Are Tweets and Facebook updates telling burglars when to strike?

A few weeks back, my six year old son and I were fishing in the Canadian Outback for a week.  I used my iPhone to post photos and Facebook status updates about landing theIMG_0333 float plane safely on the lake, the lodge accomodations, and the fish we caught.  My wife and daughter, who have no interest in “roughing it,” really enjoyed the updates. 

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace are one of the most interesting and popular innovations on the Internet in the last few years.  Almost everyone I know uses one or more social networks. Even my mother is on Facebook and no doubt will soon be sending me tweets from the farm in Arkansas. These social networks depend upon the interactions between the users. The first thing you do is connect with people you know, and then you start sending out status updates (Facebook) or tweets (Twitter) to all of your friends.  Most status updates and tweets leave much to be desired. But then there are those times when life is more exciting as you leave home for more exotic climes in search of sun, sea, surf, and perhaps some other ‘S’ words.

The problem is that informing the world of your excursions out of town could have serious consequences.  For example, what if my whole family had gone fishing?  Would I have been doing the cyberspace equivalent of putting a big sign on the front lawn saying, “Come on in, burglars! We’re not home.” Before you call me paranoid, consider the following recent events.

The burglary of an Arizona video editor made headlines last month because he thinks that his Facebook and Twitter update habits may have led to it. He not only told his network of social media friends that he was going out of town but also shared some adventures of his road trip to Kansas City. While he was away, someone broke into his home and stole his video editing equipment. From the AP story:

Most people wouldn’t leave a recording on a home answering machine telling callers they’re on vacation for a week, and most people wouldn’t let mail or newspapers pile up while they were away. But users of social media think nothing of posting real-time vacation photos on Facebook showing themselves on beaches hundreds of miles from home, or sending out automatic e-mail messages that say, “I’m out of the country for a week.”

Similarly, police in Alabama arrested two men who allegedly burglarized the homes of Birmingham residents they tracked on Facebook.  Police say the suspects used the popular social networking site to glean personal information about residents, including summer travel plans.  Police believe the men worked together to steal jewelry, television sets, computers, cell phones, guns and other items from five homes of people who were either friends or “friends of friends” on Facebook between July 12 and July 22. 

Of course, for you to be burgled as a direct result of updating your Facebook status or tweeting on Twitter about an upcoming holiday, you would have to have a potential burglar in your friends list or amongst your followers. Moreover, the criminal masterminds would have to find out exactly who you are and where you live. The point is that it could happen and, we all know there is information about all of us on the Internet.  So, the next time you are on vacation, or even when your house will be empty for several days, consider NOT telling all of your Facebook friends and Twitter followers that you are leaving. Just to be on the safe side, be a little vague on the details of your holiday until you get back.

After all, the last thing you need is to come home to a ransacked house:

 

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