Cyber-kids increase holiday burglary risk warns report

April 21, 2011

A stark warning is being issued to parents ahead of this month’s Easter break, with figures revealing the extent to which their children’s social media habits are increasing the risk of holiday burglaries.

The findings, published by The Co-operative Travel and The Co-operative Insurance, reveal that 51% of children regularly update their social media accounts to say when they are due to go on family holidays, alerting potential burglars to the fact their home is empty*.

The rapid growth in teenage smartphone ownership and availability of in-resort wifi connections are expected to increase the extent of the problem for this year’s holidaymakers. Figures reveal that as many as 45% of 10 to 15 year olds now own smartphones** and that the majority of this group (58%) update their status on social networks each day.

However, the real cause for concern is that many children are revealing this information to people that they don’t even know.  44% admit that they are ‘friends’ with people they have never met and 37% say that they have no privacy settings in place to prevent potential burglars searching networks for possible targets.

To try and combat the problem, The Co-operative has announced plans to advise its customers on what steps they can take to protect their homes whilst they are away.

Trevor Davis, Director of Retail Distribution for The Co-operative Travel, explains: "The traditional precautions people take to protect their homes whilst they’re on holiday are being undermined by the growth in social media.  This is particularly true for families with teenage children, who perhaps aren’t as aware of the need to avoid telling strangers that your house will be unoccupied.

“This year’s holidaymakers are likely to be particularly vulnerable, due to the growing availability of wifi connections in hotels and resorts.  This is allowing people to keep updating their accounts while abroad and inevitably raises the awareness that the user is away from home.”

The Co-operative Travel will be advising customers that by making sure their family has privacy settings activated and removing specific details such as the place where they live, they can significantly reduce their risk of being targeted.

Trevor continues: “Our researchers tested the extent of the problem by searching for keywords like ‘going on holiday’ and ‘packing my case’ through tools like Openbook. They also checked for people using social media to ‘check-in’ at airports on Facebook Places.

“It took seconds to find people with updates stating when they would be away, with details revealing enough about their location and family to make finding their actual address a simple task.

“It’s an impossible challenge to prevent teenagers using social networks or talking about major life-events like holidays.  However, it is possible to protect their updates and to explain to them the importance of not revealing too much online.”

Lee Mooney, Head of Home Insurance at The Co-operative agrees. "A common sense approach when using social networking websites is key. You have to ask yourself ‘would I be happy to divulge this information normally?’ If not, you shouldn’t make people aware of it online."



  • Use privacy settings to prevent people outside your network from searching updates relating to holidays or when you’re likely to be away from home.
  • Think about who is already in your network, do you know each person well enough to trust them?
  • If in doubt, use features like Facebook Groups to limit holiday information to people within your closest circle of friends.
  • Be wary of using location-based updates, for example Foursquare or Facebook Places especially if these will highlight that your home is likely to be empty.
  • Make details about where you live less specific, for example use the name of a city rather than a small town or village. The more specific your location, the easier it is to check the addresses of people with your surname.
  • If updating about how much you’re looking forward to your trip, try and be non-specific about when you’re planning to be away.
  • Update friends with holiday details after, rather than during, your trip.


Update Time it took to find address How found
“heading home to pack my case cause me going on holiday for few days xx” 1 minute Only two people with that surname in the town listed as users location.  Able to determine which address by references to the names of other family members in updates.
“Is it wrong to be going on holiday on Friday and wishing you weren't!!!!!!” 2 minutes No specific location given, but found by searching for address of high school referred to in updates and then looking for local addresses with for same surname
“Has landed :)” Preceded a few hours early with a Facebook Places log in at Manchester Airport 2 minutes 4 addresses relating to surname in a small town.  Mum’s name, identifiable from updates, was used to confirm exact address.

Notes for Editors

* Research of 3,000 respondents conducted by 72 Point

** Research conducted by Amaze plc for the Amaze Generation Report March 2011


Media enquiries:

Craig Brownsell

Senior Public Relations Officer, The Co-operative Group

0161 827 5774