Is The Way We Use Social Media Leaving Us Vulnerable To Burglary?



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In the UK alone, theft offences account for 47% of our crime figures, of which one in ten are domestic burglaries of a household or residential property, making it one of the most frequent crimes to affect the population.

The impact of a burglary and how to avoid it is something typically out of our control, and an occurrence we often cannot predict. However, through the progression and visibility via new technologies and social media, are falling into the trap of revealing too information online and leading burglaries to our front door?

The problem

Social media has transformed into a platform where users can publish their lives online, sharing personal information, leisurely check-ins, and inundating their profile with summer holiday selfies. Little do people realise that their online activity (often a mix of public and private posts) creates the ideal opportunity for burglars to search and target homes.

Cases of burglaries where social media is cited as advertising their absence from the home are regularly reported in the media. The most widely reported cases involve celebrities and those in the public eye who have been affected.  Ricky Hatton, former world champion boxer, had his home raided in February 2015 in which burglars stole watches worth £28,000 and a large number of €500 notes according to the BBC. This break-in took place after a tweet went live announcing he would be in London for the day.

A lack of awareness

While security on social platforms is much more effective than a couple of years ago, there is a lack of awareness of the options available to secure your posts that catch people out.

A study asking people previously convicted for burglary found that 75% of them believe that burglars are using social media to find targets. With a quick search it is easy for a burglar to locate empty houses in a given area and see whether recent activity indicates an empty house.

Increasingly diverse security measures on social networks were designed to allow for tailoring of personal security, aiming to provide reassurances based on your requirements to prevent the rise in criminal activity being bred online. Despite these being available, in a recent study conducted by the Safe Shop, statistics collected across the UK found that 65% of UK residents wouldn’t have security settings on all of their posts on social media.

In the same study, the participants were also questioned on whether they had ever tagged themselves in a location away from home on their social media profiles. Worryingly, 50% of those questioned stated that they have tagged themselves while abroad on holiday, while 43% stated that they had tagged themselves at the airport.

In the summer months social media accounts become the place to share and show off your holiday snaps. The location tagging feature that can be used to post your location, even with a handy Google Map pinpoint underneath, can be viewed by burglars online and be an invitation to an empty house.

Investigating how easy it would be for a burglar to find an empty house through social media, we had a look to see how much information could be attained…

How burglars can find information

Tweets checking-in to airports can easily be searched to find those flying from the airport on holiday. This person is flying to Philadelphia from Heathrow airport.

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From this it is possible to look through the tweets and select a profile which has their residential town open for all to see. Additional information that can be used to help pinpoint a house such as place of work can also be seen in this case.

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Using this person’s name and town information, they can be searched for on the 192 electoral roll online. This will bring up their address and further information such as marriage status and other occupants of residence.

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Now the burglar knows that this house is empty for a period of time while this person is in Philadelphia. If they want to be sure on location than the burglar could simply use Google Maps to pick a vantage point or vulnerable entry point.

In 3 steps a burglar has been able to find a person away from their home on Twitter, see their home town, and from this find their house address to target as an empty home. All of it stemming from a social media account giving out valuable information easily.

In a recent statement from the Financial Ombudsman services, it was suggested that insurance companies might not cover such cases because of ‘advertising’ the property as empty. Reasons for this being that insurance companies will usually have within their cover contracts that ‘reasonable care’ should be taken in securing the property, and that posting your absence would be a breach of this clause.

Looking at it from a different perspective can shine a light as to the positive uses for social media. It has been reported by police forces that they are being used as a tool to fight crime. Police forces have praised social networks as being the catalyst that had aided the solving of crimes, exploiting the same publicly available information and photos of suspects to use as evidence.

Simple solutions

  • Settings: Your settings are the main point of defence from anybody viewing your personal information that might use it against you. Keep your viewable profiles to a minimum so that nobody who is outside your trusted group of friends and family can take advantage of your details.
  • Photos: A photo placed online in innocence to show off your holiday destination can be taken as confirmation of being away from home. Either sure up your security settings or change your habits and upload the photo when you’re back at home.
  • Tagging: Chose carefully which locations you tag yourself in. Advertising yourself as being at an airport and going away for two weeks gives the opportunity for burglars to potentially take advantage. Use the security settings to prevent wider availability of your tags.
  • Location: Your address is the most sensitive information that could prevent your home from being targeted. Don’t offer your address or even town over social networks, as this can be followed along with your name to pinpoint the location of your 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.

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.

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