Is Social Media Activity Putting You at Risk?
Winter can be a busy time for travel. Snowbirds try to escape the cold. Grandparents long to visit loved ones in distant cities. Jetsetters want to ring in the New Year in a memorable locale.
Regardless of the season, travel brings photo opportunities that are prime for posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. But fraud-savvy people think twice before engaging in what's known as "instabragging." Here are examples of what could potentially go wrong and some protective measures to consider.
Social Media Risks
In 2017, Pew Research reported that seven in 10 Americans use social media, and more users join every day. This can be a fun way to connect with friends and relatives. But it's important to recognize that your "friends" aren't the only ones who might follow your posts and view your photos. Thieves also troll social media for signs that your house is empty or that you own something valuable -- and then they strike.
No one tracks the number of thieves who found their "in" from social media. But many criminals admit that an empty house provides an opportunity for theft -- and social media activity can tell them when you're away or when you purchase an expensive item.
Consider Maria and Pat, who were excited to visit their grandchildren for Thanksgiving. But they needed someone to watch their cat Buddy. So, Maria turned to their neighborhood Facebook group for petsitter recommendations. Her post included the couple's street name and the dates they'd be out of town.
When Maria and Pat returned home, Buddy was safe, but several electronic devices were missing. The police eventually caught the thief who had stolen from several neighbors over the holiday weekend. He told police officers that social media posts had led him to target specific victims that he knew were traveling.
Something as seemingly harmless as checking in at the airport or a fancy restaurant announces to criminals that you're away from home. It's like leaving your front door unlocked and your windows open while you're out -- which is why some insurance companies argue that lax social media practices may violate the reasonable care provision of homeowners' or renters' policies.
An insurance policy's reasonable care clause stipulates that policyholders must take reasonable measures to protect their homes from thieves, such as locking doors and turning on security systems. Insurance companies could, in theory, deny a claim if you've posted information that causes thieves to target you. But, if you're caught engaging in irresponsible instabragging, the insurance company is more likely to increase your rates or cancel your policy after paying a claim.
It's important to exercise caution on social media -- even when you're not traveling -- to safeguard your belongings and your family from sharing too much on social media. Start by thinking about how a thief could use your posts against you.
Consider this example: On Christmas night, Jaime posts a picture of her dad, watching football in front of his new 52-inch flat-screen television. Her brother Johnny comments that Dad seems frustrated that he couldn't get his new "girlfriend" (Alexa) to turn down the volume. Aunt Polly, who lives across town, comments that she can't wait for Dad to visit on New Year's Day.
It all sounds like playful banter -- unless you're a thief who now knows that:
- Dad owns two valuable pieces of electronic equipment (a TV and a device with a digital assistant), and
- Dad's house will likely be empty on New Year's Day.
Here, the would-be thief was thwarted, because Mom didn't accompany Dad on his visit to Aunt Polly's house. However, this scenario also shows how social media posts can put not only your assets at risk, but also your loved ones.
10 Safety Tips
To avoid sharing too much information, consider these 10 smart social media practices:
1. Keep social media pages and posts private.
2. Don't provide your address or other personal information on any social media platform.
3. Don't brag about expensive purchases or trips.
4. Don't share photos from inside or outside your home. (These pictures can tell thieves where you live and what you own.)
5. Don't mention any smashed windows or broken alarms in your home.
6. Accept friend requests only from people you legitimately know.
7. Never announce when you're going on a vacation or traveling for work.
8. Never announce your check-in at airports, vacation destinations or local restaurants.
9. Use social media groups with caution. Although these groups limit access to members only, they can quickly grow, and there may be no one monitoring who's invited to join the group.
10. Share these tips with friends and family members, especially kids and grandkids who constantly post on social media. Young people are often more likely to brag and less diligent about security issues.
Also, consider investing in a home security system to prevent theft. These systems have become more affordable and user-friendly in recent years. Additionally, many systems now include cameras and can be accessed remotely with a laptop or smartphone.
Does this mean that you can never post pictures from your winter getaway? Of course not. Instabragging about your travel or dining experiences is usually safe once you've returned home. But theft prevention should always be in the back of your mind when posting on social media.