In the news is the frightening case of a Vassalboro, Maine woman, beaten during a home invasion. The robber, armed with a pair of box cutters, came in through her unlocked front door and demanded Vicodin after her husband left for work.
How did the criminal know she had Vicodin in the house? The police and the victim believe it stemmed from her mentioning her prescription on Facebook.
Thankfully, it seems she’ll be OK, and she is using her story as a cautionary tale. While victim blaming is not a great thing to engage in, we can examine mistakes made and learn from them – this is how we get smarter and safer.
Over-sharing on Social Media
OK – I may be a little guilty of over-sharing on Facebook. If you’re friends with me, you’re going to see a lot of potty humor and pictures of my kids. But I do try to be careful about the exact details of my life I share. My exact town, and location I was born in, according to Facebook, are both fake. Some of my friends use pseudonyms. Call me paranoid, but it’s safer this way.
One of the issues with Facebook and its associated mobile apps is that it keeps changing how privacy works. Get your settings just right (which is hard even for a nerd like me) and there might be a whole new set of settings next month. It was just revealed that their messenger app on Android does some amount of location tracking, which can be plotted on a map.
So, my advice is not to rely on the privacy settings of Facebook to protect sensitive information.
What not to share
I wrote before about observing OpSec, or operational security. That is the hiding of unclassified information, which could be used to harm you. Of course you would never do something like post your Social Security or bank account numbers on line…at least I hope you wouldn’t. But that stuff is classified, right? So what other information might you want to protect?
Let’s put on our criminal goggles for a moment and think about what kind of things might make you irresistible to criminal:
As we’ve seen, you probably don’t want to share information about specific medications you may have in your house. This is especially true for anything considered a controlled substance. In case you’ve been living in a box, Maine has a serious narcotics issue, which is fueling a lot of the crime we’re seeing today. You don’t want to look like the candy store.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to share your exact vacation plans online. Post those pictures of your sunned buns online when you get back home.
Think twice about posting photos of your easy to sell valuables like jewelry and electronics. I know you’re proud of your new stuff. Invite your friends over for some snacks and show it off it person. I’ll bring pretzels.
I’m probably guilty of forcing too many photos of my kids on my friends and family (they are adorable). I think twice about the details I share like the name of my kids’ school, or where they’re going to be when I’m not with them.
For those of you with older kids, please talk to them about not sharing personal information online. Please go over what personal information includes like the names of their parents, their address, their school, etc.
I can’t give you a more exhaustive list than that, because there are too many variables. I can give you this piece of advice: Think before you post
If you are a person who may be especially vulnerable – you’re a celebrity, you’ve had a stalker, you’re a victim of domestic violence – you already know that you have to be extra careful about what you share. It might be helpful to disconnect from social media altogether and allow friends to contact you through email or other means.
It’s currently against Facebook’s terms of service to use a fake name, though I know lots and lots of people who do. If you’re going to go this route to be safer, make sure all the information is fictionalized and you don’t give Facebook your cell phone number. Use a separate email address just for Facebook. This will prevent people who know your email or cell number from looking you up.