The Internet isn’t just for porn—it’s also great for robbing homes.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports Samuel A. Watson, 33, used Google Maps to find “expensive homes along the highways … and use satellite views on those homes where you can see 360 degrees,” according to a sargaent the paper spoke to.
Watson is a suspect in up to eight break-ins since March and targeted Chicago’s wealthy Indian Head Park and Burr Ridge neighborhoods. In all, he made off with $100,000 in jewelry and electronics.
Watson’s thefts are disconcerting for many reasons, but they raise particular issues about home security and whether it’s possible to safeguard our property in the digital age. With more homeowners listing their properties online, the advent of sites like PleaseRobMe.com, and vacant, foreclosed homes appearing online and posing risks for squatters and crime, it’s imperative homeowners take steps to protect their home.
Business Insider tapped John Sileo, an identity theft expert and author of Privacy Means Profit, to learn how to remove your home from Google Maps—your first course of action. Here are the steps, which he allowed us to republish from his site Sileo.com, and demonstrates in the video below:
- Go to maps.google.com.
- Locate your house by typing its address into the search box and pressing Enter.
- Click the red push-pin marker representing your house on the map.
- Click Street View.
- Adjust Google Maps Street View by clicking the left and right arrows on the Street View image until you see your house.
- Click the Report a Problem link at the bottom-left corner of the Street View image.
- Click Privacy Concerns, My House and I Have Found a Picture of My House and Would Like It Removed.
- Type your privacy concerns into the Please Describe the Problem box.
- Type your email address into the Email Address box. Type the characters that you see in the picture into the Word Verification box.
- Click the Submit button at the bottom of the Web page.
The steps aren’t foolproof however. Sileo notes that oftentimes Google won’t allow homeowners to proceed with the final step.
“The problem is it’s intermittent and it often can’t be done,” he says. “Frankly people should write in their complaint to Google and copy their congressperson as well.”
With this in mind, here are other steps to take regardless:
- Take down your For Rent sign. It’s like an advertisement saying, “Please, rob my home, it’s vacant!” There are plenty of other ways to market your home online, says Zillow.
- Put your lights on a timer. Regularly-scheduled lights make it appear as if someone is home.
- Check your blinds. Downstairs blinds should be closed and upstairs blinds should be open, giving the appearance that someone’s inside, notes Zillow.
- Keep up your yard. It almost goes without saying that a unkempt yard leads people to believe no one’s around—or that your home is being foreclosed on. Mow the yard and keep your driveway tidy.
- Start a neighbourhood watch. Zillow offers five tips to do it, starting with talking to your neighbours to gauge their interest and designating posts to keep a closer eye on mischief.