Could Your Burglar Find You on Facebook?

How the innocent use of social media can make us vulnerable to predators

There are few feelings more violating than coming home from holiday to discover you’ve been burgled. But even worse is knowing that you’re partially responsible for this violation.

How does it happen? By being indiscreet on social media about your plans – when you’ll be away, for how long and what you have in your house.

Posting about your status

Post an excited Facebook status about your upcoming trip to Gundagai, and next thing you know a determined thief is trawling the internet for your address, eyeballing your house for ease of access with Google Street View, and planning a burglary with no fear of interruption...all from their home computer.

These kinds of robberies are made even easier for the burglars if you’re using hashtags – searchable keywords that collate all the relevant posts in a category.

Beware holiday hashtags

Tag a status with #holidays or #vacation and tech-savvy thieves can immediately see that you’re on the road or overseas. Try looking up these hashtags yourself and marvel at how many people are making themselves vulnerable.

But even if you avoid hashtags, there are plenty of other ways your online presence is connected to your current location – whether it’s geotagging that tells readers where you’re posting from, or metadata in iPhone files that sorts photos according to where they were taken.

Check your privacy and location-sharing settings before uploading albums or posts, even if you think you’re being careful about what you say.

How your posts can be used by thieves

Of course, it isn’t just holidaymakers who are at risk of social-based thievery. With the increased popularity of check-ins on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and related apps, a determined burglar can see who’s out at the club, enjoying a lengthy dinner in the city or even spending the night at a friend’s place. Every time you tell the world where you are, you’re also announcing where you aren’t: at home.

There have been plenty of stories in recent times of thieves using social media for research. Earlier this year, an American home was invaded and robbed of expensive watches, jewellery and mobile phones that the thieves had seen posted in photos on Instagram.

And a recent report from the Australian Institute of Criminology quoted a study that found:

“78 per cent of ex-burglars strongly believed that existing thieves utilised social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to get status updates and target homes for burglary.

Nearly three-quarters stated that in their ‘expert’ opinion, Google Street View was playing a role in contemporary home thefts, allowing thieves to ‘scope out’ properties from the comfort of their own homes.”

So what can you do to avoid being robbed via social media?

  • Set your privacy settings so that only approved followers can see your updates
  • Avoid online friendships with people you don’t actually know in real life
  • Don’t announce that you’re going to be away from home for long periods
  • For extra security, don’t have your address connected to your social media account.

Combine these tips with the usual real-world advice of keeping windows and doors locked, postponing deliveries while you’re away, asking neighbours to collect the mail and keep an eye on the place, and not hiding a key near the front door, and you’ll be as safe as possible from being targeted by online criminals.

Oh, and resist the urge to post pics of you in front of the Dog on the Tuckerbox until you get home. They’re a dead giveaway.