How Soon Until We Start Hearing Stories Of Twitter Criminals?

from the perhaps,-but... dept

You may have recently heard that story of a bank robber who, rather ingeniously, used Craigslist to create a diversion so he could get away with his crime. He put up a message, asking a bunch of people to show up for construction work, and told them what to wear, very specifically. He had them gather near the bank he was planning to rob -- and then wore the same outfit. After robbing the bank, police and security then saw a mob of folks all matching the same basic description as the bank robber. So far, the guy seems to have gotten away with the crime.

However, it's only a matter of time until others start thinking about ways to make use of social media for crime. This isn't to blame social media at all (though, expect the press -- and possibly politicians -- to falsely focus on the tech), as it's just a tool. But it is worth thinking about how criminals might use these technologies, if we want to think about ways to prevent the worst abuses. Jeremy Wagstaff has an interesting post where he wonders if Twitter will become a source of info for scammers and criminals, who gather the info people reveal about themselves to use in a crime. He's riffing off of a David Weinberger blog post, which jokes about how the opposite of the Do Not Disturb sign in many hotels says something along the lines of "Make Up My Room Now." As Weingberg astutely notes, some could interpret this as actually saying: "I'm Out, So This Would Be a Good to Rob Me, Especially If You Are Squeamish about Violence."

Wagstaff wonders if the same is true about status updates on Twitter, Facebook and other social sites -- and someone announcing that they're away from home opens up an opportunity to a burglar to break in. To some extent, I would imagine that could be true -- and I'm almost positive we'll eventually read some story somewhere about a criminal using data on Twitter to do something -- but it's difficult to see how most Twitter messages are really that revealing. It's not that difficult for a potential burglar to just canvas a house and see that the inhabitants go to work every day, and they get the same benefit, totally unrelated to the status message. Also, I'd argue that what a status message leaves out may turn out to be more important than what is put in. For example, my Twitter status might note that I'm traveling and in Chicago right now... but might not mention the fact that a friend, who spent a few years in the army, is housesitting for me and watching my pets. Anyone who relies solely on the Twitter message to decide where to rob, might be in for a bit of a surprise.

In some ways, this whole thing is similar to the "fear" when answering machines first showed up. There were reports that warned people not to say "we're not in right now" as people were told that criminals might use this to figure out who to rob. Instead, they were told to say "we can't get to the phone right now," as a transparent sort of hedge. Of course, the whole thing was silly. It was hardly an efficient way for criminals to find out who to rob, and the actual risk was quite low. The same thing is likely true of any "threat" of criminals using Twitter.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ppitstop, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 4:33am

    How Soon Until We Start Hearing Stories Of Twitter Criminals?

    I am surprised it has not happened yet or possibly not put in print as the social sites seem to be used for everything else

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 4:39am

    Aha! Now I know that I can rob your friend who's house sitting for you!....what's their name and address?

     

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  3.  
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    Roger, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 4:48am

    It's just a tool

    Like any tool, social media, including Twitter, can be used to commit a crime.

    Witness (ahem) the ongoing case of the woman indicted for falsifying a MySpace identity to motivate a girl to commit suicide. Whatever the outcome of this particular case, we need to understand that social media is a reflection of humanity. That's the value of social media. It's not just that it can be used for this or that purpose (although such uses have their place) but that it is a mirror of our collective selves.

    In this sense, social media, and microblogging in particular is the stream of collective conscious, or panconscious (a topic on which I have blogged previously).

    As some consciousnesses are given to do good, and others to do crime, so we will see this spectrum reflected in social media. The concept of crime in the social media space is not very surprising in this context.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Jake, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 4:53am

    I can envision someone's Twitter feed being exploited this way on an opportunistic basis, or for less financially-motivated crimes; it might be useful if the MP/RIAA wanted to send a couple of heavies round to burn your house down, for example. It's certainly something that bears thinking on when using Twitter; after all, there's a whole world of difference between unlikely and impossible.

     

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  5.  
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    KarlMarxRove, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 5:05am

    Hes a genius . . . we must recognize

    "You may have recently heard that story of a bank robber who, rather ingeniously, used Craigslist to create a diversion so he could get away with his crime. He put up a message, asking a bunch of people to show up for construction work, and told them what to wear, very specifically. He had them gather near the bank he was planning to rob -- and then wore the same outfit. After robbing the bank, police and security then saw a mob of folks all matching the same basic description as the bank robber. So far, the guy seems to have gotten away with the crime."

    This guy has a truly "Rove-ian" intellect (and a similar penchant for cheating), if he had gone into politics . . . ohh to think of all the money he could have stolen. I wonder if he is also a repressed homosexual . . . ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Casey Billups, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 5:30am

    It's interesting... my grandfather just died and my friend came to me volunteering to watch my house while we were taking care of things and at the funeral. He described how criminals can use a wedding announcement or obituary as an open invitation that you will not be home.

    I had never heard or thought about this, but it seemed pretty logical. I think this would just be an extension of an apparently old trick.

     

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  7.  
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    NeoConBushSupporter, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 5:44am

    Abuse of TWITTER!

    I heard Obama had a plan that would use TWITTER to teach kindergartners about oral sex. All I can say is “this one” and his “radical cronies” must be stopped!

    VOTE McCain 2008 – He doesn’t even know what TWITTER is!

     

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  8.  
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    Kevin Ryan, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 6:36am

    Re: It's just a tool

    Roger, you are a windbag and a pseudo intellectual

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Murderotica, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 6:45am

    Re: Abuse of TWITTER!

    NCBS strikes again!

    On topic though, it's a bit shocking to me that this hasn't been a bigger issue. With the mass popularity the social networking sites have these days, I would think we would hear more about this type of thing. However, I suppose not hearing much of this, would actually be a good thing.

     

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  10.  
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    County, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 7:10am

    I agree with the jist of this article - yes of course putting information into the public domain carries risks but if we were all that worried we'd never get anything done. Think about how you could pick up a stalker or something, just because they like the look of your photo on Twitter...you can't stop interacting with people just because there's a minority of crazies out there. I'm sure we will hear more stories of people using information from social sites for evil but that just means the laws and prosecution need to catch up.

     

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  11.  
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    scott Brown, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 9:30am

    FaceBook

    A rash of burglaries in my neighborhood because of facebook status messages just ended. I suspect the tactic was reversed and used to catch the muckers.

     

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  12.  
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    some random guy, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    answer machines make robbery harder

    Back in the day, one could call up from a pay phone down the street, leave it off the hook, take a leisurely stroll over to the property, and if the phone was still ringing when you got there you could be sure nobody was home. Answer machines foiled all that. Or so I'm told.

     

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  13.  
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    R Kelley, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 11:05am

    I think there was a move some years ago with Steve McQueen as a bank robber who hired people to dress a like and meet at the same location?

     

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  14.  
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    Drea, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 11:20am

    Twitter just a piece of the pie

    If I were into burglary rings and such things, I'd use Twitter, but not exclusively. I would start by canvassing wealthy neighborhoods to see who appeared to have a lot of nice stuff. Then, I'd use Google to get some more background info, eg. the person's name from home sale listings. Then I would sign up for Twitter and follow them on other social networking sites. Twitter would be one of several inputs helping to perfect my plan. If a criminal is smart, Twitter would help them, but not be an exclusive medium.

    Twitter could help cops, too, for that matter.

     

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  15.  
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    See it at the Movies, Oct 9th, 2008 @ 5:17pm

    There was a recent movie in which the bank robbers made all of the customers in the bank but on the same type of workmans jumpsuit. Then after they robbed the bank the forced all of the bank customers ( all dressed alike) outside. The police could not tell who was who and the bank robbers got away. Sounds like this bank robber is a movie buff.

     

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  16.  
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    srdha, May 21st, 2009 @ 1:28am

    twitter

    i gust want to say some thing "great job"

    Update your Twitter randomly according to your intrest Or, from Rss Feed Or, from your own tweet message list Or, Any combination of the above three http://feedmytwitter.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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