Burglars using Facebook to pick and case homes

Bragging about your vacation or night on the town on Facebook could lay out the welcome mat for burglars


by Picture Perfect Pose, Flickr Creative Commons

by Picture Perfect Pose, Flickr Creative Commons

From my column at Communities @ Washington Times

WASHINGTON DC, February 4, 2013 – Most people don’t think twice about letting their friends on Facebook know they are on vacation or eating at their favorite restaurant.  However, overusing and over-sharing on Facebook can not only annoy your friends, it can also inadvertently help criminals break into your home and know exactly what to take.

The horror stories abound.  In 2010, a Nashville, TN couple took a vacation to Florida, posting photographs, check-ins, and status updates constantly.  They returned to find their home burglarized, thousands of dollars in property stolen, and a few pizza boxes and a box of clothing that the burglar left behind.  Nashville police believe that the burglar was tipped off about the house being empty through the couple’s Facebook postings.  This story is becoming all too common.  In Indiana, a woman who is said to have boasted about her expensive belongings was robbed when she and her fiancé were at a concert.  It was later discovered that the alleged burglar had added the woman as a friend on Facebook and was alerted to her absence by her post about attending the event.

Earlier this week, a couple in Portland were arrested for allegedly stealing over $100,000 in property, including four cars.  It is suspected that in at least one of the burglaries, the defendants used the victim’s Facebook status to learn when the homeowners were out of town.

A survey of 50 ex-burglars in the UK concluded that 78% of them believed that thieves today use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare to find potential properties to strike.  Moreover, Credit Sesame states that a 2011 Met Life Auto & Home poll showed that 15% of Americans report that they have left their home through social media and 35% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 tweet about their location or check in.

Many people chose to have a public profile on Facebook.  This means that anybody can see your status updates and pictures.  Some even have their current address in the “places lived” app.  Security experts say that having a public profile on Facebook is like laying out the welcome mat for burglars and identity thieves.

Even if you have enabled privacy settings, others can still see your postings through your friends. For example, when one of my friends makes a comment or likes someone else’s picture or status update, I can still see that picture or status update, even if that person is not my friend on Facebook.  I can then click on the picture or the poster’s name, and very frequently, can find out a lot about that person, like where they live, work, eat, etc.

Whether you’re at home is not the only thing you may be telling people through your Facebook profile.  Those great pictures of your Super Bowl party?  While you are looking at your friends, burglars are looking past them at your nice flat screen TV and sound system.  Got a cute pic of your baby in the backyard?  You may also be showing burglars that your back door has a flimsy handle.