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4 ways burglars use social media to target you

4 ways burglars use social media to target you
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

You've seen the post on Facebook: A friend at the airport, family in tow. She posts a selfie of her and her kids, geared up for an exciting summer vacation with the text, "Heading off on our vacation, woo hoo! Won't be back for two weeks!"

What's wrong with that picture? Did she really want anyone to know her house would be empty for the next two weeks?

There's nothing wrong with keeping in touch with friends and family on social media. But if you're not careful, the wrong people could be looking at your check-ins, tweets, status updates, and other social media posts.

I'm talking about burglars, stalkers and other criminals. According to one survey, more than 75 percent of convicted burglars admitted that thieves use social media to target victims!

Here's how they do it, and what you can do to prevent from becoming their next victim.

1. Location-sharing services and apps

Checking in at the airport or your hotel might seem like a fun way to let friends and family know you're on vacation, but burglars are also combing through social media looking for easy targets. These criminals only need a rough idea of where you live and access to Google Street View to start casing your home.

If you use apps that include location-sharing features, like Facebook, get to know the privacy features and use them. Make sure they aren't syncing up with other social networks that aren't as private. If they do, you might be broadcasting your location to people you don't even know.

Check your Facebook privacy settings to make sure you're sharing personal information only with close friends and family. Click here for my step-by-step guide to lock down your Facebook profile.

Beware of apps that use your GPS automatically. Not only is this bad for your privacy, it quickly drains your smartphone's battery.

Tip in a Tip: Is your smartphone or tablet dying too fast? Read my tips for extending battery life for Apple and Android.

To turn off location tracking on your iPhone, go to Settings>>Privacy>>Location Services>>System Services. Scroll down and turn on the Status Bar icon. There you can see which apps are tracking you, and you can turn them off.

On an Android, go to Settings>>Location Services and turn GPS off when you don't need it. To turn off Location Services on a Windows Phone, go to Settings>>Location.

2. Hidden picture data

Social media was built for sharing great photos with friends and family. Sadly, sometimes the wrong people are looking at your pictures and using them to make you a target.

That's because every picture you upload online is loaded with valuable information. This includes where and when the photo was taken, and what kind of camera or smartphone was used to take it.

This information is called EXIF data. Some sites, such as Facebook, helpful strip it out automatically when you upload pictures, but many don't. Any burglar who knows how to find this information can find out where you live and other revealing information!

The good news is it's simple remove EXIF data. Click here for step-by-step directions to remove location and other revealing details from your photos.

Even if you do take out the EXIF data, you might still have revealing information in the photo. Avoid posting photos that show street names, obvious landmarks or personal information.

3. Revealing posts

When you're having a great time, you want to share it with the world. However, I recommend not sharing your vacation news in real time on social media.

Wait until you're safely home to post vacation stories. And instead of sharing potentially sensitive photos across your social networks, create a private photo album on a site like Flickr or Google Photos and share it only with close friends.

If you want to keep friends and family updated on your trip, a separate travel blog is a better idea. You can make a free one on TravelPod, GetJealous or another similar site, and then update it daily with text, photos, movies and maps.

As long as you don't put your full name in the blog the people reading it know who you are. Or sign up with the same username you use for Facebook, Twitter or other online accounts, and you only share the link with select people through email, criminals can't link to blog to a home address.

OK, there is one way they can, but I'll tell you how to avoid it.

4. Reverse image search

If you're posting photos in more than one place, then you're vulnerable to a reverse image search. This kind of search shows every place online a specific photo is posted. Here's an example.

You post a photo to your travel blog and can't resist putting it on Pinterest and maybe Twitter too. A criminal finds your travel blog, downloads the photo and then runs a reverse image search on it.

That leads them to Pinterest and now the burglar knows one of your online account usernames. If you used the same username for Facebook, Twitter or other online accounts, a quick Google Search is all they need to find those.

From there they might piece together your real name and then pop it into a people-search directory to come up with your home address. Click here to learn how to remove your information from online directories.

Want to see just how easy finding someone with a reverse image search can be? Jump over to this tip and learn how to run a reverse image search on yourself. It can give you a good sense of just how much information might be available to someone with just one of your pictures.

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