware of Airbnb and Other Host Services
This doesn’t necessarily include big hotel chains, but it could. The fact of the matter is that you don’t know what motivations people have for the things that they do. You can control (for the most part) your own living space, but when you enter into another domain, it changes the rules entirely.
Hotels. Hotel chains are probably a little less at risk for bugging than you may think, but a rogue employee could change that. It is not unheard of for there to be hidden cameras in hotel rooms looking to capture lewd footage. Doing a quick sweep of your hotel room is probably the best idea just to ensure that your privacy is being met.
Airbnb. Airbnb has changed the way that travelers stay. Instead of a traditional hotel room, they can opt to stay in the home of a real person. The amenities can be far different and it can create a more welcoming space.
The problem is that you don’t know whether or not the host will respect your privacy. There are more than a few horror stories out there of Airbnb guests having discovered hidden cameras in their rental. Do a sweep of the space if you stay in one of these to be as certain as you can be that your privacy is being respected.
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