Digital Criminal 2012: CyberSafety Report

Written by Mark Johnson on Tuesday March 13, 2012

TRMG has been working with Legal and General to produce that firm’s Digital Criminal 2012: CyberSafety report.  One of the report’s key findings is that criminals are targeting social media users online by setting up fake profiles, ‘friending’ potential targets and then tricking them into giving up sensitive personal information.  The information gleaned in this manner is being used to commit identity theft, fraud and to plan burglaries.

The report’s detailed findings are startling.  For example, over nine out of ten Brits, (91%) using social media at least once a week have been asked to connect online with someone they have never met, and over half (51%) have accepted these requests, according to Legal & General’s Digital Criminal 2012: CyberSafety report .  
The report suggests that this laissez-faire attitude to social networking is putting social media users at risk of falling victim to increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals. Posting too much personal information when connecting to strangers can put themselves, their homes and possessions and businesses they work for, at risk.

Nearly two thirds (63%) of social media users who have connected with people they don't know have done so because they had a mutual friend in common. A third (34%) accepted strangers because they were members of the same group, and over one in ten (11%) assumed they must know them somehow, and it would be rude not to accept.

Digital criminals and burglars are exploiting this trusting attitude and are creating networks of fake profiles to engineer a set of mutual friends, to target individuals and their homes and businesses. The connection enables the criminal to uncover a wealth of personal information about the social media user, the home and where they work, making them and their homes an easier target for burglary and potential risk to the business they work for.

More than a third of European workers on social networks are open to sharing information about the company they work for among their contacts on social media. However, only 13% of European workers currently receive social media training . On average, those taking part in our research stated that they aren’t close to the contacts they’ve made, which could be as many as 62% of their total LinkedIn connections.

Mark Holweger, Broker and Intermediary Director for Legal & General’s general insurance business said:  “We first brought the risk of digital criminals to the attention of consumers in our Digital Criminal report in 2009, but since then both social media usage and criminal activity online has evolved. There are now new risks to consumers from highly sophisticated digital criminals, who are creating a web of fake online profiles. It’s frightening to see the lengths that criminals will go to in order to target victims’ homes and possessions.

As a responsible insurer, we try to keep ahead of digital and social trends, and make consumers aware of new risks.  This is why we are supporting the new “right to be forgotten” legislation being proposed by the EU  and call on the insurance industry to also support this improvement in social media security, to help reduce the risk in the future.”

For example, more and more people are now living in rented accommodation, or renting out a room in their home .  Many of these are young professionals, who are finding it tough to get on the housing ladder, but they are also the most likely to have a high volume of expensive electronics and valuables. Our research shows that young adults are also the most likely to accept requests to connect with strangers online (61%) and brag about attending an exciting event (61%) or going on holiday (61%) on Facebook.

 Michael Fraser, reformed burglar, star of the BBC's Beat the Burglar said: “One of the best places to go internet shopping for burglars is ‘flatmate finding’ websites. Particularly in cities, many people use free advertising sites to upload photos of the room for rent as well as the rest of the property, and usually with a Google map link showing where the property is located. A quick browse will quickly show photos of laptops, ipads, and other high value, easy to steal gadgets.  Photos provide all the details a burglar would need to know about a property before making a break in. A simple message to one of the present tenants asking when they’ll be in to do a viewing will quickly reveal when occupants will also be out of the property - a lovely invitation for a digital criminal from an unsuspecting victim.”

Nearly half of social media users (49%) have never 'Googled' themselves so they are unaware of the personal information that digital criminals can instantly uncover:

  • Over half of social media users (58%) have set up a profile on the internet which they no longer use - 35% of these are on Friends Reunited, and 18% on an online dating website
  • Nearly one in five (17%) who have 'Googled' themselves found information which they weren’t aware was publicly available
  • Over half (57%) are unaware that anyone searching on the internet can access and read their tweets

In addition to supporting the EU proposals, Legal & General is calling for two measures to be put in place by the government and social media industry to limit the risks that social media users face from digital criminals:

  1. That it is mandatory for all social media sites which require registration to contact users whose profiles have been dormant for a year to check whether they wish to re-activate their account or ask for their permission to delete their profile. Currently social media users are at risk of having their dormant profiles hacked, as well as not knowing how these social media sites are using their personal details. This would help social media users to be more in control of the information held on them.
  2. The implementation of a robust verification system which works across all social networks to stamp out fake profiles. So social networks would be able to confirm to users that people using their site or service are who they say they are.

Mark Holweger continues: “These new developments mean it is more important than ever that both homeowners and renters have comprehensive home insurance in place, to protect them should they be a victim of a digital criminal.

Traditionally, younger people are less likely to have home contents insurance. However, they are renting for longer and increasingly likely to advertise for housemates on websites such as and Our research shows many of these adverts are revealing detailed personal information about where they live and photographs of possessions. Consequently, young adults are the most likely to be at risk from digital criminals, due to their laissez-faire attitude to social media, so it’s even more important they are made aware of these dangers.” 

We have put together some virtual housekeeping tips for social media users to help them stay safe online. We would encourage intermediaries and brokers to share these tips with their clients so they are able to enjoy the benefits of social media, without putting themselves, their home and their possessions at risk.

Legal & General’s virtual housekeeping tips:

1. Be secure

  • Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software
  • Use strong passwords, which are eight characters or more, and contain a mixture of letters, numbers and symbols
  • Use different passwords for each account
  • Don’t use your email address as a log on name

2. Clean up your online footprint

  • Google yourself to find out what information is posted about you online
  • Delete old profiles, such as Friends Reunited, Bebo and old dating profiles
  • Check out what is stored on you for marketing purposes on websites such as, and others

3. Check your privacy

  • Check out each social networking site’s privacy policy
  • Set your account’s privacy controls to ‘private’ and be wary of the ‘friends of friends’ permission settings – think about how far this widens your network
  • Check which applications have access to your private data

4. Be wary of strangers

  • Don’t accept friend or connect requests from people who you’ve never met

5. Limit what you publish

  • Don’t reveal your date of birth or gender
  • Don’t reveal where you live or post telephone numbers
  • Don’t talk about your holiday plans, weekend plans, or new purchases

If the worst happens, and you are a victim of burglary, make sure your home contents insurance will cover any losses.

For more information on Legal & General’s Digital Criminal 2012: CyberSafety report, and more detail on social media security, either visit the Legal & General website for intermediaries or brokers, their normal Legal & General contact.

 Mark Johnson is currently assisting ICA with the creation of a new qualification in cyber security. For more information contact us on




[i] Research for Legal & General’s Digital Criminal 2012: CyberSafetyreport was conducted by Vision Critical with a UK representative sample of 2,005 UK adults, who use social networks at least once a week. The research was conducted between 16 January 2012 and 18 January 2012.





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