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Keep Your Home Safe from Social Thieves

Learn the ins and outs of social media to keep your home and property out of harm’s way.

In 2010, Nashua, New Hampshire, police made a breakthrough in a string of burglaries and discovered that several were tied to information pulled from Facebook status updates.

The New Hampshire incident is a prime example of why Michael Fraser, reformed thief and co-host of the BBC’s Beat the Burglar, dubbed social media “Internet shopping for burglars.”

Even if you’d never leave the house for any period of time without locking the doors, your use of social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, has the potential to compromise your privacy and safety. Imagine being on a family vacation at Disney World and posting photos of the kids hugging Goofy. Your friends might love to see those images, but they also tell thieves that you’re out of town. Consultant and speaker John Sileo, a privacy expert who runs thinklikeaspy.com, says he’s seeing at least one theft a week in the news related to social media posts, and that’s just from crimes that are solved. Sileo believes that users aren’t aware of how much personal info they’re giving up online.

“Anything you post—a photo, a video or a blog post—is public, it’s permanent and it’s exploitable. Once you put it out there, as much as you think it’s private, it will probably get out,” says Sileo.

Rather than give up social networking entirely, you can avoid many of the dangers by being aware of the risks and being smarter about what you post.

The Basics
Review your accounts. First take a look at the social media sites you’ve signed up for. If you’re no longer active on other social media sites that may have access to some of your personal information (say your email address or phone number), delete those accounts.

Re-evaluate your friends. Consider how you choose your friends on social networks. Do you only connect with close friends and family or do you also allow for friends-of-friends, business contacts and anyone you’ve met “in real life”? It’s good to set and stick to rules for how you’ll accept friend requests and which social platform you’ll use for the types of people in your life. For example, connecting with friends over Facebook and business associates over LinkedIn.

Use common sense when posting. Avoid uploading photos of your brand-new home-theater setup or the new car parked in your driveway. Don’t post status updates telling the world you’re about to go on a long trip to Europe, wait until you’re home from vacation to post anything about your travels. Try to keep from clueing everyone in to your daily work and going-out schedule.

Site-Specific Tips
Facebook. Managing Facebook’s privacy settings can be a challenge, since they seem to change every few months. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to be aware of who can see your status updates and profile information. Facebook allows you to create groups of people and then determine what groups can see which posts. Learn to use these options.

Twitter. Twitter has a geographical feature that allows followers to see where you were when you tweeted. If you post from home, you should disable this. Even if you’re not on a device with GPS, Twitter can still determine your location via your Internet connection from a home computer.

Never tweet your home address or phone number. Unless your Twitter account is set to “Private,” every tweet you post goes public and can easily be found via a search engine.

Photo-sharing sites. Popular photo sharing sites, like Flickr, Instgram and Google’s Picasa, allow you to post “geo-tagged” photos; they include information that can easily be shown on a map. If you take a lot of photos in your house or yard, it’s like handing a street guide to potential thieves. Disable geo-tagging for any photos you take at home.

Location services. On location-based social networks, such as Foursquare and Facebook’s Places, you should be even more careful about adding friends. Change settings to limit what’s posted publicly and never create a check-in spot out of your home or anyone else’s home.

Social media is a great way to make new contacts and share information with people you care about. But it only takes one unwanted “friend” with too much information to put your home in danger. Stay on the safe side and post wisely.

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