Consumer: Digital criminals on the festive prowl

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Social media users are leaving themselves at risk by sharing too much online. Aisha Iqbal reports.

social media users are being urged not to give thieves an early Christmas present by leaving themselves open to crime.

New research has found that a staggering 84 per cent of 18-35 year olds in Yorkshire are sharing photos and information on social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, that could put them, their possessions and their homes at risk.

As Christmas is a time of year when criminal activity can peak, young social media users who are posting photos and other information, such as their location, could put themselves at risk of having their possessions being stolen or their homes burgled by the new generation of ‘Insta-grabbers’.

Digital criminals are able to piece together where a person lives, what they own and when they are out of their home, making them easy targets for the determined burglars who scan social media sites for this type of information.

Legal & General’s Digital Criminal 2013: Insta-grabbers research has also been used as the base to identify six typologies for young social media users, based on their use of social media sites.

‘Oversharers’ and ‘Insta-braggers’ were established as the types that are most at risk from Insta-grabbers as they are both most likely to post real time photos.

The research found that 22 per cent of Facebook users, 24 per cent of Instagram users and 14 of Twitter user said that they will post images of newly bought items.

And 18 per cent of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram users said that they will geo-tag their location.

Worryingly, young social media users are sharing this potentially risky information with strangers, as the research also reveals that almost two thirds of young social media users are sharing information with people they don’t know and may not trust.

Mike Fraser, reformed burglar, security expert and star of BBC’s Beat the Burglar said: “When people post their whereabouts or photos of their possessions online they are doing it to have fun and to share their life with their friends, but they rarely think about the possible implications.

“Legal & General’s research shows that there are young people out there who still don’t realise these posts can make them a much more likely target to digital criminals.

“Christmas is a busy period for burglars who know that many homes will be full of the latest gadgets and must-have gifts. Digital criminals will be looking to exploit lax privacy settings to discover when people are out of their home, perhaps at a Christmas party, or to find out what new purchases people have that are worth stealing.

“Social media networks are a great way to stay in touch, but social media users need to take the time to think about what they are actually doing and who, besides their real friends, might also be picking up that information.”

Rob Regan, director for Legal & General’s insurance business, said: “The latest research would appear to show that the concerns about the use of social media and the risk from digital criminals are still very current.

“Digital criminals are still taking advantage of the continuing popularity of social media networks, such as Instagram, which has grown in popularity in the last year as well as Facebook and Twitter. Many users, especially the ‘Over-sharers’ and ‘Insta-braggers’, are putting themselves, their homes and their possessions at risk. Unfortunately, there are users who are posting personal information that could unwittingly make them more vulnerable to these digital criminals.

“Taking photos is fun and we actually encourage people to take photos of their valued possessions as these can be really helpful if they should need to make an insurance claim in validating any items lost or stolen. But they should just check what is in the images that they are sharing and the information that they are posting online before they are uploaded onto social media sites.”

See the Dos and Don’ts of Social Media at www.legalandgeneral.com/socialmediatips.

Social media crime risks in numbers

The research also found that over two thirds of those social media users surveyed admit they are sharing information with people they don’t know and may not trust.

Nearly six in ten of the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram users surveyed in Yorkshire said that plan to post information letting their friends know when they are away from home this Christmas such as when they are at parties.

Over a third have no privacy settings for one or more of their social networks.

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