Social media & burglary: Are we leaving our homes exposed to theft?

Being a victim of burglary is highly intrusive and can cause you to feel vulnerable in your own home. Domestic burglary is one of the most frequent crimes to affect the UK, with it accounting for one in ten of all theft offences. With theft of all types comprising 47% of the UK’s total number of crimes, it is clear that burglars need no encouragement to take their chances and raid a house.

Where burglars will strike is difficult to predict, but is usually something that people prepare for in a preventative capacity. However, despite installing home security measures in the home, the majority are neglecting to take more precautions online, and more specifically on social media. Many will inadvertently advertise whether they are in or out of their home over social media, giving burglars a glimpse of when it’s safe to try their luck.

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THE PROBLEM

Publishing all aspects of life onto social media has become the norm in society today. ‘Checking in’ at your favourite restaurant, sharing personal information or filling your newsfeed with holiday selfies is the routine for many. Unfortunately, burglars can use all of this information in order to take advantage and identify their target homes.

Celebrity cases of burglary connected with social media are amongst those that have been the most widely reported. Former world boxing champion Ricky Hatton was one of the latest victims, having watches worth £28,000 and a large number of €500 notes stolen from his house. According to reports from the BBC, this was after he had tweeted that he’d left his Manchester home to travel to London for a TV spot.

A LACK OF AWARENESS

In a lot of cases, it is simply that people aren’t aware that there’s a wealth of security measures for social media profiles at their disposal. There’s also a lack of recognition of the depth and fidelity with which they can be deployed.

Preying on this lack of security measures on many people’s social media, someone can easily locate an empty house in a chosen area – they may even be targeting that house with the potential knowledge of how long it is empty for. A recent study found that 75% of ex-burglars believed that social media was being used by thieves to find burglary targets.

However, as a reaction to the ease with which personal data can be accessed by strangers, social media sites have upped their security and introduced a wide array of customisable measures to protect users. Despite the availability of these, a recent study conducted by the Safe Shop found that 65% of UK residents wouldn’t have security settings on all of their social media posts.

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Holiday selfies and photos can dominate Facebook and Twitter feeds during the summer months. The odd tag in the Mediterranean or further flung country might also pop up for those looking to update everyone with their exotic location – though they might be unaware that this audience may also include would-be burglars.

In the same study from the Safe Shop it was revealed that 50% of respondents, when questioned on whether they had ever tagged themselves in a location away from home on their social media profiles, had tagged themselves while abroad on holiday. Using social media in this way is widespread and, for many, is actually habitual behaviour. 43% of those questioned stated that they had tagged themselves at the airport before departing for the holiday.

Safe shop decided to investigate just how much information could be attained in order to find out how easy it would be for a burglar to find an empty house through social media.

HOW BURGLARS CAN FIND INFORMATION

Tweets ‘checking-in’ to airports can easily be searched for, and will reveal those about to depart on holiday. This person is flying to Amsterdam from Heathrow airport.

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It’s possible to go onto this profile and find out which town or city they live in. Additional information that can be used to help pinpoint a house, such as place of work, can also be seen in this case. However, with a secured profile none of this data would be available.

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Using the website, 192.com, which uses electoral roll to form a directory, this person can be searched for online. Doing this will simply require their name and town or city of residence. This will bring up their address and further information such as marriage status and other occupants of their address.

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The burglar now knows this person’s name, full address, and any other occupants of the house. What’s more, the burglar knows that the house will be empty for a period of time while its occupants are on holiday in Amsterdam.

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS

• Settings: It’s advisable to keep your viewable profile to a minimum, or at least only viewable to your friends and family. These settings are the first line of defence against leaking any personal information to strangers. Get them secure and tailored to how you’d like them and the rest will be easy.
• Photos: Uploading holiday photos onto your social media can act as confirmation that you are out of the house. Either sure up your security settings or change your habits and upload the photo when you’re back at home.
• Tagging: Tagging yourself in a location has similar implications to uploading a photo while out of your house. This is a sure-fire way for people to be able to collect information on your whereabouts, particularly if you’re tagging in an airport or abroad. Your security settings will give options to secure your location tags.
• Location: Where you live is one of the more important pieces of information that should be protected. Without the knowledge of where your house is there is no chance of a burglar in the area making the connection between your social media profile and living in a nearby house.
• Applications: Applications on Facebook will generally ask for use of your personal information as well as friends list. While not placing you in direct danger of domestic burglary, security flaws have in the past shown weaknesses in the systems that can expose people to identity theft.

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If you would like information on how to avoid burglary whilst on holiday, view the ‘Guide to Keeping Safe on Social Media’ – produced by the Safe Shop to accompany the statistics.

The Financial Ombudsman Services have suggested that, in the event of a burglary, an insurance company may find what you post online to constitute a breach of contract – which may result in you receiving no compensation. Contracts will usually state that ‘reasonable care’ should be taken in keeping the insured property secure, and so this may be viewed as having been breached by carelessly advertising that the house is vacant.

While police forces offer advice for not leaving yourself vulnerable through social media, they also report on how the police have been able to reverse the roles and use social media in a positive way to solve crime. Some police forces have been praising social networks as being a data source for their own investigations, enabling them to view the social media profiles of suspects and possibly providing valuable evidence that can help bring people to justice.

7 incredible social media services transformations

  • http://www.SeanDurrant.Co.UK/ Sean Durrant

    Interesting post and one of the first to show how nefarious persons
    will actually use the information to commit crime