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

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.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.