Users of social networking sites are giving away vital information about themselves and their whereabouts that is potentially being used by professional burglars to establish a list of targets, according to a new report from UK insurer Legal & General.
“The Digital Criminal” report, which was prepared with assistance from reformed burglar Michael Fraser, found that nearly 38% of users of sites such as Facebook and Twitter have posted status updates detailing their holiday plans and one-third (33%) have posted status updates saying that they are away for the weekend.
Users Connect with Complete Strangers
The research also found that a large proportion of social media users use these networks to connect with people who are essentially strangers: 79% think they are a great way to track down people they “met on holiday,” 75% feel that they are a good way to meet “friends of friends”, and nearly half ( 47%) friend complete strangers because a person has a nice picture.
Moreover, Legal & General found that many UK users will accept a ‘friend’ invitation from a complete stranger, with or without a picture or even a shred of a connection.? Of 100 ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ requests issued to strangers selected at random, 13%? were accepted on Facebook and 92% were accepted on Twitter, without any checks.
These statistics present a serious risk to the security of people’s home and contents, according to the report.
- 48% of respondents have no worries about the security or privacy of social networking sites.
- Of all social networking sites, Facebook creates the most concern, with 46% of respondents feeling that there are some security and privacy risks. MySpace comes in at #2.
- The younger a person is, the more likely he or she is to give information away concerning whereabouts. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of 16-24 year-olds share their holiday plans.
- 34% of respondents have seen somebody else’s phone number posted on a social networking profile.
- 9% of respondents have included their own phone number and 5% have included their address in the personal information section of social networking sites visible to friends.
- Nearly one-fourth (23%) have discussed holiday plans “wall-to-wall” – outside the privacy of their own page – and 17% of users reported seeing others’ residential addresses posted on pages that are accessible to strangers.
- Some 6% have written their phone number and 3% have written their address “wall-to-wall” or on pages open to those who are not accepted contacts.
- Men are more likely to share personal information: 13% have included their mobile number on their profile compared with just 7% of women. Some 9% of men have included their address compared with just 4% of women.
- 70% of users think that social media sites are a great place to share photos of their cool new purchases and presents.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that burglars are using social networks to develop relationships with people to identify likely targets,” said Fraser. “They gain confidence by learning more about them, what they are likely to own and when they are likely to be out of the house, and then target appropriate victims.”
Fraser dubs this behavior ‘internet shopping for burglars’ and noted the ease in which criminals can use social networking sites to target people, and then scope out more information on their actual home using other internet sites like Google Street View, all from the comfort of the sofa.
“It scares me to see how many people are prepared to give away valuable information about themselves, to people they simply don’t know well enough – if at all,” he added.
Newbies, Pet Owners at Risk
Fraser said that new users of Facebook are often targeted because they are keen to quickly build up their networks. Similarly, people with specific interests are also easy targets. Pet owners, for example, often have inadequate home security, leave their alarms turned off, or have door flaps that allow their pet access to their home while they’re away.
Other sitting ducks for criminal activity are what Legal & General classifies as “Chatterboxes,” “Loners,” and “Holiday Snappers.”
“The world has changed drastically with the advent of the internet and the amazing array of social media sites now available to contact people,” said Garry Skelton, marketing director of Legal & General. “The majority of that change is good and there is no question that social media sites are a wonderful way to share experiences with friends. However, it is imperative that people are aware that there is always a criminal fraternity that will seek to exploit such change.”
About the report: The Digital Criminal report (pdf) is available free for download. It? details the personality types that burglars will target online, offers advice on the type of information that is potentially valuable to a burglar, and provides tips to social media network users to help safeguard privacy.