One hundred and forty characters on Twitter is all it could take to make your vacation plans a blueprint for burglary.
Police in Toronto and Saanich, B.C. are warning people not to post their summer holiday plans on Facebook and Twitter, out of concern that would-be thieves are watching and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
"Don't say exactly that you are not going to be at your house or your residence from a certain time," said Toronto police Constable Scott Mills. "You are telling somebody who might be watching your house it is an opportunity to go in."
The advice from the Saanich police is similar.
"It's just not wise to advertise you are going away," said Sergeant Dean Jantzen. "Some people have 2,000 friends.… you post you are going to Mexico for two weeks and you can't have possibly vetted 2,000 different people."
The inclination to post plans is not shocking to regular social media users. Facebook and Twitter are often venues to brag about upcoming trips and showcase your avid social life.
A scan of Facebook on Thursday showed a Nunavut resident "at the CN Tower." Another person boasted a "9-day road trip around the beautiful, green country. June 21 - July 1, 2010."
While posting your plans is an obvious risk, more discreet dangers include uploading photos while on vacation and Twitter's geo-tagging function, which shows where people are tweeting.
From there, it's not hard to find someone's residence.
"Even though we think we've hidden our information, or it's not readily available, often there are other services that have our address," said Kemp Edmonds, a social media educator at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Addresses can be found through Canada 411 queries, Facebook photos showing your home or domain name registrations.
Neither Saanich or Toronto police have reports of Facebook felonies, but American authorities have. Two men were charged with burglary and theft in Indiana last month after allegedly burglarizing a house of a Facebook "friend" who posted a message saying she would be at a concert for the night.
The risks of these incidents in Canada have prompted Allstate insurance to add digital discretion to the list of tips - which includes suspending newspaper subscriptions and putting lights on timers - that it provides vacationing homeowners.
"It's just a recognition of the fact that times have changed and the Internet has become more dominant and prevalent," said Allstate spokesman Tony Irwin.
The risks shouldn't push people away from using social media, but should make them rethink it, Constable Mills said. "We just have to be wise on how we post and we have to be aware of the potential risks depending on what we post," he said.
Mr. Edmonds suggests users check their privacy settings and avoid posting their address, legal name and birth date online anywhere.
"It's important that we are conscious of it and we are warning people, but it's not as big a risk as might be perceived based on the attention it is getting as an issue currently," he said. "Thieves could be looking at it in the future as a way, if they are savvy, to co-ordinate their efforts."