Posting pics from your tropical vacation? Sharing your weekend plans on social media? You may want to think twice before you hit “Share.” Sure, it’s fun to share photos of your beachfront view (and make the folks back home a little jealous), but advertising your vacation on social media may be a recipe for theft and burglary. And it’s not just your vacation plans that may cause problems. Oversharing details like, “Watching the game on our new 60-inch TV!” may give would-be burglars tempting information about the new electronics in your home.
Less than a decade ago, answering machine greetings like “You’ve reached the Jones family, but we can’t take your call because we’re hitting the slopes this weekend!” could move your home to the top of a burglar’s target list. Now, social media postings may do the same. The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) warns social media users to rethink their sharing habits.
Social media is an easy way to stay in touch with old and new friends, but you may want to consider taking the following precautions so that you may find your house and belongings just as you left them when you return.
You may want to check and make sure your posts are only being seen by certain “friends” or “followers.” Keep in mind that “Public” usually means the entire world can see your posts, says the NCPC.
Even if you block your profile from the whole world, friends may still tag you in posts or photos — exposing you to potential security risks. Manage how others tag you in posts by checking your privacy settings, says the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). Decide who can see posts and photos that other people tag you in. You can also choose to simply limit a few people — that way a potential burglar won’t see that your friend just tagged you on the beach in Jamaica.
You likely have high school classmates, casual acquaintances and former colleagues who you have not spoken to in years taking up space in your social network. While social media is great for making big announcements, remember that everything you say may lead to an invasion of your privacy (or worse). Advertising your travel details or expensive purchases to 400 of your “nearest and dearest” is neither smart nor safe. You may want to consider creating different lists to have the ability to control what postings are being seen by what people, says the NCSA.
Whether you’re “checking in” at your favorite restaurant or posting photos from the beach, once you put it out in cyberspace, you lose control. Checking in or tagging your location in photos can be fun, but doing so is also a public declaration of your whereabouts, says the NCPC. Use common sense, and be sure your check-ins are only shared with a select group of trusted friends rather than publicly displayed.
Remember, there’s no such thing as “total social media privacy” these days. Keep in mind, even people who use security settings on their accounts may be at risk of having their personal information shared with unintended audiences, says the FBI. So, it’s important to make sure you’re being careful each time you’re about to hit “Post.”
Originally published February 14, 2012. Updated in December 2014.