Saturday, September 24, 2011

Traveling, Security & the Age of Facebook

Frequent cruiser, former supervisor for the State Judiciary in New Jersey, and long-time Internet user Karen Segboer has experience with not only travel and online networking, but with “bad guys” on the wrong side of the law as well. She’s shared some important words of wisdom with me to pass along to everyone who’s active on social networking sites and is planning a trip.

Whether you are going on a cruise, to Disney World, or just visiting out-of-town family for a few days, take heed of Karen’s advice...

“We hear (and worry) so much about Homeland Security when it comes to leaving home, getting on a plane or a ship or maybe even a train or a bus, but what about personal security, especially in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and other social network sites? I resisted Facebook for a very long time, finally succumbing because everybody else in the world that I wanted to interact with and talk to was there. Most days I’m glad I joined. Many of us have been wringing our hands recently because of the newest Facebook upgrades, changes and improvements, but do we really ever take a good, hard look at what we’re putting out there in the world? It’s an easy thing to get carried away with sharing information. We know from reading in the newspaper or hearing on the TV news about online scams and predators who go after children and elderly folks. But what about travelers? What about those who watch us online, waiting for us to go someplace?

There are so many places on the Internet to rejoice in an upcoming cruise, telling our Facebook ‘Friends’ where we’re going and how long we’ll be away, when we’re leaving and when we’re coming back home again. But is this such a good idea? And how about those new Facebook ‘Friends,’ or the friends of friends we now all have on Facebook? Do we really know enough about them to be sharing such personal information about ourselves?

I’ve tried very hard to keep the kind of information off the Internet that could bring unexpected visitors to my home while I’m away or allow someone to take advantage of my good fortune of being on vacation. I don’t always succeed, exuberance overcomes me, and I sometimes slip and put information out there that should best be kept to myself for the time being. I try to keep the vacation updates and photos uploaded to my Facebook page until I get back home again. Failing that, I always try to remember to post that I have someone at my home house- and pet-sitting (which is true, with two cats and a dog), neighbors watching our place because we’re not at home, so anyone considering my residence as an easy target will probably think twice. E-mailing vacation photos to the ones back home that you trust is fine. Posting all of it ‘out thre’ is maybe not so fine.

Before Facebook and some of the other more popular social networks took off so successfully, the other now less-populated places online like Usenet were sources of information for bad people to do bad things while you were away from home. Several years ago, in one Usenet newsgroup I used to frequent, a woman who lived in Manhattan would use her full address and phone number in her signature file at the end of all of her posts in a cruise newsgroup. No doubt she thought it was the friendly, outgoing thing to do. But when she announced that she and her family would be on a cruise, gave the date of departure and the date she was coming back home again, then put her information out there once again, one other regular poster spoke up, hopefully to her benefit and without any malice felt by her. All of this is not new regarding the bad guys out there. I’m reminded of a local scam many years ago involving a group of home invaders checking out obituaries in the newspapers to see who would be attending a funeral and when so they could rob their house!

We worry about our kids. We worry about our finances. We worry about security for so many things when it comes to the Internet, and as more and more time goes by, we use it more frequently regarding things for which we never in the past would have trusted the online world. Facebook, although relatively new, but still ubiquitous, should trigger some guidelines for you to implement for yourself when you’re not at home, as well. Be careful, be safe, be cautious when giving out your personal information to the world. And have a nice cruise.”
Since her retirement (most of her career was spent as a probation officer in Northern New Jersey), Karen has been indulging her penchant for both writing and traveling—as much as possible of both pursuits. Karen’s first cruise back in 1988 was on an old converted Moore-MacCormack ship renamed the Queen of Bermuda. She says, “Before we were out of the Hudson River and into the North Atlantic, I was hooked. Of course, my husband was a seasoned ship person, having gone back and forth across the Pond since he was a young lad, the very first time, emigrating on an old Holland America Line ship called the Maasdam, later to become the much-loved Polish ship, Stefan Batory. Our next cruise is a two week trip on HAL’s Oosterdam. Next year it will be a Spring cruise to the Baltic area.”

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