Category Archives: Prevention Tips

A Private Phone is a Happy Phone

I wrote last week about fears that posting your vacation plans can tip off burglars to hit your house. Because technology moves so quickly, those fears almost seem out-of-date already. This comes from concerns about the location data our phones and other devices provide for Facebook Places, Foursquare, Google Latitude, and others.

For a quick overview of two sides of this issue, see a very good Wired magazine article about how your phone can give away your location and tag your social media with it and a new analysis from Mainstreet.com.

Get to know the privacy settings for your phone and service provider as well as for your apps.  Look here for a good list of tips.  But – security experts say that the basic location data from your device may be available regardless of how you change your options. Perhaps we’re learning to live with this (as the Mainstreet article indicates) but living with new technology doesn’t have to mean giving up your safety and security.

The trend is to less and less privacy. A new phone app called Color has been designed with no privacy at all. It shares your photo’s with any other Color user you come into proximity with. In a CNET interview, the founder stated, “You’ll see their pictures; you’ll see their life; it’s all public…everything they take, you have; everything you take, they have.”

Here is Apple’s response to recent events. Apple Officially Responds to Location Tracking Controversy

Being safe requires being aware. The basis of crime prevention is really risk assessment and decisions we make about trade-offs.

If you are someone who uploads pics to Flickr and is very connected through social media, you can still cut down on how much real info you share (your home address and your exact travel plans) and you can make good use of traditional burglary prevention strategies such as those described last week.

And like the case of making it harder for burglars discussed last week, if your phone’s information isn’t easy to get into, and other data you upload, like photo’s, is limited to your friends, a criminal who is trying these avenues will prefer to go on to one of the other 100,000 phones in the area to find easier pickings.

Another risk assessment is to consider what is the possible harm you face in a situation – in this case location information through your phone. Being as risk-averse as I am (friends say paranoid), I would never say we’re perfectly safe. But I will suggest that the location information from your phone doesn’t put you in a classic risk situation. For example, it doesn’t increase the chance you’ll be mugged. Or that your credit card number will be stolen.

“Ahh,” you say, what about burglary — because as the Wired article said, a person could figure out where you live. And if they see you at Starbucks, for example, they know you’re not home so they could decide to burglarize your house. This is where another element of risk assessment comes in and that is the odds that someone who (a) knows how to get the information, (b) will want to do so and that they have (c) the means and (d) motive to follow through in a way that (e) harms you. Now we’re talking very, very low odds. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a burglar who had a smart phone that worked. And reliable transportation to get to your house. And the work ethic to put this all together and act on the spot to commit a burglary from cell phone location data.

So should you monitor how your phone collects and shares information? Yes. Will your phone get you burglarized? No.

Share your thoughts and Stay safe,

Sgt. Mitchell

Does Sharing Your Vacation Plans on the Internet Make you Burglar-Bait?

In May 2009 an Arizona man’s home was burglarized while he was on vacation. He suspects his updates to 2,000 followers on social media may have tipped off a burglar. In August 2010, vacation posts on Facebook were blamed for at least one burglary in Pennsylvania — possibly through posts from residents’ children. This past November, a Florida man was the victim of a burglary while away and wondered if his posts and photos on Facebook were to blame.

We really can’t know if these burglaries were due to social media, were completely random or if there were other possibilities. For example, did newspapers pile up outside the houses? Did they have a neighbor taking flyers off their front door each day? Did the residents broadcast their plans in other ways which may have tipped someone off? Had there been other burglaries in the area at homes where people were not on vacation and these were coincidence?

I once saw an instance where the neighbors of a couple who had taken a taxi to the airport saw the taxi driver return shortly after to burglarize the house. So anything can happen and probably has somewhere in the country.

It may not be possible to know why a particular burglary has occurred. But there are simple things you can do to avoid being a victim. To start, have someone pick up mail & papers and watch your house, use good locks and an alarm system, cut back shrubbery, use timers on lights.

Crime Prevention Tip: Take a walk around your block while trying to think like a burglar. Look for houses where you wouldn’t be seen if you kicked the front door in; houses that seem to advertise big-ticket items to steal; garage doors that are open; houses with flyers on the door or newspapers out front. Imagine trying to break into a house and how you would want to get in and out quickly. Is there a dog that you would be afraid of? Is there an alarm sign so you know the cops will be on their way?

Now look at your house. How does it compare? Do you have deadbolts on the doors and are they always locked? Are your windows secure? Is there an alarm? Would neighbors notice – and call – of there was a strange car in your driveway?

(Two good places for more-thorough lists are at Tempe PD and the National Crime Prevention Council)

The classic burglar needs to break into houses and steal items they can sell for drugs. This is due to heroin and other addictions. However, they are fundamentally lazy; so if there are obstacles at your house they will move on. These obstacles can be grouped as: hard to get into, hard to hide, hard to get away and alarms. Movie burglars are very savvy (except in Home Alone) and are not defeated by any “target hardening” measures. Real burglars are not sophisticated, dedicated or suave. They take the path of least resistance. If there is a dog or alarm, deadbolts and clear sight lines, then they will move on to another house. And real burglars probably aren’t on your Friends lists.

So will you be burglar bait if you tweet about a vacation or post it on Facebook? Probably not, as long as you don’t Friend addicts and burglars.

Share your thoughts and Stay safe,

Sgt. Mitchell

A tip of the LAPD Class A hat to David Bickford, of PhxRailFood and Twitter’s @ext2lef, for suggesting today’s topic.

Look at your car through a thief’s eyes

This is a great read…

Consider this: Your car is more likely to be stolen from a public place than from your home, according to Frank G. Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

“Thieves roam parking lots at malls, gyms, theaters — you name it — looking for opportunities,” says Scafidi.

Read the whole story at www.insurance.com