Gang uses Facebook to rob houses

Even with new privacy controls, many users are still vulnerable to snoopers; here's how to check if you're sharing too much

Leaving the house this weekend? Telling all your Facebook buds about it? You might want to reconsider that.

Police in Nashua, New Hampshire broke up a robbery ring this week that was using Facebook to plan their heists. The gang was monitoring Facebook pages to determine when a target would be out of their home and then robbed it. Some 50 home robberies were reported in the city with a population of 85,000 during August alone, although only 18 have been linked to the Facebook gang so far. As a result of breaking up the gang, Police say they've recovered $100,000 to $200,000.

Although, Facebook has made progress in tightening up its privacy controls, many users still leave themselves vulnerable to snoopers. Just how vulnerable can be seen by going a website called Openbook. It will scour public Facebook pages for keywords. For example, by searching on vacation, you could discover Facebook members catching a little R&R and with a little more research, find where their vacated home is located.

Earlier this year, another website, PleaseRobMe, demonstrated how the location of online gamers could be tracked using Twitter. It aggregated tweets that used a social networking game called Foursquare to announce when players left their homes. For casing a break-in, tracking tweets sure beats sitting in a parked car outside a victim's house. Currently, PleaseRobMe appears to be on hiatus.

For Facebook members, there are third-party tools for protecting their privacy. ReclaimPolicy, for instance, will scan your Facebook settings and let you know where your privacy is at risk. However, the program hasn't been updated since Facebook changed its privacy controls, so its results may have to be implemented manually. SaveFace takes a simple approach to Facebook privacy. It simply sets all privacy controls to "friends only."

By the way, although the burglary gang in Nashua was smart enough to use Facebook to set up their robberies, their smarts seemed to stop there. As part of their purloined spoils were a specific brand of firecracker which they couldn't resist setting off in a public place. An off-duty police officer heard the racket and from the scene of the explosions was able to track down the first of three suspects in the case. Police say more arrests are expected.

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John P. Mello Jr.

PC World (US online)
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