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Did burglars find victims via Facebook?

Thieves may have targeted one 'friend' who announced his vacation online. Be judicious, but good locks are more important.

By Teresa Mears Sep 13, 2010 2:08PM

Reports that a burglary ring in New Hampshire targeted 50 homes and netted up to $200,000 in stolen goods after reading Facebook status updates that the owners would be away have been greatly exaggerated.

One home might have been targeted that way. Or maybe two.

 

A ring apparently did burglarize at least 18 homes, but most were chosen the old-fashioned way -- by keeping an eye on the neighborhood and pinpointing houses where no one was  home and that were easy to enter. And the home that was chosen because of a Facebook posting that the owner would be away? Well, it seems as if the thief was a "friend" of the victim. Some friend.

 

While police initially said the thieves found their victims through Facebook, CNET's Caroline McCarthy did a little digging and got this e-mail response from Facebook:

We've been in contact with the Nashua police, and they confirmed that while they have an ongoing investigation and have already made a number of arrests, the only Facebook link was that one of those arrested had a Facebook friend who posted about leaving town in the near future (which is why they believe that home was targeted) and it had nothing to do with Facebook Places. The police confirmed that the other burglaries had nothing to do with Facebook altogether.

And Suzanne Choney of MSNBC.com reported:

Nashua police detective Dan Archambault told MSNBC.com that most of the burglaries involved homes that were "cased" by the suspects; two of the burglaries were tied to "posts on Facebook about being away on vacation ... Facebook Places had nothing to do with it (to our knowledge)."

People are often afraid of new technology and we all know it is theoretically possible for someone to see from your status updates that you are away and then break into your home. It happened in New Albany, Ind., earlier this year, when a woman's home was allegedly burglarized by a childhood friend she hadn't seen in 15 or 20 years. Fortunately for her, she had recently installed security cameras inside the house and the thief was identified quickly after she posted the surveillance photos on Facebook.

The website JustRobMe.com (now defunct) was created to point up the dangers of sharing too much information online, through Facebook, Twitter or other location-based applications. All Facebook provides a good tutorial for updating your Facebook privacy settings.

 

Still, it's not as if shunning Facebook is one's best defense against home burglary.

You may be advertising to more burglars by putting the box from your new flat-screen TV on the curb than you are posting photos of it on Facebook, though we don't advise either.

 

The experience of the few people who have been victims does provide two reminders:

  • Know the people who are reading your FB updates. We have all been happy to be reunited on Facebook with people we haven't seen in decades. The truth is, we don't really know those people. What may be even more important is that we don't know their children or their significant others. Ne'er-do-well relatives are another risk, since they likely know exactly where you live.
  • Know the people around you. Crimes ranging from identity theft to murder are often committed by friends and acquaintances of the victims. Know your neighbors and keep those you trust informed when you travel, so they can watch for thieves trying to enter your house. Keep a close watch on people who work inside your home and be wary of door-to-door salesmen, who sometimes are casing homes for burglary.

Yes, update your privacy settings on Facebook. Be judicious in what you post. Only a fool would post "We took all the jewelry out of the safe deposit box and brought it home because our bank went under." But your greatest economic danger from Facebook postings may be from employers, tax collectors or divorce lawyers, not burglars.

The average burglar is looking for a house that's easy to break into without getting caught. Make it hard for him to get into your house, and he'll move on. Even if he did read about your vacation on Facebook.

 

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