When you check in at the airport gate, do you also “check in” using Facebook or Twitter? If so, you’re a burglar’s favorite type of traveler: burglars use social media all the time. The minute you post trip details, the thief begins planning his own trip – to your empty house. He can find it using Google Street View, online image searches, and Internet directories. However, his most important tool is you and the information you share via social media.
Even casual mentions of your new work schedule, upcoming dinner date, or event you’re planning to attend can offer important clues about your routine. Think before you post. Don’t be like these victims:
- Police in the UK warn about bicycle thefts due to social media apps that post cyclists’ routes.
- Friends and family enjoy seeing your Christmas present photos. So do thieves.
- You could be vulnerable to underwear theft. Seriously.
Use these four tips to protect your personal data on social media.
1. Casual Facebook “Friends” May Not Be Very Friendly
Scroll through your own Facebook profile and look at your photos and status updates from a burglar’s perspective. If your life is an open Web page, would-be thieves (or stalkers!) are eager readers. Often, burglars use social media to find out where you live, work, eat out, attend religious services, and travel, just by scanning your updates.
- Lock down your Facebook privacy settings using Facebook’s privacy shortcuts. They help you control who can find you on Facebook, who can see your posts, and who can contact you.
- Never accept a friend request from a stranger. Even a “friend of a friend” may be a fraud. Ask your mutual friend if he/she actually knows the person before accepting.
- Share personal data sparingly. Sharing your phone number, home address, hometown, or birth date, etc. makes it easy for burglars to locate you and increases your vulnerability to identity theft. Never share any information that cyber thieves could use to crack your password by answering common security questions (mother’s maiden name, pet’s name, first school attended, etc.).
2. Keep Quiet About Upcoming Trips
Yes, you’re excited about your dream trip to Europe, but kvell about it and post photos after you get home. A post like the one below is the digital equivalent of leaving the front door open for two weeks while you’re away.
3. Don’t Share Information About Your Routine
Most burglaries take place between 9am and 2pm – when people are likely to be at work or school. You’re sharing important information when you Tweet that you’re meeting friends for dinner or that you’re happy to have all daytime classes this semester. Even noting in your “for sale” ad on Craigslist that people should “call after 5pm” advertises that you’re away during the day.
4. Turn Social Media Location Features Off
GPS-enabled smartphones make it easy to get directions to that new restaurant and find an alternate route around a traffic jam. They may also reveal your location when you post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Some social media services let you turn off the location function in your account, but your personal information will be much more secure if you if you set strong passwords and turn off the phone’s geotag function.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has more information about smartphone privacy and geotagging:
Depending on the settings, your smartphone may be using its built-in GPS capability to embed your exact location into the file of photos you take using the smartphone’s camera. The process of embedding location information into photos is called geotagging. If you share your photos and they end up on the Internet, criminals can use the geotag to track your movements or find out where you live.
Social media, smartphones, sharing apps, all those are features of modern life that help us stay connected with work and family. Remember that your online profile isn’t just limited to people you know and trust. Pay attention to the information you’re sharing and how it could be used.
Your smartphone can also help you protect your home. GetSafe’s app lets you check your alarm system status at any time and it sends you alerts about activities taking place in your home.