Staffordshire Police say thieves using social media sites to target bikes after £175k spate of thefts

Hundreds of bikes stolen in south of county in last quarter of 2012 - plus our guide to online security

by Simon_MacMichael   March 13, 2013  

Wheel from stolen bike © Simon MacMichael.JPG

Staffordshire Police believe that cycle thieves are using information garnered from social networking sites to target high-value bicycles following a string of thefts from garden sheds and outbuildings in the south of the county, with 370 bikes worth a combined £175,000 stolen between September and December last year, giving an average value of £468 each.

The warning in Staffordshire is similar to an alert issued by Greater Manchester Police in January this year following a string of thefts there, and locations where  the thieves are operating are said to include Burntwood, Burton, Cannock, Lichfield, Rugeley, Stafford, Stone, Uttoxeter, and Wombourne.

Sergeant Dave Morris of Staffordshire Police commented: "We have noticed an increase in the number of high-value cycles being stolen from sheds and outbuildings across the south of the county.

"Our investigations have shown that some of the victims had been using websites and mobile phone apps to log their routes - these sites allow users to view each others routes and track their rides.

"Some of the GPS data recorded and shared on these sites is so accurate you can pin point the house where the journey’s have begun and ended. We suspect some thieves have been using these sites to identify potential victims and high-value bikes.

"Many of the sites also link to social networking sites to share routes. Users are urged to check the privacy settings of any apps they use and avoid using Twitter and Facebook to share maps of their routes, as these could potentially identify their home addresses and inadvertently ‘advertise’ the location of their bike to thieves.

"Alternatively, they can opt to start the tracking function a few streets away from their home address and stop it again before returning home.

"Through Operation Impact, the force’s ongoing crackdown on acquisitive crime, we’re determined to reduce such thefts," he added.

road.cc’s online security tips

We’re all for online communities here at road.cc – after all, we are one and the interaction between our own users is one of the things that makes the site what it is – but as the story above shows, there may be people watching who have intentions that go beyond taking exception with your opinion of helmets or Rapha and who’ll give you more than the odd flame to worry about. Here’s some pointers to keeping safe online, with an emphasis on bike security.

If you mainly post online under a pseudonym and never mention your real name in connection with that, you’re already a step ahead. If not, there are a few things you can do to make yourself more secure, both when it comes to your bike and generally.

• Since Facebook accounts tend to be under users’ real names, it’s not difficult for thieves to link that and other information to publicly available address information, so you may want to review your privacy settings to have control over who can see your profile (yes, we know Facebook keeps changing them, but try and keep on top).

• Be very careful about posting images online. We all like to post pictures of our new toys online, but a bit of common sense is needed. A photo of your brand new bike with your house clearly identifiable behind it could attract unwanted attention. You may wish to disable GPS information used by some photo sharing sites.

• The same goes for information you share on sites that track your rides and make the information public. Strava has a feature that enables you to hide the start and finish point of your ride, particularly useful if that happens to be your home. Use it.

• Don’t go into detail online about the specific type of security you have, whether in relation to your bike or your home generally; you’re giving the thieves a chance to prepare by making sure they have the right tools for the job. Likewise talking online about going away for a while, on holiday perhaps, can flag up an unoccupied house to the thieves .

• Even if you don’t post on social media under your real name, be wary about how much information you make public. The less you reveal, the less others know about who you are and where you live. Keep it vague – town or district, fine, the street you live on, think twice.

• It's not just Facebook and Twitter, either that you need to be careful about - as the story above shows, even club websites can be trawled by the crooks for information. Site admins may want to consider a private area of the site where members can chat.

• This isn’t specifically online-related, but we know that cyclists are sometimes followed home, the thieves returning later once they know where you live. If, close to your house, there’s somewhere you can go on your bike that someone watching you in a car can’t, go there. Try and vary your route if you can. Or ride a little way past your house then loop back.

8 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

This is something that had bothered me about my garmin. I'd like garmin connect to randomise the start and finish points by default by say, within a circle of 500m. I don't mind sharing my ride but I don't like sharing where I live!

posted by kitkat [213 posts]
14th March 2013 - 13:58

3 Likes

Whenever I create a route that is 'Public' online, I take care to start it some distance from my home. It's the same reason why I don't upload GPS traces.
I thought the security aspect was obvious.

I use a number of different pseudonyms and take other precautions too.

posted by Recumbenteer [148 posts]
15th March 2013 - 18:47

3 Likes

Specifically in relation to Strava, it's worth pointing out that in privacy settings, you can set an exclusion zone of say 500 metres around your home address. Any shared routes starting/finishing at home will stop at the edge of your exclusion zone for anyone looking (although obviously you will be able to see the full route).

StuayEd's picture

posted by StuayEd [64 posts]
16th March 2013 - 3:29

2 Likes

Sounds like the police could easily set up some decoy accounts with some low-hanging bait...

But it's obviously not a priority. I mean it's only more than a bike a day and £175K

Ride your own ride

posted by CanAmSteve [155 posts]
16th March 2013 - 11:36

3 Likes

Always start and stop the garmin t least 500m from your house, common sense. Nerd

posted by jamesxyz [20 posts]
16th March 2013 - 21:13

2 Likes

Anything that raises awareness of cycle theft is to be applauded, but this is just a police press release. You're not supposed to take it seriously. Nobody's been caught red-handed with a stripy top, a Strava log-in and a big bag full of Pinarelli. This is just Burglars Using Streetview with added bikes. If you were going to spend a lot of time researching market segmentation and demographics on social networks to enhance the prospects of your small startup, you probably don't nick bikes from sheds.

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [31 posts]
18th March 2013 - 9:14

3 Likes

StuayEd wrote:
Specifically in relation to Strava, it's worth pointing out that in privacy settings, you can set an exclusion zone of say 500 metres around your home address. Any shared routes starting/finishing at home will stop at the edge of your exclusion zone for anyone looking (although obviously you will be able to see the full route).

I use this, but have wondered whether, given a 500 metre exclusion zone, if I go for a ride in different directions, does it allow someone to triangulate my final position?

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3320 posts]
18th March 2013 - 11:55

2 Likes

Quote:
where the journey’s have begun

Easy with that apostrophe, Eugene.

posted by Cauld Lubter [121 posts]
20th March 2013 - 15:16

3 Likes