Philip Masterson is a market specialist, researcher and writer. He runs the blog Alarm Defense, which discusses home security and technology.
You would not put up a sign in your home that reads: “We’re not home. Please come in.” But chances are, you’ve done this on social media. You might think that a selfie on the beach or the airport is a good way to let family and friends know where you are. Well, there may be some other people who are eager to know you’re not home — and they may not be as friendly.
The most recent data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation reveal that summer months are “hot” months for burglaries. July and August are also “peak seasons” for thieves. When burglars know that no one is about to come home in the next few hours, they also take their time and steal more. So just when you feel like posting “can’t wait to sunbathe in Hawaii” is a good idea, think again.
In a survey by Credit Sesame, ex-burglars spilled the beans on modern burglars today. Fifty convicted burglars were surveyed and 78 percent of them believe that thieves check Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to target potential properties. At the same time, 74 percent agree that Google Street View is very helpful for burglars to scout future targets.
A separate study by MetLife Auto and Homes shows that 15 percent of Americans announce on social media that they have left their homes. Thirty-five percent of Americans 18- to 34-years-old also check in or tweet about their location. According to 54 percent of ex-burglars surveyed, doing so is one of the most common mistakes committed by homeowners.
Social media security
There are simple steps you can take to secure your social media, and most demand nothing more than just common sense:
- Set your Facebook privacy settings so that only friends and contacts can see your content. For every status update, you can share it to just a friend, a group of friends or to none at all.
- Social media is not a case of the more, the merrier. Only add actual friends and people you know to your network.
- If you can help it, refrain from bragging about your travels and going away for an extended period of time.
- If you can, share your vacation photos after the vacation.
- Don’t post photos of your jewelry, new gadgets and other expensive items in your home.
- Don’t reveal your address in your virtual information sheet. Be careful not to post photos that will show landmarks leading to your home.
- Evaluate the information you share in your profile. Put yourself in the shoes of the burglar and reverse the situation. Using the information you gave away, would you be able to stalk yourself or guess where you were?
- Finally, when you’re on vacation, try taking a vacation from social media too. You will not believe how much fun that would be.
Kids and privacy
While adults will know how to take caution with how much to share, 25 percent of Facebook users are under the age of 10. However, only 18 percent of parents with children under 10 are actually “friends” with their kids on Facebook. Aside from lying about their age, most kids post the city they live in, what school they attend, their cellphone number and their exact location.
If you have kids who are active on social media, make sure they don’t give away private information. Manage their security settings for them by making them know the repercussions of posting everything online, but make sure not to come to a point where you’ll humiliate them just to give them a lesson.
However, even adults and parents need some help with security settings. The same study reveals that 66 percent of active Facebook users do not know about privacy settings and at least 15 percent have never checked them.
On the flipside
Not only burglars are turning to social networking sites. Law enforcement agencies are also using this tool to gather information about the victims and suspects, track the whereabouts of suspects and provide information to the public. There are more than 700 police departments across the United States with active Twitter accounts, and they have three million followers combined.
There is no doubt that social media has become a big part of our daily lives and routines. A lot of people cannot go a day without posting a status update or their photos. However, too much information can get you and your loved ones into trouble. Remember that what makes social media fun is also what makes it extremely dangerous.