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Vacation Nightmare

Ten years ago, during the dawn of VRBO and Airbnb, a group of bridesmaids rented a house near a beach in South Florida for a week to celebrate their friend’s wedding. Since renting a private home like a hotel room was a relatively new business model at the time, the guests were not sure what to expect.

At first, the young women were having a relaxing time at the house, using the hot tub, pool, and spending quality time together with their children. They became uncomfortable, though, when the property manager would come over unannounced to “fix” things and “make adjustments” to the hot tub and air-conditioning without being asked. He would check on all the bathrooms as well.

Of course, this was an interruption for the bridesmaids and their children who were not only getting prepared for the wedding and other events during the week but were also looking forward to the private celebration together. Several members of the group had traveled a long distance to spend time together without any distractions. At the time, the friends weren’t sure if the property manager was just trying to be accommodating or if he was up to something.

A year later, their worst nightmare was revealed. They found out the home was set up Big Brother style with hidden cameras recording guests in their most private and intimate moments.

Red Flags

The first red flag happened for the bridesmaids when the property manager wanted to know who was staying in which room. The women did not feel that was any of his business.

The property manager continued to stop by. At one point, everyone was at the rehearsal dinner except one of the women. She was watching TV and heard something in the hallway. She found the property manager in the hallway wearing nothing but a bathing suit. He had a big painting on the wall pulled open (like a secret panel). He said, “Oh sorry! I didn’t think anyone was here. I’m just checking on the AC”. The woman was freaked out, asking him, “Are you supposed to come in when we’re not here?!” The property manager was completely caught off guard.

Cameras Discovered

Unfortunately, the bridesmaids were not the ones to discover the cameras while they were at the rental home; it was actually another renter who stayed there after them. They noticed the clock was broken and tried to fix it, finding the first camera then.

The groom, who was still living in South Florida, saw the story on the local news (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cChkwCQI5T8) and alerted the bridesmaids. It had been a year since they stayed at the property. They were absolutely distraught when they found out their families’ and friends’ privacy had been so terribly violated.

Conclusion

Thousands of hours of footage were discovered during the investigation. The bridesmaids participated in a Class Action lawsuit with other victims, winning their case. The property manager was sent to prison for not only violating the privacy of the bridesmaids and other renters, but the privacy of various children who had stayed at the property as well. The homeowner was also investigated but found to be not involved in the property manager’s illicit activities.

To this day, the bridesmaids will still use rental properties for vacations, but they never truly feel like they have complete privacy.

What can you do to ensure your privacy when using rental properties?

Next Week: Part II – Tips on examining your surroundings for hidden cameras.

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