Social media and burglaries

A new way of finding houses to burgle

Most burglaries are opportunistic, not planned – and therefore there are plenty of things you can do to make your house less attractive to an opportunistic thief.

However, thieves have found a new way of planning a burglary, and this is through Social Media, such as personal blogs, Facebook, Twitter, location-sharing apps such as Foursquare, Instagram and the like. In the past, potential burglars would read obituaries to find out when houses would be empty for example, or look for tell-tale signs such as post accumulated in letterboxes or dark windows. Nowadays, they can simply sit at home and search through social networking sites on the internet looking for people who announce to the world that their home is empty whilst they are on a night out or on holiday. Many social media users have an ‘open profile’ which means they have not limited who can read their personal information on profiles and status updates to ‘friends’ who they know and can trust.

Burglars are looking for people on a night out, who take photos on their GPS-enabled phone and tweet them or upload them immediately on Facebook or their blog, telling the world via these location tags (where they are and that they are therefore not at home. They are looking for happy holiday photos and location maps posted by homeowners on their social media pages to see whose houses are going to be empty for some time. Sometimes the homeowner has helpfully put his address on the site, a location map, or other useful photos that will help identify the house, and comments about how great it is to be away from home for another week or whatever. The potential burglar can then check out the house on Google Maps, plan their visit without having to go near the house beforehand, and be sure of uninterrupted time to leisurely take away more than they might be able to on a typical, 3-minute opportunistic burglary.

In order to combat this, you should check-out the default privacy settings on your phone, tablet or laptop to ensure that personal information is limited to ‘friends’ only, rather than ‘friends of friends’ who could number thousands of people you do not know. Go to your Account Settings and check what information is publicly visible. Avoid including GPS or other location data (known as EXIF data) on any photos you upload whilst you are away from home (go to Settings/Privacy/Location on your device), and simply save your holiday announcements and photos for when you are back. Similarly, don’t advertise your friends’ plans on your pages in case they are targeted instead.

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