How Burglars Use Facebook To Target Vacationing Homeowners

 @MarkJohansonIBT on July 11 2013 5:15 AM
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Facebook will release Q2 2013 earnings Wednesday AMC. Reuters

You’re out on vacation and you want to make your friends back home jealous, so you post every detail of your itinerary on Facebook, you tweet about it on Twitter and you check yourself in on Foursquare. It’s natural. We all want to brag about how much fun we’re having away, but what experts say you should be aware of is that all of this information can easily make you a target for burglars.

David Walsh, chief executive of Netwatch, a security monitoring service that recently expanded across the Atlantic from the UK to the U.S., issued a warning to property owners last month, saying that there had been a growing number of offline incidents resulting from information shared online. “Social networks have become part of our daily lives, but people need to consider the risks of posting their location on these sites. Facebook burglaries are real and growing in popularity.

“You may think that checking in at the airport is a nice way to let your friends and family know that you’re going on holiday, but in reality you are also letting people know that your home is empty and an easy target,” he added. “If you want to share your holiday plans, don’t do it in real time, wait until you are safely home.”

Summer is traditionally the season with the most burglaries, according to FBI statistics, signaling a time when homeowners should be extra vigilant about protecting their goods. One of the biggest tips ADT Security shared with its homeowners this summer was to be extremely cautious with social media, no matter how small of a target you think you are.

“More than one-third of Americans polled in ADT’s 2013 Safety Data Index survey said they believed their home was too ordinary and would not interest a burglar. However, a vacant home could be enough to attract unwanted attention,” the  security system provider said. “Be careful about broadcasting your travel plans. Burglars can use posts on Twitter or Facebook to determine when you’ll be away.”

ASG Security also warned homeowners this summer to keep their vacations off social media. ASG blogger Bob Ryan said that even if you have a private page that can only be viewed by your Facebook friends, it’s still not safe because you don’t know who you can trust.

“Now, Facebook has added features like a scrolling update of comments friends have made on others’ pages; you can find it plastered in the upper right corner of your home page. Although it may be fun to see what your friends are saying to people you don’t know, that also means that people you don’t know may be able to see some of your updates -- including the ones that say, ‘Can’t wait to leave for Hawaii tomorrow.’”

Ryan noted that such comments usually generate larger responses, which in turn increase the number of people who will see the update on their home pages. He also said to be careful on Twitter if your handle includes your real name.

According to police, burglars have been known to search Facebook or Twitter for targeted keywords or to look at who has checked into airport lounges on Foursquare. Meanwhile, the Exif metadata contained in image files can often reveal travelers’ locations, though most social media platforms now remove Exif data from uploaded photos.

Some devices such as the iPhone automatically include GPS location data, which experts say can easily be used to track a users’ location if it is uploaded onto a site like a blog that doesn't remove the information.

The UK’s Distinctive Doors, a door supplier, suggests that you “reverse stalk yourself.” Evaluate the information you share on your social media accounts and see if you would be able to discover where you live and where you’ve traveled. For more helpful tips on how to keep your home safe this summer, check out Distinctive Doors’ informative infographic below:

How Burglars Are Using Using Social Media Infographic – An infographic by the team at Distinctive Doors

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