By Lawrence Loesch
Social networking is growing and a plethora of online and electronic activity leaves us distracted and vulnerable during the busy holiday season. As Black Friday approaches, historically one of the busiest retail shopping days of the year, a new security concern is the level of information many Americans will share with their digital “friends.”
While savvy marketers are using sites such as Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and others to attract followers to their venues, thousands of people are “friending” virtual strangers and sharing intimate details of their daily habits including vacations and planned shopping expeditions. Digitally announcing plans could result in virtual “friends” discovering the optimal time to break into your home or office.
As a former Deputy Chief for the NYC Police Department and Vice President and General Manager for AlliedBarton Security Services, America’s leading physical security services firm, I believe it is important to be vigilant that our social media actions don’t create the opportunity for crime. I offer the following five tips to ensure a safer shopping experience minus the arrival of the social media grinch:
1) Be a Square on Foursquare and Facebook –Foursquare is a location-based social networking website founded last year that has surpassed over 3 million user registrations. Foursquare users “check-in” at physical venues using a mobile website, text messaging or a device-specific application. They are awarded points, and the user who visits a venue the most frequently becomes its virtual “mayor.” Finding out about new clubs or unique sales is exciting, but not at the expense of personal safety.
While it is tempting to gather as many “friends” as possible on sites such as Foursquare and Facebook, be conservative about the friends you accept. If you have never heard of someone who asks to “friend” you, decline. This virtual friend could be a stalker, or burglar. Telling strangers your schedule or location is tantamount to leaving your home unlocked while away. You’re making it easy to become a victim.
2) Don’t Walk or Drive While Texting – While the tragedy of driving and texting has received national attention, fewer people are aware of the perils of walking and texting. Some people become so preoccupied with emailing and text messaging on mobile devices that they can’t make it down the block without crashing into other people or objects. Emergency rooms are seeing more patients with injuries resulting from texting while walking or driving, and distracted texters are far more vulnerable to being robbed. If you are texting, focus on texting in a safe situation and stop other activities.
3) Don’t Get Personal Online – Many social media enthusiasts divulge far too much personal information online making it easier than ever to steal another person’s identity and tap into their credit lines. Many criminals can easily find names, birth dates, school and work history, and even home and work addresses for anyone. When identifying aspects of our lives are readily available online, identity theft can rear its ugly head. Whether you are connecting with friends or searching for gift ideas, be selective about what you share.
4) Don’t Be Spoofed by Phishers– ‘Tis the season to be jolly for scam artists who send emails with links to fake sites where they solicit credit card or other personal information. Spoof websites are designed to mimic the look of the genuine site and created to trick you into sharing your information. The thief will generally email a message – referred to as phishing – saying that “you won a prize,” or “we require additional information.” Be careful when shopping online. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. Many phishers forge security icons so think before you click and share. Never click on a link from a potential spoof email. Forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and to the company, bank, or organization being impersonated.
5) Keep your Cyber Guard Up – Internet criminals often extract personal information from social networking sites by stealing passwords and by employing malware, which is malicious software that can secretly access a computer system without the owner’s consent or knowledge. During the busy holiday season, don’t overlook the importance of standard maintenance. Keep your cyber guard up by ensuring your operating system and antivirus software is updated.
Social networking sites provide a wonderful opportunity to strengthen family and community ties. But don’t take the chance of making stalkers out of strangers by “friending” people you don’t know or creating an opportunity for theft by sharing too much information. While criminals are most prolific during the holidays, effective online safety requires a conscious awareness every day.
Lawrence F. Loesch is Vice President/General Manager for AlliedBarton Security Services’ New York City region. Loesch served as a Deputy Chief for the NYC Police Department and has held corporate security positions for Credit Suisse First Boston and UBS/Paine Webber. He can be reached at: Larry.Loesch@alliedbarton.com.
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