These days social media platforms such as facebook and twitter have become ever popular and many people now see them as an extension of themselves to chat with friends, share views, sell their unwanted items, advertise events or businesses and make new friends.
This social revolution has not only changed the way we interact with one another but also how we share information about ourselves. There are plenty of positives to be gained by doing this like meeting up with long lost friends, finding out about local events and who is attending or just meeting people that have similar interests.
Burglars use social media to target homes
There are however some dangers to the use of social media and users can be left vulnerable without realising it. Social media has opened the doors for people to tell the world about themselves, who they are, what they like and what they are doing. There are many people who enjoy reading and sharing this information for honest reasons but there are also a few out there who use social media as a resource for gathering personal information with the intentions of criminal acts.
People love to write about what they are doing, where they are going and in particular when they are away on vacations. I often get face book posts from friends on holiday showing off a picture with them and their family enjoying themselves in some resort, somewhere hot and sunny whilst the rain hammers down in England.
Social media has however gained the interest from thieves and now burglars use social media to target homes. They use the information to target people by following posts to find out where they live, when they are on holiday and how long they are away for. Many users on facebook accept friend requests from people they have never met and allow them to read their non public posts. Options in facebook, twitter and google+ allow users to share their location whenever they post something and because they can be posted in almost real time, thief’s know when and where they are at anyone point in time.
Web mapping services such as google maps can provide additional information to thieves and help provide a blue print on properties to plan ahead.
When sharing personal information it is important to be careful on what information you share and with whom. Be careful who you allow as a friend and / or what information you post about yourself online. If you go on holiday and wish to share photos or keep an online diary of your travels it is advisable not to post this real time or even better wait till you return home before you share it. Many mobile devices now carry location services so be sure to switch them off as well and ensure that your children take the same precautions because their online activities are equally attractive to thieves.
Of course thieves aren’t just looking for opportunities when people are away on holiday but rather simply just when they are away from the property, vacations are ideal because the whole household tend to go away but with every member of a household now connecting to facebook and these accounts naturally all being connected through ‘friends’ its possible to build up an idea of the activity for that property through details and posts such as where and when they work or regular day to day activities. The more information about themselves a person posts the clearer the picture about them and those around them becomes, for example dad is a travel rep, mum works as a secretary for a local solicitors (or the other way round) and the kids are at school and then picked up afterwards by gran and then collected by mum or dad after work, Monday to Friday. Comments and posts however small and insignificant over a historical timeline and across connected accounts can be used collectively to determine personal activities of a household the same way a points card used by supermarkets collects details on peoples buying habits.
Platforms like face book have become very popular quickly and revolutionised the way we interact not just with other people but with technology itself. As social media and technology integrates and evolves with new services and opportunities to share information it is important to remain astute and be aware of the potential pitfalls because professional thieves can be savvy and don’t need much to see an opportunity.
There are of course other measures you can do outside of social media to help prevent opportunist thieves from detecting when your house is vacant, here is a brief dos and don’ts for when you are away:
• Don’t broadcast your holiday, as much as you want may want to tell the world of your much needed break the same advice applies just as on social media, the less people know the better.
• Get a house sitter or ask a trusted friend or neighbour to regularly check on the property. If they are able to share their rubbish with your bins and put them in and out on collections days. Turn lights on and off in the evenings and the telly or radio, whilst shutting the curtains. This is of course subjective to what they would be willing to do but if you offer the same service in return then the old saying ‘what are neighbours for’ gains a bit more value!
• Cancel newspapers and redirect mail if possible. If people can visibly see mail and newspapers mounting up then this is a good indication the house hasn’t been vacant for a while. If you have a trusted neighbour or friend who checks on the property while you are away then have them collect the post and move it to a different part of the property, that again isn’t on view- unopened letters and a stack of newspapers on a table is just as evident. Also it is better to cancel newspapers than to put your deliveries on hold.
• Use timers on lamps in the house that switch on and off in the evenings and that are visibly on through windows.
• If you have a drive way then keep a vehicle on there, if not then ask if a trusted neighbour would be willing to park their vehicle there.