TAMPA (WFLA) – Social media has become a way of life for many. But what you post, even when you try to be careful, could put you and your family in danger.
That’s because crooks who want to steal your identity, burglarize your home – or worse – are watching.
Law enforcement across the country is warning social media posters that many of the crooks behind bars now find victim information using social media. They can find things like your address, when you are away for long periods of time, and what kind of valuables you may have in your home.
Many people know this could happen but can’t resist posting great detail about their lives on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
“I look at it as something fun and enjoyable for me, not so much as something bad,” said Chloe Hand, laptop in hand at a coffee shop.
Hand calls herself a “social media influencer.” She’s all over the internet – on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. She concentrates on beauty and fashion, and even has her own YouTube channel.
Hand says she knows there are dangers with “over sharing” online and she tries to limit personal information. However, she said, growing your social media presence often means taking a risk.”
“There was a while when I kept everything private, very secure, but once I started getting more into being a social media influencer and photography and YouTube, it’s kind of important to let everybody access your things so you can get more followers,” Hand said. “I guess it’s the risk you take.”
Others, like Russ Johnson, take a different approach. Johnson says he and his wife have used Facebook for years, but they’ve heard stories of crooks using social media posts to stalk victims. Now, they are much more careful.
“So, I’ve got a 16-year-old daughter, so we’ve really been dialing it down about not posting things like locations,” Johnson said.
One of the stories that shocked Johnson into taking a closer look at social media was when Kim Kardashian was robbed at her Paris hotel in October 2016. She was bound, gagged an robbed by armed gunmen, as they took nearly $10 million in jewlery. Police said social media played a role in the robbery, particularly a photo Kardashian posted just days before the attack. It showed her new, massive diamond ring.
That type of social media mistake isn’t just one celebrities make. Social media guru Jonathan Sellers demonstrated that for 8 On Your Side by a simple Facebook search. It didn’t take him long to find a Pinellas County woman’s post about her new diamond necklace, complete with a picture.
“Here’s someone who said, ‘My new diamond necklace. I love it it,” Sellers said. “I do, too, so now I can go to their page and I learn all about them. She’s local.”
Those details were easily found because the woman’s Facebook page was marked public.
And it’s not just your posts you need to worry about. Your cell phone may embed GPS location data in your pictures.
Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, said the office has interviewed burglars who used social media. He said crooks use social media posts to plan their crimes.
“They’re like puzzle pieces, and the more puzzle pieces they have, the more opportunity they have to steal your identity. And not only steal your identity but sometimes go to your house and break into it because they know you’re not going to be there,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon recommends you turn off your “location” services in your settings on your phone. Also, never share your address. It’s also recommended to refrain posting vacation pictures until after you are safely back at home.
Sellers, the social media expert, recommends you clean up your friends list and make sure you only have friends on your pages. Also, consider making posts visible only to friends instead of “friends of friends.”
“You want to be able to share the things that are important to you,” Sellers said. “But it’s about making sure your network is people that you know and trust.”
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