If you’re a regular user of the internet then chances are you have a social media account with one of the main providers. The majority of us use Facebook, Twitter or both to various degrees, but are you aware of how sharing personal information can put you at risk?

Home Security

One of the growing concerns among security experts is the rise in home burglaries that can be directly attributed to the victim’s updates on one of these major sites. If you can’t see why criminals would be interested in your domestic revelations, then consider this survey from the UK, which reveals that around four in five convicted burglars used social websites in order to plan their crime.

Having established who to target, those criminals then use Google Streetview as a handy way to virtually ‘case the joint’ before making their strike.

Loose (virtual) lips

But how does the whole process of using Facebook and Twitter to plan a burglary work? Perhaps the easiest way to answer that question is to look at the case of Arizona man Israel Hyman, who is convinced that a series of tweets led to a break-in at his home while his family was on vacation.

Back in 2009, Mr. Hyman claimed around 2,000 Twitter followers. As the family prepared for their trip to Kansas, various tweets revealed that they were, “preparing to head out of town,” that they had “another 10 hours of driving ahead,” and finally, that they “made it to Kansas City.”

While away from home, burglars called at the Hyman residence and stole thousands of dollars’ worth of items that formed part of his video equipment sales business , leaving the shocked tweeter in no doubt as to why he was targeted.

“My wife thinks it could be a random thing, but I just have my suspicions,” he revealed to the Associated Press. “They didn’t take any of our normal consumer electronics.”

Sadly, this isn’t just an isolated case, and as we’ve already seen from the 2011 UK survey, thieves are regularly accessing Twitter and Facebook to gather information such as that provided by Mr. Hyman. Stories surrounding the link between crime and careless Tweets are starting to become commonplace.

Further implications

Social Media Burglaries have caught the eye of the press, but they haven’t escaped the attention of insurance companies either. Underwriters are also concerned at what they call ‘internet shopping for thieves,’ and that could have certain implications as far as your homeowners insurance is concerned.

Reformed thief Michael Fraser, who had been assisting with a TV programme in the UK called ‘Beat the Burglar’ said:

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that burglars are using social networks to identify likely targets.  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.”

Increased cases are likely to lead to a rise in premiums, but could a careless policyholder miss out on claim payments altogether if it’s proved that social media updates led criminals to their home?

How to stay safe

It’s very straightforward for criminals to use Twitter in this way because, unless Tweets are protected, anyone can read a status update. You don’t even have to follow that person in order to read them, and if you use Twitter for business, as Mr. Hyman did, it’s a very powerful marketing tool that should be left open for new clients to read.

However, you can stay secure simply by not revealing your exact location. We all like to let others know just how much we’re enjoying our holiday, but do we really need the world to know that we’re away from home?

Consider waiting to update until you return. That’s a perfect time to share all your photos and your stories while making it clear to whoever’s watching that you’re back at home and the place is fully occupied.

In addition, look at installing a security system to keep an eye on things for you while you’re gone. Remember how burglars like to use Google Streetview in order to assess your property and look for vulnerable access points? The majority of criminals who took part in the UK survey confirmed that they wouldn’t have even attempted a break in had they been made aware of an effective deterrent of this kind.

Social media is fun and useful, but it helps to be aware of the consequences of sharing too much personal information. As we’ve already seen, burglars do use platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to identify new targets — so be careful about your updates and make sure that your home security is operative and as up to date as possible.