Sharing Travel Plans? Talk About Pets? Prepare to Be Burgled

sharingtravplansIt’s not just cybercriminals leveraging information on the Internet, your run-of-the-mill burglar knows that social networks make their jobs a whole lot easier. The way you, or other family members, use social media may make your home a target.

A new report by UK’s Legal & General, created with the assistance of reformed burglar Michael Fraser (BBC’s Beat the Burglar show), investigated the ways burglars are using social networking sites and the internet to gain the information they need to break into homes.

Their research identified how information posted by a consumer on social networking sites provides information that helps professional burglars build a personality profile and gather information needed to target potential victims effectively – and help them to get away with the crime.

Once a profile of a desirable target has been created (they typically look for wealthy, working individuals or couples who will have the most profitable items to steal), the professional burglar “cases the joint” using services like Google Earth and Street View.

“In just one week, a professional burglar, or a team, can use social networking sites to harvest dozens of potential targets. New users of Facebook, for example, will be a key target, as they are keen to build up their number of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’. People with specific interests are also easy targets. Pet owners are a good example – their home security is often not of a sufficiently high level, as they rely on their dog for security, have cat flaps that weaken a back door, or leave their alarms turned off” says Fraser.

For many social network users there is a clear failure to distinguish between real friends, virtual friends, and followers. While social networking is a great way to interact with friends and family and even meet new people, consumers get into trouble when they make private conversations public and unwittingly share information with people they don’t actually know – or knowingly share information without considering the potential for abuse.

It’s not just on personal pages that users share too much, group pages and fan pages are another highly targeted area for gleaning information. Simply by joining these sites provides information about your interests, and many share vacation plans

sharingtravplans2Internet Safety Messaging Isn’t Sinking In

The report found that consumers still don’t understand the risks associated with unsafe social networking behavior. While most users are concerned about phishing and spam, 48% of social network users have no worries about the security or privacy at all. About half (46%) of those that are concerned feel that Facebook is the riskiest site, followed by MySpace and Twitter.

Likely Victims

The study examined people’s willingness to make friends with people they don’t know. In an experiment to discover how many users would accept a ‘friend’ invitation from a complete stranger, 100 ‘friend’ or ‘follow requests were issued to random social networking users; 13% were accepted on Facebook, and a whopping 92% were accepted on Twitter without any checks.

Acceptance rates increase when the person asking to be a friend or follower on a social media site appears to be attractive. 59% of men, and 42% of women are willing to accept the request.

Emotional vulnerability like loneliness or wanting love are other key risk factors that increase a persons willingness to over-share information with complete strangers – who may, or may not represent themselves and their motivation accurately.

sharingtravplans3New members to a site are often at increased risk for two reasons – they are more naïve about how to use the services safely and may want to quickly increase the number of friends or followers they have without taking the time to screen them.

People who comment about their pets are targets because they are likely to have pet doors/flaps that make breaking in easily. If the pet is large, they can simply slip through the opening, if it is smaller, the flap can typically be ripped out as few reinforce the door around the flap. Pet owners are also more likely to leave alarms off – if they have one at all.

Photo sharers, who fail to understand the extent of information, or the value of the information, included in their pictures are at risk. Whether the user is bragging about new purchases (that allow burglars to identify expensive items that are easily resold), showing their home or possessions within their home, or uploading photos while on vacation (that clearly indicate their home is empty) sharing this information with anyone but close friends creates risk.

Staying Safer While Sharing

You need to understand to concepts to stay safer on social networking sites: How to determine what to share, and with whom to share it. If you are only sharing with people you personally know and trust, share what you want. If you are sharing with

Predators find potential victims by ‘eavesdropping’ or engaging people online people.

Your risk is commensurate with the choices you make about the type of content you post, the breadth of contacts you make information available to, information others post about you, and whether you share information about others as well as yourself. The more personal the information you choose to share, the more careful you should be to share only with close friends and family.

This diagram illustrates how the same guidelines you use when communicating in your everyday lives is the same guideline to use online.


  • Share truly personal and sensitive information only with close friends and family
  • With extended friends and trusted companies you may be comfortable sharing some personal information, but probably more general information
  • With the general public, or less trusted companies, you share very little other than general information that you wouldn’t care if the whole world knew.

If your social networking site exposes the following information to people other than those you know well, your risk increases. How much risk you choose to incur is a decision only you can make. However, if your choices affect the safety of others – family members, friends, colleagues, etc. you need to discuss your choices with them and respect their safety boundaries.

Look at your profile. Does it contain?

  • Your full name, or part of your name
  • Your city, and state
  • Schools you’ve attended/currently attend/level of education
  • Where you work
  • Age
  • Other identifiers
  • Relationship status
  • Income bracket or anything that can associate to income
  • A bio, interests, hobbies, clubs, organizations, church, or other affiliations
  • Phone number

Look at your blogs, tweets, comments, walls… Do they contain any of the following?

  • Names
  • Locations
  • Emotions
  • Travel plans
  • Pet information
  • Possessions

Look at your photos. Do they contain any of the following?

  • Photos of yourself, family members, pets, friends
  • Economic indicators, location information, or items worth stealing
    • Home – internally or externally
    • Possessions – cars, boat or other outdoor ’toys’ flat screen TV’s, game consoles, jewelry, and so on.
  • Are your photos tagged? What information is written under the photo?

Have you taken any quizzes and posted the information on your site? If so, what information is conveyed?

What groups, forums, fan sites have you joined, and what do these tell about you?

Look at comments/posts left on your site. Have others posted any of the information listed above in their comments?

Look at friends sites. Have they mentioned anything about you that could increase your risk? Burglars and other criminals also collect information from friend’s sites when building a profile about you.

To make an informed choice about your level of risk, you must have a clear understanding of the information you, and others, are sharing about you, AND understand with whom you are sharing this level of information.

Blog safely,



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