Burglars Could Exploit Social Networking Sites

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Social networkers using sites like Facebook or Twitter may be leaving themselves open to burglery due to the personal information so many openly share, a report from insurance company Legal & General warns

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. So found a survey sponsored by British insurance firm Legal & General and conducted by Opinion Matters, an independent pan-European market research agency.

The report, “The Digital Criminal,” found that 38 percent of users of sites such as Facebook and Twitter have posted status updates detailing their holiday plans and a third of people have posted status updates saying that they are away for the weekend.

The survey, conducted between 24 July and 3 Aug, 2009, polled a total of 2,092 regular social networking users (defined as using a social networking application at least once a week) across the U.K. The report found nearly half (48 percent) of respondents have no worries about the security or privacy of social networking sites, while 23 percent of social media users have discussed holiday plans “wall-to-wall”—outside the privacy of their own page. Seventeen percent of users reported seeing people’s residential addresses posted on pages that can be seen by strangers.

Of all social networking sites, Facebook creates the most concern, with 46 percent of respondents feeling that there are some security and privacy risks. Nearly one in 10 respondents has included their own phone number and 5 percent have included their address in the personal information section of social networking sites visible to friends. “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 cautioned.

In support of the report, an experiment was conducted to see how many U.K. 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 percent were accepted on Facebook and 92 percent 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.

The report found that a large proportion of users use social media sites to connect with people who are essentially strangers: 79 percent think they are a great way to track down people they “met on holiday,” 75 percent feel that they are a good way to meet “friends of friends,” and nearly half of people polled (47 percent) like to use sites to meet new people based only on the person having a nice picture.

Garry Skelton, marketing director of Legal & General’s general insurance business, said 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.

“The world has changed drastically with the advent of the Internet and the amazing array of social media sites now available to contact people,” he said. “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.”

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