Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Beware the link between online sharing, offline crime

A gang in New Hampshire used Facebook postings to plan a series of burglaries - a crime spree that's an important reminder about potential links between online information and offline crime risks.

Beware the link between online sharing, offline crime

The Internet lately seems awash with lists, so I hesitate to share another.  But this one from Linda Criddle, president of the Safe Internet Alliance, struck me as especially useful - perhaps because I recently returned from several weeks of vacation and travel, and felt some regret that I didn't leave a "gone fishin'" message on my blog.

Criddle would probably tell me that I did the right thing.  As she points out in this list, which her organization recirculated after a PC World report that a gang in Nashua, N.H., used Facebook information to plan a series of burglaries, people innocently post all sorts of information - words and pictures - that can be a tool for criminals, online and offline.

It's sad to say, but even sharing vacation photos from the road can be risky if you don't pay adequate protection to Internet privacy and security. Nothing says "I'm not home" quite so explicitly as "Here are today's fantastic photos of Terri at the Taj Mahal."

Here's Criddle's list of 11 Things an Online Criminal Will Never Tell You:

1) Posting detailed profile information that tells me where you live and your full name – makes finding you, or stealing your identity, that much easier. Protect your identity and location.

2) A picture really does paint a thousand words. What you don’t tell me in text, you are likely to give away in photos – and the text under photos. You see a cute photo. I see who you are, your age, your socio-economic status, and frequently your possessions, your home, friends and more. I use this information to customize spam and scams, break into your home, know what to steal, take your identity, or threaten a family member. Keep photos of family, friends, possessions and homes private.Up-to-date security software is critical to blocking ID theft, robberies, and other real-world crimes.

3) Sharing information about possessions in your blog and social networking posts ensures I won’t break into homes with nothing interesting to steal. Keep information about your possessions private.

4) There is a good chance you know me. While organized crime rings do a lot of damage, lots of ID theft and home robberies are done by people you, or family members know.

5) Don’t tell me when you’re away. Posting content that tells me you are (or will be) away from home or out of town saves me the bother of wasting gas looking for empty homes – and the worry that someone will be back sooner than I expect. Keep information about your travel schedule (even to team practices) private. I won’t leave a business card explaining why I knew to break in.

6) Strong passwords really are your best friend. I’m not going to waste my time trying to hack your password when I can find hundreds of others with weak passwords who make it easy for me.

7) I like bridal and baby registry websites – I can see exactly what has been purchased for you, and when it will arrive. With any luck, it will still be in original packaging. The types of gifts you request shows your economic status, and lets me know if there may be other interesting items to steal. When you include a blog in your registry, you typically tell me when you will be away from home on that honeymoon or at the hospital. Memorial websites are almost as useful. Use a site that allows you to set privacy boundaries.

8) Chances are you store your security codes and financial information on your home computer; an unprotected computer is like handing me the keys to your house – and your checkbook.

9) I will exploit your emotions. If you are happy, I’ll share your joy as you over-share information. If you are sad, I’ll give you a shoulder to cry on as I build your trust and learn your secrets. If you’re stressed about money, I’ve got a get rich quick scheme. If you want romance, I’m your guy/gal as I build your trust.. see a theme here? The more you share, the better my chances of breaking in, stealing your car, hijacking your ID, and so on.

10) Checking your credit report is FREE; even better, freeze your credit so I can’t take out new credit in your name. The more time that passes before you detect what I’m doing, the bigger your problem becomes.

11) Take your time. I make my money when you to act without thinking. I want you to panic when I make a pop-up saying your computer is infected, rush to accept an offer that’s too good to be true, or offers to ‘save’ you money, or get your ‘lottery winnings’, or help me in my ‘hour of need’. If you take the time to think things through you and check the facts, you will avoid my well-placed-but-malicious links, are much less likely to give away your information, or fall for my exploits.

Criddle mentions that her list was inspired by Dr. Mercola's "13 Things a Burglar Will Never Tell You," so I should pass along that credit, too.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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