Most users of social media really love having the ability to stay in contact with friends, and exchange pleasantries on a daily basis. Posting photos of the latest activities and events is also a favorite habit among social media buffs. What many users don’t realize is that all that information and all those photos can be used by criminals to determine vital facts about where you live, what kind of goods and valuables are in your home, and when the home will be left unguarded.
Because of the ready accessibility of such information in the social media, some burglars have made it their primary source when seeking new targets. Here are some of the ways that social media users can be exploited by attentive, criminal-minded individuals.
Social media check-ins
Some social media websites allow you to ‘check-in’ at a location, for example a restaurant or vacation destination, as a means of keeping friends and relatives up-to-date on whatever you happen to be doing at the moment. This can have some very practical uses, like letting friends and relatives know you have safely arrived somewhere, and it can be fun to keep friends posted on each activity you engage in while away from home.
But burglars use Facebook and Twitter as well, and when information is not protected by privacy settings, they can take advantage of what they find there. Yelp and Foursquare can be consulted for check-ins to see where you are, and estimate how long you’ll be there. It only takes a burglar about 10 minutes to extract valuables from an unguarded household.
Google Maps is one of the handiest tools a criminal can use to find out necessary information about your house and the neighborhood it’s in. Not only can they get a fair idea about the quality of your home and its contents, they can use neighborhood information to plan strategies for entrance and exit, as well as access routes in and out of the neighborhood.
Regardless of whether you use Google, Yahoo, Hotmail or some other site as your primary email host, these accounts are protected by a password or security question presumably known only to the owner of the account. However, the passwords that most people choose are not very secure.
A clever burglar who pays attention to information you’ve revealed through social media might easily guess the street you grew up on, the name of your high school, the city you were born in, or the name of your family pet—all things that people frequently use as passwords to access their email account. Once a criminal has access to your email account, a whole flood of other information becomes potentially available, including such things as bank account numbers and other sensitive information that could be exploited.
The happy medium
You should not have to abandon usage of social media simply because there’s a risk of your private information being obtained and exploited. But really harmful exploitation can be avoided by using us a few simple safeguards. For instance, it’s probably best to avoid location check-ins on social media, turn off your phone’s GPS function when you’re not using it, use random combinations of letters and numbers for your passwords (or sign up for a service like LastPass), and don’t post vacation pictures until after you get home.
In addition to all these safety tips, it’s a good idea to re-check your security settings regularly on social media sites to be sure the wrong people aren’t accessing your information.