Burglars in Northern Ireland are having empty houses advertised to them by the growing trend of posting holiday snaps on social media, a police commander has warned.
House breakers can take advantage of publicly accessible photos and posts to decide which property to target, PSNI Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said.
Mr Walls highlighted the risks of using social media when away from home as he revealed that police made 224 arrests in three targeted burglary crackdowns in 2016.
A total of 160 people were subsequently charged or reported to prosecutors on the back of 317 searches carried out in what was the second year of the PSNI’s Operation Cordella.
Overall, burglary incidences in Northern Ireland have fallen in the last five years. According to provisional figures, by mid-December burglaries were down 21% on the same point in the previous financial year - from 6,482 to 5,132.
Mr Walls said as well as traditional steps to physically secure properties, such as locking windows and doors, homeowners increasingly had to be aware of taking precautions in cyberspace as well.
The senior officer said many people were unaware just how far one of their social media posts could travel.
“So many people live their lives on social media and it’s like ‘I’m away to America for three weeks’ and people don’t always know the reach of that post and all you are doing is advertising your house is empty,” he said.
“I don’t want to kill people’s use of social media but an empty house is clearly a much more attractive house to a burglar because most burglars don’t want to confront people - they want to get in and out as soon as possible, take something disposable - your jewellery, or your laptop, or your iPad or your iPhone.
“They don’t want to get involved in a tussle with a householder, so an empty house is much more attractive.”
Mr Walls stressed the importance of limiting the people who can see social media profiles.
“Maybe if you have a very limited circle of friends that’s fine, but if your posts are public all you are doing is advertising your house could be empty for three weeks - that’s an ideal opportunity for a burglar to come in at their leisure to remove what they need.
“So people need to be careful what’s on there.
“We’ll probably be accused of killing people’s enjoyment of social media but that’s what people are doing when they are putting out public posts saying ‘I am on holiday for three weeks’ - they are advertising the fact their house is empty for three weeks.”
Operation Cordella was rolled out for four weeks in February/March, two weeks in September/October and two weeks in November/December.
It involved a series of intelligence-based searches on properties suspected to be linked to prolific burglars.
“It’s worked well because it has been intelligence-led and focused on those individuals we believe are causing most hurt around burglary,” said Mr Walls.
“The real success of Cordella is it’s targeted - it’s not just about officers in yellow coats patrolling random areas. It’s about using the information the community gives us to try to target some of our burglary focus.”