Thanks to your social media status updates, you might not be the only one looking forward to your summer vacation. Criminals may be watching and waiting to take advantage of your time away from home.
“I think most (of my customers) are completely unaware,” said Victor Freyer, an owner of Lemon Bay Computer Service in Englewood. “I think most customers aren’t concerned because they think, ‘Nobody’s interested in what I’m doing, but why would anybody be interested in knowing that I’m having supper at this restaurant?’”
Freyer cautioned that thieves can monitor social media sites like Facebook or Foursquare when you post your whereabouts.
“You have to assume that people are out there looking for opportunities and they’ll find the easiest first,” Freyer said. “It’s like in the old neighborhoods — locking a screen door really isn’t that much security, but if all your screen doors are locked except one, the burglar is going to go into the one that’s not locked. It’s a crime of opportunity.”
Freyer said the biggest risk to a person’s financial security is also online.
“The biggest financial impact is getting malware on your machine and compromising your accounts,” he said. “There is more organized effort in the crime community internationally. The casual crime like the crook who monitors Facebook is more a crime of opportunity rather than a concerted effort. Certainly you lose the contents of your house, but that’s less valuable than losing your online reputation and credit. Typically with our demographic, with our retirees and snowbirds, they’re often affluent, but naïve about social media. I think there’s a fair amount of risk being in the Englewood community.”
Capt. Les Partington, commander of the criminal investigations division with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, said people need to be more vigilant when it comes to their Internet browsing habits.
“People need to use ‘https’ prefix to browse sites securely,” Partington said. “People need to use common sense. Private matters should stay private.” Partington said the biggest issue in his department is identity theft.
“We have cases that originate from operations like California and overseas,” he said. “Much of the theft occurs online. Setting privacy settings is important. Younger people tend to be victims because they’re wide open. We’ll put out tips if we see surges. You don’t want to give out anything related (that can compromise your) financial info.”
Partington cautions it’s not only criminals who will monitor social media, employers will as well. The sheriff’s office will use social media as part of an investigation.
Wendy Rose, spokeswoman for Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, recalled a series of burglaries in September 2010 in New Hampshire that led to the SCSO circulating a link from a New York Times blog.
“There were 18 homes burglarized because the thieves were monitoring Facebook activity from the occupant postings of their own location,” Rose said. “There’s a lot of people talking about upcoming trips. You want to limit (presenting) the information yourself and from your kids or grandkids. The best time to share the information about a vacation is when you get back.”
Freyer offers some advice.
“Don’t alert your people to your whereabouts. It’s a valuable piece of information where you are,” he said. “Don’t post, ‘Oh my God! Our security system is out and we can’t get ADT to come!’ Save your rants for something fun. Approach everything with caution.”