Friday, October 28, 2011

Why You Should Avoid Posting Vacation Plans Online: Bucks County Family Allegedly Burglarized By Facebook Friend Steve Pieczynski

Many people post impending vacation plans to various web sites, including Facebook. Some will even post specific dates when they'll be out of town. However, there are predators online who can follow up on that information, determine the address, and visit the person's home during their absence to burglarize it, or worse.

This happened to a family in Wrightstown Township in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on September 27th, 2011. The family had posted detailed vacation plans on their Facebook page, and a Facebook friend, Steve Pieczynski, allegedly used that information to burglarize the family's residence in their absence. This post combines and summarizes reports from NBCPhiladelphia, Phillyburbs.com, Bucks Local News, and CBS Philly; all offer different individual elements to the story.

A dark-colored Toyota with New Jersey plates was observed parked in the family's driveway between noon Sept. 27 and 9 p.m. Sept. 28. Knowing the family was out of town, one alert neighbor recorded the plate number. Meanwhile, a friend of the victims was checking in on their house on Sept. 29 and discovered an open door; he reported it to police, who told their contact to have the homeowners call them when they arrived back from vacation. Upon their return, the victims determined that several pieces of jewelry, gift cards, a container of coins, and 120 DVDs were missing, and contacted police. Police investigated, found out the Toyota's plate number, and traced it back to Steve Pieczynski of Lambertville, N.J. Further investigation revealed the following:

-- Pieczynski was a Facebook friend of the family
-- Detective Chris Bush reviewed Pieczynski's Facebook page and saw photos of the car that neighbors had reported seeing at the victims' house
-- Some of the missing items were found at Pieczynski's residence

On the basis of such damning evidence, Pieczynski was arrested at his place of employment on October 20th and charged with burglary, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, along with some unspecified related charges. He's been released on $2,500 bond. It is likely the victims have "defriended" him by now. But despite the state's strong case against Pieczynski, his lawyer insists he's innocent. WPVI Channel 6 news video embedded below (after the jump):





IndependentTraveler.com offers the following suggestions to make yourself less vulnerable:

Think twice about posting your detailed vacation plans on Twitter or Facebook — especially if that information is visible to Internet users other than your friends and family (and it probably is). Be careful what you say on your answering machine or voice mail too. Callers don’t need to know that you’re not home — they just need to know that you can’t come to the phone right now.

If you must share your travel plans on Facebook, put the site’s privacy controls to good use. Manage who views your posts by sorting your Facebook friends into customized groups. For example, you can create a “Family” group of relatives and close buddies in the Privacy Settings section of your Facebook account. Then, when posting a status update on your wall, use the audience-selector dropdown menu to choose the Family group. Only those whom you’ve pegged as family will be able to see what you’ve posted.

Another helpful hint is to get to know your neighbors, so they'll react the same way the neighbors in this story did.

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