Social media has become a normal part of everyday life for many of us, and it’s hard to believe that Facebook has only been open to the general public (rather than for US college students exclusively) for 8 years. Before that sites like Myspace and Bebo were popular, so a sizeable proportion of the UK population have been connecting with friends, sharing pictures and expressing their opinions in a largely public forum for well over a decade.
While we may see it as a harmless way to keep in touch with people and indulge in a little self-expression, social media can have a more risky side to it. You’re probably rolling your eyes at this point and thinking ‘it’s only a bit of fun!’, but many people have become victims of crime because of information they shared on social media sites. Read on to find out about the most common pitfalls and to see our safety checklist.
Who Are You Sharing Information With?
You’d be surprised at what a potential burglar can glean from reading your Facebook posts, checking your Twitter updates and by looking at your Instagram photos. Sharing details about where you are at that exact moment, for example posting pictures of a night out with friends or ‘checking in’ at a particular place such as an airport or restaurant, is solid gold information for someone who wants to know if your home is empty. You may even be warning potential thieves far in advance about an upcoming absence by posting a status like this:
Look familiar? Status updates like these pop up all the time and may appear harmless, but this person is letting everyone in their friends list know that in one week they’ll be out of the country. Not only that, but the friends of the 11 people who ‘liked’ the status may be able to see this information too, depending on the privacy settings in place. So although you may think that your own friends are trustworthy, you know nothing about the people who can see what your mates interact with.
It wouldn’t take a lot for someone to work out where Rob Myhome lives, use the week ahead to check out his house and identify weak points, then quietly burgle him while he enjoys a daiquiri in the sun.
‘Tis the Season to be Wary
Christmas is a prime time for thieves, as many people are buying expensive gifts and hiding them in sheds or cars, or wrapping them up and placing them under the tree, which just so happens to be lit up like a beacon…right in their living room window. Sharing pictures of your decorations and the great big pile of presents under your Christmas tree is all very well, but who can see it?
By sharing pictures like this, especially on more public forums like Twitter, you could be leaving your home (and your whole enjoyment of Christmas day) vulnerable, especially when following up with pictures and updates about being out at the work Christmas party, or enjoying the snow at the local park, and therefore leaving your burgeoning tree unattended.
So how can you avoid becoming a victim of social media-inspired burglary? Take a look at our checklist below:
Think Before You Post
- Try to wait until you’re back at home before sharing photos and videos of your night out/holiday/celebrity sighting.
- Is the information contained in this status update/tweet/picture useful to someone who may want to steal from you?
- Does the post contain personal details, specific dates for future plans or images of your home?
Check Your Settings
- Adjust the privacy settings on your social media accounts to ensure only your friends and approved people can see what you post.
- Go through your friends and followers lists and delete anyone you don’t know, or who you don’t trust.
Secure Your Home
- If you’re going away for more than a day, ask a neighbour to keep an eye on your home for you.
- Ensure that your windows and doors are all secured properly with British Standard locks and use extra security measures if possible.
- Keep valuables and presents away from windows.