Posting a social media status update indicating you're on vacation is as good as leaving the front door of your home wide open, according to a new study showing how burglars use social networks to scope out potential targets.
Among 50 ex-burglars in the United Kingdom, 78 percent said thieves monitor Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare before they pinpoint a specific house to rob. The burglars, according to the Credit Sesame study, check people's status updates: if someone posts pictures on Facebook from a vacation they're currently on, or posts a message on Twitter saying they're away for the weekend, the crooks immediately know they've got a lock on a home to break into.
Of course, you'd never actually leave your front door wide open if you went on vacation, but when it comes to sharing online, people don't seem to equate a Foursquare check-in or a vacation pic with the fact that they're potentially alerting robbers that they're not home.
Credit Sesame's study cited a MetLife Auto & Homes report that said 15 percent of Americans use social media to report that they've left the home, while 35 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 to 34 check in or tweet about their location.
The all-seeing eye of Google Street View gives burglars another piece of ammunition; 74 percent of the ex-thieves polled said crooks use Street View to scope out homes before they strike.
Unlike the way they're often portrayed in the movies, burglars don't always work under the cover of darkness. Credit Sesame reported that in 2010, 38.1 percent of robberies occurred during the day, as opposed to 20.5 percent at night. The average value of stolen goods during a daytime break-in was $2,158.
Fortunately, there are ways to stay on your favorite social networks without immediately compromising the security of your home and your family's safety. On Facebook and Twitter, make sure you adjust your privacy settings to only allow your friends to see your content, don't add friends you don't know, don't announce in a status update or anywhere else that you will be heading out of town, and wait until you get back home to post pictures from your vacation.
A few tips to divert crooks' attention from your home while you're gone: lock your doors and windows, make your home appear occupied, have a friend or neighbor collect your mail and newspapers so they don't pile up and put timers on lights and televisions so they turn on and off to mimic your normal home routine.