Security and Your Vacation Plans: TMI?

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Social networking has made the phrase “TMI” almost obsolete. “TMI” or “too much information” used to be a phrase used when someone shared some information which would have been better kept to themselves. In the voyeuristic society in which we now exist, everyone seems to be hungry to share and receive as thorough a view into other’s lives as possible. While this can be a fun diversion and an effective way to organize with friends, it can also lead to some serious consequences. These days, TMI can be more than something that will gross out your friends. It can make you the target of crime.

Recently there have been quite a few articles written warning of the dangers of disclosing too much information in your Facebook or Twitter status. Usually people hear this and think of things like controlling what Personally Identifiable Information (PII) you share publicly. Often the concept of physical location isn’t considered when users think of “security.”  Announcing things such as “Leaving for Maui for a week, talk to everyone when I get back!” tells thieves that a user will be away from his or her home and may make them a target for a home burglary. Also, routinely posting in a pattern may help thieves know when you are out of the house. A tweet every morning at 9:00 stating “Off to the 9 to 5” announces to the world that your home will be quite possibly empty for the next 8 hours.

Lately the new trend of using trip planning applications has created another way for social networkers to reveal too much information. For instance, if a user will be traveling to a particular area, it may turn into an opportunity to meet face to face with someone in that area. On LinkedIn, when you sign up for the Trip Advisor application you are able to announce your travel schedule to all of your contacts. Your contact will know what cities you will be visiting and when you will be visiting them. Again, this could result in new business opportunities or an unscheduled encounter with a few friends… or it could make you a target for thieves. LinkedIn does a fairly good job of making sure that requests can only be sent to those people that users have had prior contact with, which means users can be fairly certain none of their connections are going to rob their house while they are away on business. However, accounts get hacked all the time and should that happen, users will have their travel plans exposed to criminals. Facebook locator is decidedly less discrete. It allows anyone on your “friends list,” or in some cases even those within your same general network, to have access to the information you post about your present location. This can make one a target for any number of crimes from theft to assault.

Social networking is quickly making the bridge from virtual to real by integrating with your real world activities. It is not only travel applications or status updates that can help thieves know when they should strike, but location-based apps as well. A criminal may not only know when you are planning a vacation, but can see by a geolocation application that you have arrived at the airport and what hotel you are staying at. All of this information in the wrong hands can lead to potentially serious consequences.

So, while it may be fun to rub it into your co-workers face that you just hopped a plane to Fiji, it may not be so fun to come back to a burglarized home. Be careful with information about your whereabouts, know specifically what your privacy settings are, and you will have one less thing to worry about while you travel.

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.