Identity Theft

Freeze Frame: Sending a Smart Phone Photo Could Cost You Big-Time

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If you’ve ever snapped a photo of you and your friends and family at a fancy dinner, or at an out-of-state wedding, you could also be extending an invitation to criminals.

Turns out, there’s a clue attached to every cell phone photo that tells thieves where you are – leaving your home vulnerable to thieves when you’re out on the town.

This isn’t theory – it’s fact. The data comes from researchers at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI). There, lead researcher Gerald Friedland has led a team that studied geo-tagged videos on You Tube and pictures on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that possess what scientists call embedded longitude and latitude co-ordinates – geek-speak for knowing where you are and, more importantly, where you aren’t, when cell phone photos and videos are taken.

[Related Story: Geotagging 101: When Invisible Data Reveals More Than The Image]

Increasingly, the fear is that thieves can leverage that information to break into your home when you’re snapping action photos of you and your family at Universal Studios via smart phones and posting them online.

According to Friedland, it’s not exactly rocket science for would-be thieves. All they need to do is cross-reference those coordinates with geo-mapping tools like Google Street Maps to find your location. If it’s 100 or 1,000 miles from your home, you could be ripe for an uninvited home invasion.

“It only takes minutes for someone who knows what they’re doing to locate your home using Google Maps,” says Friedland. “If you’re away from home and posting photos on your smart phone, that may be all the time they need.”

Friedland recalls one instance where the ICSI “cybercasing” research team, using geo-location technology, studied a series of YouTube videos taken by people with homes near downtown Berkley, California. They examined videos taken from at least 1,000 miles away. Within 15 minutes, Friedland’s team located a resident of Albany, California who was vacationing in the Caribbean. In the criminal break-in handbook, that situation is what’s known as a “green light.”

Of course, to homeowners and renters, it’s also known as a “red flag.”

“We were shocked,” he told “It’s pretty easy to be stalked via geo-tags. And it’s pretty easy for criminals to know when you’re on vacation”.

So put the cell phone’s camera app away and vastly increase your odds of not being victimized by a break-in when you’re away from home.

Your belongings – and your safety – may depend on it.

Image by Pictorescue, via Flickr

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