Users of social networking sites at more risk of burglary than before
13 December 2010
Digital Criminal 2 Report PDF: 716KB
- New ‘location-based’ services such as Facebook Places pose a significant risk, says Legal & General’s latest Digital Criminal Report
- 82% people are unaware that their private address information may be legally for sale on the internet
A combination of new location-based social networking sites and the availability of private residential addresses for sale on the internet such as 192.com, is putting users of sites such as Facebook and Foursquare more at risk from professional burglars than before, according to the latest Digital Criminal Report, prepared by Legal & General with the help of reformed burglar, Michael Fraser.
Facebook, which has 500 million users worldwide*, launched its ‘Facebook Places’ location service last month, which allows people to ‘check in’ to their current location and share their whereabouts with friends or followers. This information is being used by burglars to establish a list of targets, the report shows.
The research revealed that 40% of people agree that there is an inherent risk with location-based services as they tell would-be burglars their whereabouts. In spite of the awareness of the dangers, however, Foursquare, which works like Facebook Places, reached the three million user mark in August.** The potential increase in people using location-based applications could put more people at risk of burglary.
More than half, 54% of people say they would be worried about using a location-based social networking site such as Foursquare if they suspected burglars had access to their address. And according to the Digital Criminal Report, this information is more readily available than many people believe.
The report shows that anyone can purchase access to private address information via 192.com – even if the resident is ex-directory, so long as the resident is on the edited electoral roll. The vast majority 82% of respondents were not aware of this – and 81% said they would be angry or very angry to learn that their address information was available for sale on the internet, even if they are ex-directory.
The majority, 53% of people are ex-directory because of privacy concerns, with 38% believing that being listed in a directory is a security risk. More than three quarters, 78% of people agree that it should be illegal for websites to share personal information without asking permission.
Reformed burglar, Michael Fraser, star of the BBC's Beat The Burglar series, helped Legal & General develop the report. He said: "I believe it’s naïve to underestimate how important this issue is. I have no doubt whatsoever that burglars are using social networks firstly 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. The emerging popularity of location-based services adds a very worrying dimension to this problem.
“The combination of people being willing to give away valuable information about their possessions and their whereabouts to people they barely know, is a real risk. With sites like Google Street View allowing burglars to scope out a property from the comfort of the sofa, and the availability of private residential addresses for sale on sites like 192.com, it is a modern burglar’s dream.”
Legal & General’s research confirmed that a large proportion of users use social media sites to connect with people who are essentially strangers: 81% agree they’re a good way to keep in touch with someone they met on holiday, 73% feel that they are a good way to meet "friends of friends", and 45% agree they’re a good way of contacting people they don’t know but whose picture they fancy!
Gary Pickering, sales and marketing director at Legal & General’s general insurance business, said: “Since we commissioned our first Digital Criminal report in 2009, social networking services have moved on and incorporated even more information about people’s whereabouts. While we acknowledge the value of these services, 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. We’d certainly advise against listing your home as a location on sites such as FourSquare or Facebook Places, for example, to reduce the risk of being a target for burglary.
And always remember that a lot of the time, talking on a social media site is like talking out loud in the street or down the pub: you are never completely sure who might be listening in and picking up valuable information. This includes other people who might be giving away information about your house and whereabouts, like the kids or even guests who come round to visit or stay.”
The latest Digital Criminal Report shows that many people are still unaware of the potential security risks they face when online using social networks:
- 38% say they’ve seen phone numbers publicly visible on a social networking site (up from 34% last year)
- 17% say they’ve seen personal addresses publicly visible on a social networking site (no change from last year)
- 10% admit they’ve included their own phone number as part of their visible profile information (up from 9% last year)
Other findings include:
- The younger you are, the more likely you are to give information away concerning your whereabouts, with nearly six out of ten, 58% 16-24 year olds sharing their holiday plans - which could be a cause for concern for parents.
- 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 – 14% have included their mobile number on their profile compared with just 8% of women and 10% of men have included their address compared with just 5% of women.
More information on the issued raised, such as how to get personal information deleted from the 192.com site and a link to this year’s Digital Criminal Report is available at
Raise awareness of digital criminals by using the hashtag #protectmystuff
Notes to editors
The research was conducted by Opinion Matters, an independent pan-European market research agency, between 9 September and 17 September, 2010. A total of 2,092 regular social networking users (defined as using a social networking application at least once a week) were polled across the UK.