This week there was a story in the news here about a man who was robbed thanks to a post on Craigslist. He posted several items that he wanted to sell including a game console, TV, some DVD’s and other electronics. A woman contacted him about buying the items and they worked out a time for her to come get the items. In the course of that conversation, she said something to the effect of, “I can come by around 2:00,” to which he replied, “It will have to be later. I don’t get home from work until 6:00,” and then he gave her his address. When he got home around six, he discovered that he had been robbed. He was able to put two and two together and figure out who’d done it pretty quickly. The woman had relayed the information to her partner and the partner was the one who actually committed the burglary. The police caught the guy in connection with some other burglary, but by then he’d already fenced the guys’ belongings.
The moral of this story is that you have to be very careful what you post online and what you reveal in any subsequent discussions about those posts. Thieves are constantly trawling the Internet looking for easy marks. A post on Craigslist that essentially lists your home inventory is going to attract attention. Even if you don’t post everything you own online, a thief can figure that, if you have a large flat screen, a game station, and other electronics to sell, then you probably have some other good stuff, as well. If you have the money for the good electronics, you probably have some jewelry or cash lying around or you have some better electronics that are replacing the ones you’re trying to sell. The guy in the story above would have been far better served to pack up the stuff and arrange to meet the prospective buyer in a public place rather than giving out his address. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but better than being robbed.
Craigslist, Freecycle, and other want-ad sites aren’t the only places that can get you into trouble. Here are a couple of more ways your online activity can lead to a robbery.
1. Status updates on social media. People love their social media. They love to tell other people where they are, what they own (with pictures!), and when their next vacation is. This is bad news. If you’ve posted your address or any personally identifiable information, you can become a burglary victim. It doesn’t take a genius to look at your page and determine that you have a really nice TV and DVDcollection and that you’ll be gone for a week. Or that you work away
from home five days per week. The more you reveal about your routine and your comings and goings, the better picture a thief can paint of your life that enables them to figure out an optimal time to hit your house.
Even if you don’t think you’re posting pictures of your stuff, you probably are. Look at your family photos and check what’s in the background. Are you all posing in front of the flat screen? Is someone wearing expensive jewelry? Does Junior have expensive noise canceling headphones draped around his neck? Is Dad posing in front of his expensive tool collection? You may think these are just harmless family photos, but to a thief they are inventory.
It’s not just adults that cause these problems. Parents have to stress the importance of privacy to their kids. Kids think nothing of posting what they got for Christmas on their social page and then talking about the family’s upcoming two week vacation. Sure, their friends may be trustworthy, but you don’t know who their friends know. And if the page isn’t privacy protected, anyone in the world can see that information. So talk about privacy with the kids and make sure that everyone in the house is on the same page about protecting the homestead.
2. Geo-location/geo-tagging. Sure it’s fun to tell everyone where you are every minute of the day. It’s fun for your friends to come over to your house and let everyone know that’s where they are. But when you tell everyone where you are, what you’re telling thieves is where you’re not. When you post that you’re at a party, they know you aren’t home. If they’re following your other posts and you’ve said (or the thieves can figure out) where home is, you’re vulnerable to a burglary.
You can also be vulnerable to a personal attack. If a thief has been following your information and knows that you appear in pictures wearing expensive jewelry, for example, it’s not out of the question that they could come to wherever you’ve posted you are and rob you there. If you post that you’re at the local theater, someone can wait for you in the parking lot and try to rob you.
The bottom line is that the Internet is public. You may trust your friends and coworkers, but they aren’t the only ones reading your information. Even if you set privacy controls, you have to be careful because friends of friends may still have access. And you don’t know those people, or know who they know. Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want to become public knowledge. If you want your friends or family to know where you are, message them directly. If you have something to sell, never give out your address and always conduct your transactions in a public place. If you have a social media page, keep it very generic and never discuss upcoming trips, give your full name or address, or reveal what you own. Social media makes it very easy to over share information. Be vigilant and protect your privacy.