Remember the infamous Paris hotel robbery of Kim Kardashian West? The criminals relied on the reality star’s Instagram account to plan the attack. In fact, the crime’s mastermind, Aomar Ait Khedache, told Le Monde, “The jewels were shown on the Internet, and [she said] that she didn’t wear fakes . . . you just had to look at the Internet and you knew everything, absolutely everything.”
Salacious details aside, there is a lesson to be gleaned as travelers plan their vacation getaways: posting travel photos and itineraries—either before or during—is very risky business. Yet, social media feeds remain full of beach shots, après-ski snaps and European destinations, not to mention hashtags like #travelgram, #instatravel and #vacation. There are three main reasons for concern, even for those with fewer followers than Kardashian West:
1. Property theft/damage: Whereas in the past clever burglars would read obituaries to prey on grieving families and empty homes, today’s ambitious thieves turn to Facebook, Instagram and other digital platforms to identify targets and ensure easy access. More than 75% of convicted burglars believe that other burglars are using social media to find targets, according to one police department survey. The tipoffs can be anything from location data to photos showcasing high-worth items like art, electronics and, as Kardashian West found out, jewelry.
2. Liability: There are countless horror stories of teens breaking into unoccupied homes to throw a rager, and causing significant property damage. Even worse: If one of the partygoers is hurt, they could sue the homeowner—and win.
3. Family security: More often than one might imagine, a traveler will share a photo of a plane ticket or boarding pass—essentially providing a road map of their whereabouts. Obviously, this puts travelers and/or their children at greater risk for kidnapping-and-ransom schemes. It is not difficult to imagine someone with nefarious intentions waiting at a gate with their name on a sign and whisking them away (watch the movie Taken for the very frightening Hollywood version).
Fortunately, each of these situations is easily avoided by employing smart social media practices when it comes to travel. Here, then, are a few sample rules.
- Avoid posting photos before or during a trip. If someone really wants to share vacation photos, better to do it with a “latergram.” Safe exceptions can be made for private groups, but they’re only safe if everyone in the group knows not to repost, screen-grab, etc.
- Never post a picture of your ticket. Not just for the locational vulnerability, but also because there can be retrievable personal information embedded in these codes.
- Block locations. Geotagging is often unintended. And because most smartphones settings automatically track locations, the user needs to actively disable location services. Similarly, avoid “checking into” places on Facebook.
- Coordinate meet-ups offline. Don’t use comments to make plans with friends who are also traveling.
- Teach the next generation. Digital natives are used to living their life on social media and may not be aware of the potential dangers. Make sure that these best practices are passed along!
While these practices may make a globetrotter’s social media feed less exciting, they will ensure that they, their family and their homebound assets are more secure. Clearly, it’s also important to have the proper insurance portfolio to protect oneself against all the exposures. But as a first step, following these guidelines is the surest way to spend a truly relaxing vacation.