Cyber Crime

Social Media Rise

Defining social media is difficult because it is ever changing like technology itself, but for the purposes of this article, social media will be defined as any website or software that allows you to receive and disseminate information interactively.

The tremendous rise in popularity of social media over the past 7 years has led to a drastic change in personal communication, both online and off. Comparing to the world population clock, the total world population is around 7.06 billion. With that being said, the popularity of sites such as:
  • Craigslist (60 million U.S. users each month)
  • Facebook, (1.06 billion monthly active users)
  • Foursquare (has a community of over 30 million people worldwide)
  • Twitter (500 million users)
  • YouTube (800 million users)
These social media organizations have connected people from all over the world to each other, making it easier to keep in touch with friends, loved ones, or find that special someone.

Business Usage

In addition to personal usage, businesses and the public sector use social media to advertise, recruit new employees, offer better customer service, and maintain partnerships. In fact, 65% of adults now use social media. Social networking is the most popular online activity, accounting for 20% of time spent on personal computers and 30% of mobile time. As social interactions move more and more online, so does the crime that follows it.

Crimes Linked to Social Media

Social networking consists of websites that allow users to create an online profile in which they post up to the minute personal and professional information about their life that can include pictures, videos, status updates, and related content. Social networking is a potential gold mine for criminals who leverage the users’ personal details into financial opportunity.
  1. Burglary
  2. Cybercasing the Joint
  3. Malware
  4. Phishing
  5. Social Engineering


The classic example of exploitation on social networking sites involves the perpetrator perusing users’ profiles and looking for potential victims in the vicinity who won’t be home. Myspace and Facebook users can post that they will be out for the evening, which gives potential thieves a large time window to burgle the property. Facebook and Twitter now have a new “my location” feature allowing readers to see where they were and how long ago it was when they posted their update, making it that much easier for criminals to attack. Stories of this nature are frequently in the media and serve as a reminder that users are not as cautious as they should be with their personal information. The thieves see a status update of a family being on vacation for an extended period of time and jump at the perfect opportunity to steal some valuables. Another example of a recent investigation in New Hampshire ended when thieves who used Facebook to profile victims, were caught using a very peculiar type of firework that was recently taken in a burglary. An off-duty officer investigated firework explosions he could hear in the distance. The fireworks were stolen in the series of break-ins over the prior month.

Some other social networking applications, such as Foursquare and Gowalla are primarily location-based networks. Users of these networks can be rewarded for posting their locations frequently and are then given temporary titles while at their location--for example, posting that you’re having a cup of coffee at Starbucks may make you the Mayor of Starbucks on this certain site. As previously mentioned, posting a location allows perpetrators the perfect window to commit a burglary, vandalism, or even a home invasion.
For More Information
Visit the Please Rob Me website to learn more about the dangers of over sharing.

Copyright Information

Primary Author: Jason Boone, NW3C Research Associate Updated 2013 By: Stephenie Nagy, NW3C Research Intern

© 2013. National White Collar Crime Center. All rights reserved. The National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) is the copyright owner of this white paper. This information may not be used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the NW3C.