FBI isn’t the only one tracking your Twits.

– Social media is ‘internet shopping for burglars’, says expert –

Users of social networking sites are giving away vital information about themselves and their whereabouts that is being used by professional burglars to establish a list of targets, according to a new report, The Digital Criminal, prepared by Legal & General with the help of reformed burglar Michael Fraser.

Nearly four in ten, 38% of users of sites such as Facebook and Twitter have posted status updates detailing their holiday plans and a third, 33% of people have posted status updates saying that they are away for the weekend. 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.

The report found that nearly a quarter, 23% of social media users have discussed holiday plans “wall-to-wall” – outside the privacy of their own page – and 17% of users reported seeing people’s residential addresses posted on pages that can be seen by strangers.

In support of the report, an experiment was conducted to see how many UK social media users would accept a ‘friend’ invitation from a complete stranger. Of 100 ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ requests issued to strangers selected at random, 13 per cent were accepted on Facebook and 92 per cent on Twitter, without any checks. 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.

Reformed burglar, Michael Fraser, star of the BBC’s Beat The Burglar series, helped Legal & General develop the report. He said: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that burglars are using social networks to develop relationships with people 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, and then target appropriate victims.

Michael continued; “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 using other internet sites like Google Street View, all from the comfort of the sofa. It scares me to see how many people are prepared to give away valuable information about themselves, to people they simply don’t know well enough – if at all.”

Legal & General’s research confirmed that a large proportion of users use social media sites to connect with people who are essentially strangers: 79% think they are a great way to track down people they “met on holiday”, three quarters, 75% feel that they are a good way to meet “friends of friends”, and nearly half of people, 47% like to use sites to meet new people based only on the person having a nice picture.

Michael Fraser added: “In just one week, a professional burglar, or a team, can use social networking sites to harvest dozens of potential targets. New users of Facebook, for example, will be a key target, as they are keen to build up their number of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’. People with specific interests are also easy targets. Pet owners are a good example – their home security is often not of a sufficiently high level, as they rely on their dog for security, have cat flaps that weaken a back door, or leave their alarms turned off.

For a burglar, this kind of information is power – it breeds confidence. Once you start seeing people’s holiday movements, for example, you know when they are leaving their home unattended. By giving away this information, people are making the burglar’s job a lot easier.”

The Digital Criminal report is available to download from the Legal & General media centre at www.legalandgeneralgroup.com/DigitalCriminal. The report details the personality types that burglars will target online and offers advice on the type of information that is potentially valuable to a burglar as well as providing tips to social media network users.

Garry Skelton, Marketing Director of Legal & General’s general insurance business, said: “The world has changed drastically with the advent of the internet and the amazing array of social media sites now available to contact people. The majority of that change is good and there is no question that social media sites are a wonderful way to share experiences with friends. However, it is imperative that people are aware that there is always a criminal fraternity that will seek to exploit such change.”

Garry continued: “People need to be very wary about sharing information that could put them or their homes at risk, particularly if this is with people that they don’t really know. Always be aware that a lot of the time, talking on a social media site, such as Facebook, is like talking out loud in the street or down the pub: you are never completely sure who might be listening in.”

Other findings include:

* Nearly half, 48% of respondents have no worries about the security or privacy of social networking sites.
* Of all social networking sites, Facebook creates the most concern with 46% of respondents feeling that there are some security and privacy risks.
* The younger you are, the more likely you are to give information away concerning your whereabouts, with nearly two-thirds, 64% of 16-24 year olds sharing their holiday plans – which could be a cause for concern for parents.
* 34% of respondents have seen somebody else’s phone number posted on their social networking profile.
* Nearly one in ten, 9% of respondents have included their own phone number and 5% have included their address in the personal information section of social networking sites visible to friends.
* Some people are sharing mobile numbers and addresses directly with strangers: 6% have written their phone number and 3% have written their address “wall-to-wall” or on pages open to those who are not accepted contacts.
* Men are more blasé about personal information – 13% have included their mobile number on their profile compared with just 7% of women and 9% of men have included their address compared with just 4% of women.
* 70% of users think that social media sites are a great place to share photos of their cool new purchases and presents.

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