SPECIAL REPORT: Who's Checking You Out, While You're Checking In?

Audrey Castoreno

Many people these days are a part of a social network. But could some of those applications be putting you in harms way? We're talking about checking in to locations through social media.

The trend has exploded across Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare but NewsWest 9 wanted to know what the real dangers that were behind this seemingly-innocent function.

It has become second nature to many of us posting pictures, updating statuses, and checking into the places we visit.

"What's the draw to it?" NewsWest 9 asked.

"I guess like teenage cliques and stuff," Social Media User, Nicky Vu said.

"Let my friends know where I am I guess," Social Media User, Robert Coberly said.

"Just to let them know. I guess it's a form of showing off a little bit," Social Media User, Miguel Ramos said.

But is something as simple as checking in putting you in harms way?

"No, hasn't really crossed my mind," Social Network User, Shelby Mitchelle, said.

"Do you check in on Facebook or Foursquare?" NewsWest 9 asked one teen.

"Only if I'm going out of town really," Social Media User, Jamie Whittington, said.

NewsWest 9 then asked "Have you ever thought about it as maybe a safety concern?"

"Well I have my profile on private and nobody can really view it, so it's not a huge deal to me. And I only accept people I know in real life," Whittington said.

"I never really thought about it like that; safety as a concern. But I mean it could be a concern if you want somebody not knowing where you're at, that could hurt you," Ramos said.

That's what alot of people said. People never really think about just how much they are sharing and if they could be setting themselves up to be a victim.

NewsWest 9 spoke with Midland Crime Prevention to see what the misconceptions are when it comes to those of us who check in.

"It allows people that you barely know to basically track when your checking in. There's nothing to say that who you're talking to is actually who it is," Midland Crime Prevention Sergeant, Darin Clements, said.

NewsWest 9 even found that kids were able to check into their school campuses, even down to the exact class they were in. Which raises another safety concern when it comes to the adolescent crowd.

"They're giving out information that people probably wouldn't know, but you're putting it out there for free. For someone to pickup," Clements said.

Many businesses make checking in more attractive by offering incentives. Chili's for example offers free chips and salsa every time you visit their establishment.

But even if you don't do the checking in, you still could get tagged at a location. Informing everyone where you are at.

Based on the annual state of the net report found on ConsumerReports.org, it was found that 4.8 million people have used Facebook to say where they planned to go on a certain day. A potential tip-off for burglars or even worse.

Some also don't use privacy controls. The report found that 13 million users said they had never set, or didn't know about, Facebook's privacy tools. Of those, 28% shared all, or almost all, of their wall posts more than just their friends.

So NewsWest 9 wanted to put the theory to the test. Using Foursquare, we went to a local Starbucks location to see who was checking-in.

There we found a woman; who we'll call Alley.

Although Alley had already left the establishment with her toffee nut mocha.

In less than two minutes, we were able to find out her hometown, place of work and some personal details about her life. All based on what she linked from her Foursquare profile. Only thing really holding us back was the speed of our 3G service.

So NewsWest 9 decided to pay Alley a visit at her job, but as we expected, she didn't want to go on camera.

Facebook has privacy settings, but many of us friend people we hardly know, and once you do that, much of your information is then at their disposal.

"I think they're letting their guard down prematurely. They can find out a lot of information and there's people that go out just looking for that information," Clements said.

Here's some tips we found on ConsumerReports.org on how you can protect yourself:

  • Each month, check how your page looks to others.
  • Update your privacy settings if necessary.
  • Protect basic information. Such as your town or employer.
  • And remember: sharing info with "friends of friends" could expose it to tens of thousands.
  • "Un-public" your wall. Set the audience for all previous wall posts to just friends.
  • Turn off tag suggest. If you'd rather not have Facebook automatically recognize your face in photos, disable that feature in your privacy settings. The information will be deleted.

All it takes is a few minutes to go and fix your settings and that can go a long way to keep the wrong people from checking you out, while you're checking in.