Today I received an email. That, in itself, isn’t remarkable. I get a few. However, this one was from the Police.
Luckily it arrived to inform me that a number of bikes had been stolen from the local area. This, in fact, was the second such email and three different burglaries had occurred during a couple of evenings. Last night a shed had been broken into, seemingly targeted, and three locks were no match for the determined thief, who got away with a high-value bike..
This follows 2 garage burglaries at the weekend, where 3 high-value bikes were stolen from each address. Please make every effort to secure sheds and garages, and owners of high value bikes in particular are urged to take extra security measures.
The people pinching these bikes and breaking in seemed to know exactly where they were. This wasn’t some random break-in and these weren’t just ordinary BMX’s or kids bikes, these were all expensive bikes used for all-terrain riding or speedy road cycling. They cost sometimes cost thousands and are used by avid cyclists who take challenging routes and improve their fitness.
Now, I’m not saying that this is 100% how the thieves are doing this, but with the accuracy of the break-ins and the repeated “hits” on various homes in my area, I believe that a lot of burglars are making use of GPS tracking websites. There’s a lot of these, and most tend to show routes that have been taken by others. They’re really enjoyable and I’ve used them quite a bit this summer to show how far I’ve cycled, how many calories I’ve burned and how challenging the route was. A lot of the time there’s a “share” feature which may actually be enabled as default so, when you finish your ride and check how many miles you did, it gets uploaded to either (a) a page viewable by other members or (b) somewhere viewable by your friends.
If it’s (a), which it is a lot of the time, then it’s easy for me – a member who signed up to the website with a disposable email address and fake details – to see exactly where you went and at when.
Just think about the information you’re giving potential crooks here.
– Most sites show your start and finish location, which is nearly always your home, so potential thieves know exactly where you live (and where your bike is kept) instantly. A lot of these routes are shown to other members.
– Some sites show your public profile, even showing the type of bike you have or the option to upload photos. As a thief I can check your profile shot and see if the bike you’re sat on is worth pinching.
– A lot of sites, some even on the main page, will show who’s actively excercising right now, so thieves can easily see when your home is empty. Couple this with the fact that your profile could show your historical routes to all members and the burglars will know roughly how long before you get home again.
– You can use Google Streetview and their satellite view to zoom in on houses and, well, you can see where I’m going with this.
I’ve picked a GPS Sports Tracking site completely at random below. There’s a number of similar offerings from Map My Ride, RunKeeper, Endomondo, iBiker and more. Don’t forget that it’s not just cyclists – if you’re an avid runner then other members of the site could spot patterns in your running behaviour and see when you’re out. This is all ideal information for a potential break-in and again, let’s not forget those profile shots which could have your sporty car or big-screen TV in the background. It’s all juicy detail for a thief.
With the app below I simply clicked on a random profile, then went into their recent rides ….
Click on the map at the top, zoom in a bit and – wham. I can see where this person lives. I’ve blotted out the exact road name but, when you get a GPS track that starts and finishes in the same place like this, it’s very easy to see where this person lives. I could also see what bike they had from their profile shot..
Not all thieves are opportunists. Many are cunning and clever. They’ll use information from your profile to find your bike, open your garage and, in seconds, they’re away. Most modern bikes can fetch a lot of money in Cash Converters or on auction sites, so they’ll generate quite a bit of cash for the thief. Here’s another few shots, just to show you how easily I got this information..
Now, apologies in advance for shouting into the microphone on the video below. Turn me down a bit :) I’ve done very little planning in this video and have simply registered an account on a few sites with a throw-away email address. This shows you just how easy it is to stumble across.
So, if you want to protect yourself, check the sharing settings on your GPS tracking app. Take a few minutes to look into the terms and your account options. At a really basic level, at least check that you’re not turning on your tracking when you’re outside your front door. If you’re going to put your life on-line, be careful what you share, because it’s not always just friends who are looking at you.
(Update – Video now fixed!)