Facebook warning: burglars may be watching

It seems harmless enough: announcing your holiday plans on Facebook or uploading that dinner party photo to Twitter.?But according to cyber safety experts, such posts are a gift to burglars and stalkers. “Not only are you telling me where you are, you’re telling me where you’re not,” cyber safety consultant and former police officer Susan McLean said. “And I could get that photo, run it through a program and find out exactly where it was taken.”
The location service Foursquare isn’t harmless either. You check in where you are, earn points and have yourself eventually crowned mayor of a specific location. What most users may not realize: if you’ve just checked into the trendy sushi bar, then you’re not at home. Formerly a burglar had to call random numbers to see if people were home, now he just checks pleaserobme.com, which was created to raise awareness among social media users.

One New South Wales family learnt just how dangerous this can be when they were robbed at knifepoint recently, hours after their daughter posted a photo of her grandmother’s savings – in cash – on Facebook.?Just before midnight, two men broke in and demanded to speak to the girl, who was not home. They then stole money and property from her terrified mother.?Most people who are burgled put it down to bad luck, Ms McLean said.

“No one ever thinks their Facebook posts had something to with it. And because police don’t ask about social media when they attend burglaries, we have no idea of the extent of the problem,” she said.?Victoria Police said it was considering whether to include social media usage in its crime reports.?Concerned by the possible link between “location sharing” and home invasions, insurance company AAMI researched its customers’ social media habits.?It found that one in five specifies when they will be away – or where they are at certain times – and almost a third upload pictures while on holiday.?More than one in 10 use the location-sharing features.

“It’s difficult to attribute a particular break-in to a social media posting, mainly because burglars don’t tend to tell their victims why they picked their home,” AAMI spokesman Reuben Aitchison said. “But telling the world when you’re not at home is a serious threat to your house and your belongings.”

Yet even those who don’t declare their location could inadvertently reveal it through their photos.?Most smartphones automatically “geo-tag” the precise latitude and longitude of where each picture was taken.?Burglars or stalkers can then extract this data, punch it into Google Earth and get a street view or address within minutes.?While Facebook and Twitter strip these geo-tags from photos, they remain embedded in images uploaded through third party applications such as Twitpic.?Photos sent via SMS or email, or posted on blogs or other social media sites, are also vulnerable.?To test how easily location data can be extracted from photographs, The Sunday Age asked a Melbourne IT specialist to track the location of a picture posted via Twitpic.?It took him just seven seconds to find the address.?Such technology makes “sexting” – the sending of explicit images via SMS – even riskier.?Should the photo contain a geo-tag, the subject could easily be tracked, especially if the picture “goes viral”. “It’s chilling to see how easily this can happen,” said Rosalie O’Neale, senior adviser for the federal government’s Cybersmart program.

“It’s very important that people check their phone setting and allow only the location services they want.”?In 2010, Guardian journalist Leo Hickman demonstrated the dangers of smartphone apps such as Foursquare, in which users share their location with friends – and nearby strangers, if they choose.?Hickman quickly found “Louise” in a pub, whose profile included her surname and a photo.?He then trawled through her Twitter account and looked her up on Google, discovering where she worked, which train she caught and where she shopped the night before.?After approaching her and revealing his cyber-hunt, Louise described it as “a little unnerving, to say the least”.?”We’re not out to scare people,” Ms O’Neale said, “but we need to be clear: you must check your privacy settings and be very careful about the information you send out.”

Connected Cops also posted a blog and infographic titled ?How burglars use social media?.?On the heels of that posting came this infographic below as a result of research done in The Netherlands suggesting just the opposite.??Don?t advertise that you are away. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can be a risk if people know you are away and your home is empty?.?This is a frequently repeated message. Taking precautions is reasonable but why make such a fuss about it when there is none scientific proof that burglars do use social media?

This research makes clear that it appears to be quite difficult to use social media in regard to finding a suitable home/target for burglars. The research states that 77% of the social media-users protects their online information. Because of all the well protected information, burglars find it difficult to find useful information and even more so to use this information to actually steal something. In addition, an experiment in which two groups of cops (in training) were playing the part of burglars, makes clear that compared to the ?old fashioned way? (scouring the streets), social media is not lucrative. The ?burglars? in the control group were asked to find as many suitable targets in the streets. The ?burglars? in the experimental group were asked to find as many suitable targets while using social media. It appears that searching through or with social media is quite difficult and above all extremely time consuming. This makes the control group ? and the old fashioned method, more profitable. Moreover, a burglar has to check the house once more before actually entering the house.

After all: the best way to enter the house is not updated on social media and has to be observed while standing in front of the house. The following infographic ? made by Ren?e Penris ? demonstrates the other conclusions following this research.

Linda Nagelhout just completed her MsC in Criminology at De Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Her final thesis was about Burglary & Social Media. This infographic is the result of her research.?@Lindo1509

social media burglars infographic

Source: The Examiner, ConnectedCops, VDMMP

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