Thieves Hit Real Estate Open Houses

Here’s a strange proposition; place an ad in the local paper requesting complete strangers come to your home and look inside your kitchen, bathroom, your kids room and your bedroom. In the ad tell them how nice the house is and you want them to see it from 2-4 on Sunday afternoon.

Then, to make it even more interesting, have another stranger (or someone you only have a brief relationship with) show them around the house. Meanwhile you go out, run some errands or have lunch.

Keep the block of knives on the counter and leave everything pretty much where you normally would and when you get home maybe it will still be there. Sound like a sound plan? It’s one that thousands of people execute hundreds and thousands of times a year.

Open houses are (in my mind) a weird process that is otherwise a good way to bring attention to the sale of a home. If the homeowner is smart, they will hire a professional real estate agent to facilitate the process. However, the homeowner often puts too much faith in the real estate professional to protector their belongings. This is a big mistake and a false sense of security.

No offense to the real estate professionals, many of them don’t really understand what they should and shouldn’t do in regards to “securing” your stuff.

I present about 50 programs a year to real estate agents on this topic. I always ask “what would you do if you saw someone steal something?” Inevitably I get responses where agents would say “I’d tell them to put it back!” Alrighty then. While this is the “right thing to do” it’s not the right thing for the agent to do. Because now the thief has to decide how bad they want the stuff and they now have to determine what it’s going to take to keep it. Giving a thief an ultimatum may result in violence.

The Aldergrove Star reports “These crimes are committed by thieves posing as potential homebuyers attending open houses or walking through homes for sale with a realtor. The thieves will distract the realtor, perhaps asking for a tape measure, and while the realtor facilitates the request, property is pocketed. Property targeted during these thefts includes laptops, jewelry, designer purses, small electronics, and other miscellaneous items.”

Real estate agents should not consider themselves in any way “security guards”. The home owner in no way should consider agents responsible for protecting their stuff. If you are a homeowner or a real estate agent, have a discussion that includes the following tips:

  • Hide or remove your valuables and medications.  If it can be easily stolen and has resale street value, then remove it.
  • Request your real estate agent bring additional agents. There is always strength in numbers.
  • Protect yourself from identity theft. Remove or lock up bills, credit card receipts and bank statements.
  • If anyone ever steals something and you see them, run out of that home as fast as possible. If a person is crazy enough to steal from an open house, then they are crazy enough to commit violence.  There is nothing of monetary value on the planet that I would fight for.
  • Put signage out saying “Property Under Video Surveillance
  • Always check the security status of home security systems, doors and windows before and after a showing. Make sure they are all locked and the hinges are still in the doors.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to ADT Home Security Source discussing Home Security and Identity Theft on TBS Movie and a Makeover. Disclosures.

Study Shows Tweens and Teens are Clueless About Privacy

The Secret Online Lives of Teens, a survey conducted by McAfee, reveals that tweens and teens are relatively clueless about online privacy. The study sheds light on this generation’s tendency to use the Internet in ways that translate to danger in the real world.

The fundamental problem is their belief that privacy is unimportant or irrelevant, which stems from their lack of understanding of what privacy actually entails. Most alarming is the extent to which they are willing to share certain types of information online, information which is often visible to complete strangers. In doing so, they make themselves easy targets for data mining by adults whose reasons are not always well intended.

While most adults are not predators or pedophiles, there are certainly many of them out there who prey upon the young and naïve.  Statistics show there are as many as half a million registered sex offenders in the U.S. alone. And many more simply haven’t been caught yet.

There always has, is, and will be a predatory element out there. Generally, most people don’t want to think about that or even admit that it’s true. Instead of acknowledging the risks, most people completely discount this reality, telling themselves, “It can’t happen to me or my kids.”

The Last Watchdog sums up the study as follows:

“McAfee commissioned Harris Interactive to query 955 American teens, including 593 aged 13-15 and 362 aged 16-17. Survey responses were weighted for age, gender, ethnicity and other variables. The McAfee/Harris poll found:

  • 69 percent of teens divulged their physical location
  • 28 percent chatted with strangers

Of those teens who chatted with strangers, defined as people whom they did not know in the offline world:

  • 43 percent shared their first name
  • 24 percent shared their email address
  • 18 percent post photos of themselves
  • 12 percent post their cell phone number

What’s more, girls make themselves targets more often than boys: 32% of the girl respondents indicated they chat with strangers online vs. 24% of boy respondents.”

It’s not just tweens who don’t understand that they’re living in a fishbowl. Young adults and parents are equally clueless. Channel 4 News in Jacksonville exposed a Florida mother who took a picture of her 11-month-old son with his mouth over a pot bong and posted it on Facebook. The mom’s behavior was obviously reckless, but what she and many don’t understand is that anything digital is repeatable.

Many now blame social networks for the erosion of whatever privacy we once had. Social networking sites aren’t inherently bad, but they are self serving entities, promoting transparency that ultimately leads to marketing and advertising dollars. For them it’s all about profit, and it’s to their advantage to gather as much information about you as possible, which allows them to fine-tune their offerings to advertisers.

My belief that people need to “live consciously,” making informed decisions about and ultimately taking responsibility for themselves, makes it difficult for me to blame anyone but users themselves for their lack of security. But I know the reality is that people are easily led, easily bamboozled, and they need to be told what to do and what not to do.

Studies like this bring much needed attention to these issues, hopefully raising awareness for teens and their parents. As a parent, I am as laser focused on the media my children consume, in all its forms, as I am on any food they eat. No responsible parent would allow their child to eat spoiled food, because they understand why it’s bad, but those same parents may allow their children to roam freely online without supervision. This is mainly because the parents don’t understand the risks.

When a quarter to a third of teens are revealing all their information to total strangers, it should give society pause. Understand that as this trend continues, more and more kids will be blindsided when they are solicited by adults who, with an additional twenty or more years of live experience, know how to con a kid.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert adviser to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses hackers hacking social media on Fox Boston. (Disclosures)

Companies Combine Efforts to Secure Data on USBs

Kingston Digital, Inc., the Flash memory affiliate of Kingston Technology Company, Inc., the independent world leader in memory products, today announced that it will partner with security company BlockMaster and provide greater availability of centrally managed USB drives, which makes it easier to protect information on-the-move.

BlockMaster® is well known for its USB security solutions, including the centralized USB management software, SafeConsole®, which offers organizations the ability to remotely manage USB drives by resetting passwords, configuring password policy and activating audit for compliance procedures. With this partnership, Kingston will be offering its customers a centrally manageable version of its DataTraveler Vault – Privacy Edition utilizing BlockMaster’s technology to provide complete control over USB drives.

According to a survey of London and New York City taxi companies last year revealed that more than 12,500 devices, such as laptops, iPods and memory sticks, are forgotten in taxis every six months. Portable devices that may have troves of sensitive data.

Computerworld reports a 2007 survey by Ponemon of 893 individuals who work in corporate IT showed that: USB memory sticks are often used to copy confidential or sensitive business information and transfer the data to another computer that is not part of the company’s network or enterprise system. The survey showed 51% of respondents said they use USB sticks to store sensitive data, 57% believe others within their organization routinely do it and 87% said their company has policies against it.

I checked out BlockMaster SafeStick® 4.0 – a fast and user-friendly secure USB flash drive, which streamlines military-grade security and meets those standards to protect your data. The SafeStick hardware controller encrypts all data using AES256-bit encryption in CBC-mode. Encryption keys are generated on board at user setup, and all communications are encrypted. SafeStick is protected against autorun malware, and onboard active anti-malware is available. Once unlocked, SafeStick is as simple to use as a standard USB flash drive.

Flash drives can be a security mess. Organizations need to have policies in place requiring secure flash drives and never plugging a stray cat into the network.

Disclosures: I have no financial ties to BlockMaster. I just like this thing.

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert discussing good ole fashion identity theft on Good Morning America.

Safety Tips: Home Burglary Prevention

My AC is on, that means it’s summer time. It also means that occasionally the windows may be open, and because we are in the yard the doors sometimes are unlocked. As a result we are slightly more vulnerable to the bad guy. But this doesn’t mean that your guard should be down.

The FBI reports that more burglaries occur during the summer months than any other time of year and that every home is a potential target. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, an American home is broken into about every 15 seconds. The best defense against burglary is prevention. With planning you can help make your home unappealing to burglars.

Patrick Fiel, public safety advisor of ADT Security Services said, “There are a few simple, yet important, steps homeowners can take to make their homes less of a target.” To help homeowners secure their homes this summer, Fiel and ADT recommend the following home burglary prevention tips:

· Secure your garage. Garages can provide intruders with easy access to your home. If you have an automatic garage door opener, make sure you protect the remote control and never leave it visible in your car. Also, be sure to lock the door that leads from your garage to your home. Many people do not lock this door, creating a weak point in their home security.

· Equip your home with strong doors and locks. Exterior doors should be made of steel, other metals or solid wood, which are able to withstand more of an impact than hollow-core doors. Deadbolt locks offer the best protection from picking and prying. Always make sure to lock your doors and windows when you leave home.

· Never hide keys around the exterior of your home. Thieves look in mailboxes, under doormats and above doorways for keys. Do not make it easy for them to get into your home. If you will be out of town on vacation, leave emergency house keys with a trusted friend or neighbor.

· Consider a monitored burglar alarm system. A recent Rutgers University study found that alarm systems are an effective deterrent, making a home less attractive to intruders. Make sure your burglar alarm system includes a loud inside alarm, detectors at all exterior doors and motion sensors. It’s also important to have monitored protection which links your home to a monitoring center where trained professionals can quickly notify first responders. Most insurance companies also offer a discount of up to 20 percent off homeowner’s policies for monitored alarm systems.

· Never let burglars know you are away from home. As you plan for vacation, you may be tempted to post updates on social networking sites, including specific dates and times of your vacation. But criminals have been known to troll these sites for vacant homes and unsuspecting victims. Always keep your vacation plans as private as possible and have a trusted friend or family member collect your mail and check in on your home while you and your family are away.

Fiel said, “As summer starts to heat up, we hope these tips will help you prevent home burglary and protect your possessions before, during and after your vacation.”

Mr Fiel certainly knows his business. It’s your businesses to take responsibility for yourself and your family and make sure your home is safe and secure. It’s not enough to use the old adage “why do I care if my stuff is stolen, insurance will pay for it” because insurance doesn’t reimburse you for the hollow empty feeling of being violated. For many people who are burglarized, they often never want to step foot into their homes again.

Furthermore, in the heat of the summer many burglaries can turn into home invasions if the burglar didn’t know you were home. That’s when things can get violent.

Know your options. Don’t sit back and say “Its cant happen to me”. Sit back and sayAmerican home is broken into about every 15 seconds, mine won’t be one of them.” Enjoy the summer months, relax, have fun and be safe.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to ADT Home Security Source discussing Home Invasions on Montel. Disclosures.

My Mexican Travel Security Ordeal

Mexico has made the news over and over due to their “Narco Wars”. 10’s of thousands have been murdered and kidnapped in many of the border towns all the way down to Acapulco. So where do I vacation? Mexico. It’s an easy trip, its economically smart, it’s usually warm and sunny, the foods good, the people are great, and there’s always a good story to tell. I do my homework and understand where the risks are and aren’t.

I don’t stay in the border towns. That’s where a lot of the bad stuff is happening. Border towns are mostly landlocked, so no ocean, and there isn’t much as far as vacationing goes. We like the beaches and prefer southern resort towns that cater to making me happy.

In my last Mexican adventure we were picked up at the airport by a car service recommended by the hotel. I usually get in the front seat so I can see where we are going and I like to have a little control. I put my laptop and backpack up front with me, but then the wife asked me to come to the back seat, which I did. But there was no room for the bags, so they stayed up front. The van was clean, and the ride was the typical white knuckler, hold on for dear life, the driver is a nut, and when was the last time this thing had its brakes checked.”

When we got to the resort we were swarmed with hotel help/bellmen pulling our bags out of the van. As I’m counting bags and counting kids and on my way back to the van to get my 2 other bags, the van drove away. My laptop and backpack were still in the front seat. ON THE FRONT SEAT. There is no way the driver didn’t see the laptop on the front seat. I frantically went to the bellman to call the security dude at the entrance to the property to stop the van. Ten minutes goes by and they said he must have gone another way because he never went back through security.

I got the car service on the phone to call the driver and they said he wasn’t answering his phone. Of course he wasn’t answering his phone, he was selling my laptop. 20 minutes goes by and I fear he’s got this thing hocked. Then another driver from the same company pulled into the resorts entrance and I flagged him down. I told him to call the driver and tell him I left 2 bags in the van. He called, the driver picked up the phone. Nailed. He answered for his buddy but not his boss.

He showed up 20 minutes later. When he pulled up he was dismissive and rude. He knows he was “caught” but didn’t even offer a response. My laptop was now on the front floor of the van, the bag had been gone through and the backpack was in the back seat of the van. He obviously tossed it there.

I never told resort security, the bellman or the car service over the phone that “my bags” that were in the van consisted of a laptop. But when resort security and the bellman saw me pull the laptop out, they all nodded their heads shaking them and proceeded to understand why he drove off.

Moral of the story: if you don’t want it stolen, don’t leave it out of your site. Because any opportunity to distract you and take your stuff, the bad guy will.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to ADT Home Security Source discussing Home Security and Identity Theft on TBS Movie and a Makeover. Disclosures.

Burglary Raises Fears; Is It Safe to Leave Home?

This is so awfully crazy that I just have a hard time believing someone can be so deceitful and so stupid at the same time.

“A one-time Royal Caribbean sales staffer, who used information about clients’ trips to burglarize their homes while they were cruising, is definitely fodder for chatter. And nothing’s more on topic today than this debate: Should we worry that information about our own travels away from home could fall into the wrong hands? While today’s consumers are well versed in the dangers of “virtual” robberies — identity, credit card numbers — this situation reveals the possibility of more physical theft, in which individuals with access to cruise lines’ reservations systems can match trip dates to home addresses and identify houses to burglarize.

“A Royal Caribbean employee abused her position with the cruise line to identify customers away on cruises and then conspired with her husband to rob their homes during the first nights of their vacations. She was caught, arrested and charged with multiple counts of burglary, and the cruise line has since fired her.

The bad guy is always looking for a way to steal from you. They will stop at nothing to take what’s your and make it theirs.

Contrary to what some might suggest, I’ve never thought it was a good idea to place your name on a “stop mail” list at the post office. Because some crack head postal employee now has a list of opportunities.

It’s the same thing with stopping delivery of your newspaper. Once you are on that list, it is known you are away.

The best case scenario for both issues is to have a trusted friend, family member or neighbor grab your mail and newspaper for you.

Never list your vacation plans on social media. The last thing you need to be doing on Facebook is telling the world you are 2000 miles away.

Do all the fundamentals like invest in a home alarm system that sends an alert to local law enforcement that your house has been broken into. Monitoring is generally a buck a day. I spend more than that on cookies.

Set yourself up with home security cameras. Mine can be accessed from my iPhone and online. It’s kind of addicting, and I’m always checking out the scene at the homestead when I travel.

Put lights on timers to give your home the “lived in look”.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to ADT Home Security Source discussing Home Security on NBC Boston. Disclosures.

Woman Suspect in Pot Stealing Home Invasion

It’s not often that I see “woman suspect” and “home invasion” in the same sentence. Home invasions are mostly done by Cro-Magnon men who are one step out of a cave and temporarily in society until they go back to jail. Police released a sketch of an armed woman accused of stealing two medicinal marijuana plants while a 19-year-old woman was home.

The report goes on to say it was two woman and two men, which makes a little more sense. All is right with the world again. The Mercury News reports the teen was in the bathroom at the time and was ordered to the ground and briefly held captive while the house was pillaged. They stole the pot plants as well as electronics.

The teen was not harmed. Luckily. The pot plants belonged to the teen’s mother, who is a medicinal marijuana card-holder.

California has led the charge to legalize weed for medical purposes. And many a quack provides medicinal marijuana cards to anyone who has even the slightest ailment.

A side effect of having the law past has led to many such crimes. Even though its semi legal, it’s still worth something substantial on the street. So if you tug on the whacky tabacky to sooth your aching whatever, it would probably be a good idea not to broadcast your prescribed pot.

Home invasions are best prevented by locking your doors all day and night and having a home security system installed and armed. Oh and on another note, if you have pot plants it’s probably not a good idea to have them in the window getting sun.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to ADT Home Security Source discussing Home Invasions on Montel. Disclosures.

Chicago: Homicides up, Citywide Crime Down 5.8 Percent

Thanks to Al Capone the infamous gangster, The Windy City has long been known for organized crime dating back to the 30’s. In concentrated areas like big cities, crime is often a factor. But as proven in New York City, effective policing can reduce crime. Chicago seems to be making positive strides in managing its crime climate as well.

Law enforcement in Chicago just announced there was an 11.2 percent drop in violent offenses and 4.2 percent decrease in property crimes. However the 164 recorded homicides in 2010 are six more than last year at this time, an increase of 3.8 percent.

The Chicago Suntimes reported “Homicides have continued to challenge us,” their Chief said, adding that the department will continue to deploy officers to areas where there is a probability of violent crime. “The safest place for your children is in your home under your supervision,” he said. Chicago police also seized 3,513 weapons, which were 189 more than last year. It breaks down to an average of nearly one weapon recovered an hour for the entire year so far.

Imagine if they didn’t get those weapons off the streets.

They further reported there were nearly 2,000 fewer property crimes, a drop of more than 4 percent including a drop in theft at 9.8 percent and burglary at just under 1 percent.

Taking into account the small rise in murders, the overall drop in crime is impressive. Whether you are from a little town or a big city the most effective way to reduce crime is to take an individual responsibility in your own personal security by reaching out to local law enforcement and finding out what systems they may have in place and what kind of information you can bring back to your neighborhoods.

Attend neighborhood watch meetings that may be sponsored by the local police. Work to get everyone on the same page in regards to monitoring your neighborhood to seek out suspicious behavior and report incidents that may lead to crime. Take direct responsibility for yourself and your family by installing heavy duty locks, locking your doors, and install a home alarm system.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to ADT Home Security Source discussing Home Security and Identity Theft on TBS Movie and a Makeover. Disclosures.

Brazen Burglars Broke into the Same House Three Times in a Week

In the first hit they made off with a television and four-figure sum of cash, plus a key to the garden shed.

They came back, let themselves into the shed, and took garden tools but were spotted by the returning home owners.

The GazzetteNews reported the homeowner investigated after noticing the shed door was open, and saw four people in the park behind the house, two of them were holding the tools stolen from the shed and the group ran off.

The burglars then made a third attempt on the house and caused damage to the property.

Local law enforcement well aware of the ongoing break-ins assembled a team of detectives to thwart the property crimes and to try and break the pattern.

Their strategy is to visit well-known suspects, keeping tabs on their whereabouts and doing what they can to “divert these individuals from crime.

“They also work closely with victims, providing them with support and giving them advice on home and personal safety. “Anyone who has had to deal with a burglary will know that it’s not just the financial loss that is difficult; more often than not, items of huge sentimental value are taken, so it also has a huge emotional impact too.

“This is completely unacceptable and the teams will be doing all they can to prevent this from happening to residents in our communities.”

Bravo to all involved in the effort to preserve the sanctity of citizen’s rights to safety and security.

But what’s missing in this story is the homeowner being proactive and doing something to keep the burglars out in the first place. Often a home alarm monitored at a dollar a day will do the trick. In my case, first my cameras see them coming day and night and that notifies me with an audible alert. Second, once they get close enough the German Shepherd lets me and them know she is ready. Third, the doors and windows are all locked. Fourth they need to get through the home alarm system and if they trip it, the local police are called.

If they do make their way in, the Shepherd knows what to do next. Me? If I’m home I’m taking the family out of there as quickly as possible and heading to safety, then pizza.

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to ADT Home Security Source discussing Home Security on NBC Boston. Disclosures.

Data Breaches Persist In Health Care

In September 2009, the Obama administration’s Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act went into effect, requiring hospitals and other health care organization to beef up client data protections. Despite this, a recent study found that health care data is still hemorrhaging from peer to peer networks.

A peer-to-peer, commonly abbreviated to P2P, is any distributed network architecture composed of participants that make a portion of their resources (such as processing power, disk storage or network bandwidth) directly available to other network participants, without the need for central coordination instances (such as servers or stable hosts).

In simple terms, P2P is software installed on your PC and others PCs that allows the sharing of data from each others computers.
Computerworld reports, “One of the more than 3,000 files discovered by the researchers was a spreadsheet containing insurance details, personally identifying information, physician names and diagnosis codes on more than 28,000 individuals. Another document contained similar data on more than 7,000 individuals. Many of the documents contained sensitive patient communications, treatment data, medical diagnoses and psychiatric evaluations. At least five files contained enough information to be classified as a major breach under current health-care breach notification rules.”

In my own research, digging through P2P networks, I’ve uncovered tax returns, student loan applications, credit reports and Social Security numbers. I’ve found family rosters which include usernames, passwords and Social Security numbers for entire families. I’ve found Christmas lists, love letters, private photos, videos, and just about anything else that can be saved as a digital file.

It’s no surprise data is still leaking. File sharing technologies are easier and more user friendly than ever. Faster broadband connections coupled with faster PCs and bigger hard drives make downloading files a snap. Insurance companies, doctor’s offices and hospitals all have computers and those computers are operated by people who like things that are free. Any bored employee who wants to listen to that song he heard on the way to work can simply download Limewire, eDonkey, BearShare, or any other P2P network. Within minutes, that song is on playing on the employee’s iPod, and his employer’s clients’ data is being shared with the world. This type of breech resulted in blueprints for President Obama’s private helicopter being leaked online.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has asked the Department of Justice and the FTC to help prevent illegal use of peer to peer networks, and in the same letter, asked what the government is doing to protect its citizens. But ultimately, it’s up to you to protect yourself.

Don’t install P2P software on your computer. If you aren’t sure whether a family member or employee may have installed P2P software, check for new, unfamiliar applications. A look at your “All Programs Menu” will show nearly every program on your computer. If you see one you don’t recognize, do an online search to see what it is you’ve found. You should also set administrative privileges to prevent the installation of new software without your knowledge.

If you must use P2P software, be sure that you don’t share your hard drive’s data. When you install and configure the software, don’t let the P2P program select data for you.

The Smartcard Alliance has released an in-depth report called “Medical Identity Theft in Healthcare.”

Robert Siciliano, personal security adviser to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses Medical Identity Theft on CBS Early Show. (Disclosures)