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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Online Crime

More than 7,000 Facebook-associated crimes since January - UK investigation

Crimes associated with Facebook are rapidly increasing as more people sign up – with offences ranging from theft to violent assault.

IT IS EASY to forget that people can be watching you online.

Most of the time, people will scan your Facebook page because they’re your friends – sometimes they’ll do it out of idle curiosity.

But it’s not always benign procrastination that leads someone to your photo albums or personal info section.

After conducting an investigation, the Daily Mail reports that crimes associated with Facebook have risen by 700 per cent over the last three years. While this is undoubtedly a consequence of an increase in the website’s use – 500 million people now use Facebook – it is not always an unavoidable consequence.

The newspaper tells the story of Haydn and Jamie-Leigh Leighton, parents of a newborn son, Kai, who had been born with a serious heart defect. To keep their families up to date with the progress of their gravely ill baby, without making dozens of phone calls, the couple posted updates on Facebook.

They never suspected that someone watching those updates would use the information to take advantage of them. But, knowing the couple were 60 miles away from their home – keeping vigil at their baby’s side – burglars targeted their house twice.

The 18-year-old mother said:

Everyone was anxious to know how Kai was doing and it helped us to share what was happening day-by-day. We never dreamed for a minute that someone would read our messages, realise we weren’t at home and steal from us. It was utterly devastating.

The Mail reports that it sent Freedom of Information requests to 16 police forces, which showed that there have been more than 100,000 incidents of crime associated with Facebook in the past year, including 7,545 since January. In 2005, there were just 1,411.

Crimes that can stem from giving out personal information or interacting with people online include burglary, stalking, identity theft, bullying and sexual violence.

Even if you don’t include personal information like your address or birthdate on your profile, criminals can still piece together information about you. The newspaper quotes Michael Fraser, a reformed burglar who presents the BBC’s Beat The Burglar programme:

“One year, you might have a party and give out your address. A while later, you might tell everyone that it is your 30th birthday. So, if you’ve accepted me as a friend of a friend, I know your name, your address and your birth date.

“From that, I can go to and on there I can find out what you do for a ­living, how much your home is worth — and whether you’re likely to be worth burgling.

“I might have already made up my mind because you’ve posted party ­pictures on Facebook and I can see what kind of valuables you have in the house — and which rooms they’re in. Then you go and tell your Facebook friends how much you’re looking forward to going on holiday next Tuesday.

“I can go on to Google Street View and see actual photographs of your home. I can see if you have a burglar alarm, or whether there are any bushes in the garden to hide in. And I can see all the alleyways I can escape down. And, of course, I know you won’t be at home.”

Violent assault has also been the result of interaction on Facebook – as with the sad case of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall from County Durham, who was befriended by 33-year-old Peter ­Chapman on Facebook. Chapman, a convicted rapist, killed Hall after posing as a teenager and convincing her to meet him.