Burglars use Facebook, Twitter

2009-08-28 07:56

Sydney - Facebook users enthusing about an upcoming holiday or a recently purchased high-tech gadget may not just be telling their friends but also potential burglars, warns an insurance company.

A survey of 2 092 social media users by British-based Legal & General found nearly four in ten, or 38%, of people using social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter post details about holiday plans and 33% details of a weekend away.

"Coupled with the finding that an alarmingly high proportion of users are prepared to be 'friends' online with people they don't really know, this presents a serious risk to the security of people's home and contents," said the insurer.

In a report called "The Digital Criminal", Legal & General said people used social media sites to connect with people who were essentially strangers, which could provide potential thieves with vital, personal information.

To test how readily people accepted "friends" online, Legal & General's survey, conducted by European market researcher Opinion Matters, involved sending out 100 "friend" or "follow" requests to strangers selected at random.

Of those 13% were accepted on Facebook and 92% on Twitter - without any checks.

But despite these new "friends", the survey found that nearly two-thirds, or 64%, of 16-24 year olds shared their holiday plans, with younger users the most likely to give away information about their whereabouts.

'Internet shopping for burglars'

Men were found to be quite relaxed about giving personal information online, with 13% including their cellphone number on their profile compared with 7% of women. Nine percent of men also posted their address compared to 4% of women.

"This reaction could result in a complete stranger potentially being able to learn about a person's interests, location and movements in and out of their home," said Legal & General.

Reformed burglar Michael Fraser, who appears in BBC's Beat The Burglar series and helped Legal & General prepare the report, said this kind of information was being used by professional burglars to establish a list of targets.

As well as information about trips away, people were posting party photos showing the interiors of homes and also chatting about their cool new purchases and presents.

"I call it "Internet shopping for burglars". It is incredibly easy to use social networking sites to target people, and then scope out more information on their actual home ... all from the comfort of the sofa," said Fraser in a statement.

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that burglars are using social networks to develop relationships with people to identify likely targets."