burglar"I'm so excited!! The family and I are headed to Myrtle Beach for the next week. We finally got the car all packed up with beach gear galore. We'll be sure to post pics after :)"

We have all seen a post similar to this. In fact, you may be guilty of having posted something like this yourself! If you and your family are headed out on vacation sometime in the remaining weeks of summer, the worst thing that you can do is share this information online. While you can limit viewership of your social media to only those on your friends list, you still run the risk of them mentioning that they'll be going out with you or that you'll be away from home for an extended period of time. This type of online announcement has the potential to result in a burglary of your home.

Oversharing Is Commonplace

The Association of British Insurers reports that 40% of web users share their holiday plans online and 30% share their plans for the weekend online. This is considered “oversharing”, especially if these users are sharing the information with social media accounts that aren't privacy protected. Another recent study of former burglars found that more than 75% of the subjects believe that current burglars use social media to case houses.

There are numerous stories about people updating their Facebook statuses regarding their plans for the evening and returning home to find their valuables missing. Updating your social media accounts or your website to let the world know that you'll be away from your home is the equivalent to a 1990's era answering machine message stating that a family is away from home due to a vacation. Stories like this have inspired the creation of numerous websites like www.PleaseRobMe.com that teach social media users how to approach sharing personal information online.

Be Overly Cautious

Even if you limit your personal posts to the eyes of your social circle, you are still at risk. Acquaintances come and go over time and not all of them are as honest as you would like to believe. Or, consider this hypothetical: you tweet that you are headed off to a concert for the evening and ten of your closest friends re-tweet the message as they are also enthusiastic about the upcoming event. This kind of exposure advertises your absense to potentially thousands of strangers.

Overshare Solutions

There is a happy medium between abstaining from social media and sharing all of your plans online:

  1. Be very conscious of the material that you share. Never share anything that indicates your work schedule, your vacation plans, the times and dates of your social engagements and any other information that could tip off a potential burglar to the fact that you won't be home at a certain time.

  2. Always update your social media privacy options so that only your closest family and friends can access your updates. To do this on Facebook, go to the top menu bar, click “Home” and then click “Privacy Settings”. From there you can limit your sharing options to provide information only with those on your “friends” list.

  3. Once you cut ties with a friend, remove him from your “friends” list so that he won't be able to see the information that you share.

  4. Double check your privacy settings by searching the Internet for your name and your Twitter handle. Make sure that no sensitive information pops up in the search results. Be sure to search Facebook as well so you can get an idea of how much information you are sharing.

  5. Beware that your friends can “tag” you in photos and the public can see your whereabouts if your friends' social media accounts are viewable by the public. Tell your friends that you prefer that they make their accounts private if they are going to tag you in any photos. Also, don't be afraid to tell them that you'd prefer that they not tag you in any photos that show you away from home. You can even control Facebook tag settings to avoid security risks by going to the “How Tags Work” section, turning on “Tag Review” and editing your “Maximum Timeline Visibility”.

Online "Check-ins"

Beware of "checking in" while you are out and about with social media tools like Foursquare. While it is tempting to check-in at as many spots as possible and “become the Mayor”, you never know who is accessing your updates. As soon as you share this information online, you immediately lose control. Your friends might tweet a message like, “Meeting Tommy at Regal for Sin City 2!” and your whereabouts will be instantly known by hundreds or thousands of people who you've never met.

So, employ common sense. Limit your check-in access to only a small group of close friends and family members. You can always pick up the phone or sending a text to the intended party instead of oversharing online. Remember, contacting someone directly is always more meaningful than posting a generic message on social media for your followers to read.

Keep Tabs on Your Kids' Social Posts

In the connected world that teens and tweens are accustomed to, they are often all-too-willing to share vacation and location updates with friends. In addition to communicating the dangers of these posts, parents can also use uKnowKids to keep tabs on teens' and tweens' digital postings. Through this tool, parents can stay privvy to what kind of information kids are sharing with the world.

Even some of the smartest teens and tweens can make a lapse in judgement when deciphering which details of their lives they wish to share with friends and followers. Use uKnowKids as a check to ensure that the personal details of their whereabouts, whether they're on vaction or are just hanging out at a friend's house, stay personal.

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Tim Woda
Tim Woda is an Internet safety expert, and a passionate advocate for empowering families and protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers. Woda was on the founding team of buySAFE, an Internet trust and safety company, and he started working on child safety issues after his son was targeted by a child predator online. While his son was unharmed, the incident led Woda to kick-start uKnow.com. You can follow Tim on Twitter or on his blog.