Safeguarding Against Online Profile Exploitation: Protecting Your Assets from Criminal Gangs

Lauren Barr 27 Jul 2023

As the world and technology advances, criminals have adapted their methods to exploit vulnerabilities in our online presence, posing a significant threat to both individuals and businesses. In this article, we explore key insights from recent reports on luxury thefts and provide practical recommendations to help you avoid becoming a target of theft.

Understanding the Changing Landscape

Over the past few years, there has been an alarming rise in luxury item theft cases, encompassing both physical and digital domains, with criminals leveraging sophisticated techniques to access personal information, and details of valuable assets. In 2022 a total of 6,109 watches were reported as stolen in London to Metropolitan Police according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) by Watchfinder & Co. This is expected to be only a fraction of the real number as not all robberies are reported to the police for a variety of reasons.

In November 2021, cyclist Mark Cavendish was targeted in what was described as “a well-orchestrated and well-executed planned invasion of the home of a well-known individual with the intention of grabbing high-value timepieces,”. Two Richard Mille watches, for whom Mr Cavendish was a brand ambassador and had posted images of himself with, were stolen; valued at £400,000 and £300,000.

While in December 2022, jewellery and watches were among items stolen at the Surrey home of England footballer Raheem Sterling. These incidents, however, are not only limited to sports stars, with reports of incidents involving wealthy individuals being targeted on the streets of major cities.

A rise in ‘thefts to order’ has also been noted, where brokers who specialise in laundering stolen items and re-selling to unsuspecting buyers make requests to criminal gangs on exactly what items are in demand. By conducting basic research on social media and other sources, such as company filings, criminals can build up a pattern of life. This allows them to meticulously plan thefts with precision and sophistication to increase the chances of success. Overall, the trend is moving from less opportunistic to more targeted thefts.

It is crucial to stay informed and proactive in implementing protective measures to mitigate these risks effectively.

Practical Recommendations to Avoid Becoming a Target of Theft

Exercise Caution with Personal Information:

  1. Be mindful of Social Media sharing: Limit the amount of personal information shared on social media platforms, as criminals can exploit this data for targeted attacks. Information such as your current location can give criminals an opportunity to target you, or your home should they be able to confirm it is empty. This extends to family and/or staff who may not be as security conscious.
  2. Control privacy settings: Review and adjust privacy settings on social media accounts to restrict access to personal information and limit visibility to trusted connections.
  3. Don’t overshare: Be conscious of information being shared in the media. Interviews or exposes often include ‘contextual’ information on family members, residential location, or details of properties etc.
  4. Separate business and pleasure: Consider information shared with publicly accessible registries, for example companies house. This type of information is often shared without a thought to privacy or security but could expose a residential address details. This also applies to planning applications, these can often include detailed plans of a property, including details of security systems and even the location of panic rooms.

Safeguard Physical Assets:

  1. Home security measures: Invest in a robust security system, including burglar alarms, surveillance cameras, and secure locks for doors and windows. Regular reviews will ensure systems are secure, up to date and have not been compromised.  Displaying signs of a monitored security system can act as a deterrent.
  2. Secure valuables: Store important documents, jewellery, and other valuables in a locked safe or safety deposit box.
  3. Register assets: Watches and other items can be registered with the Art Loss Register, which can help law enforcement to verify and reunite owners with their assets.
  4. Shred sensitive documents: Dispose of sensitive information, such as bank statements, credit card offers, or medical records, by shredding them before discarding.
  5. Protect yourself: It may be prudent to employ the services of a close protection, who can operate overtly or covertly depending on your requirements and need for discretion. They will offer advice on management of a routine and hardening an environment for protective security.
  6. Manage Your Inner Circle: Always conduct thorough Due Diligence on employees and contractors, which can help mitigate against any surprises.

In today’s interconnected world, the significance of protecting our personal and financial security cannot be overstated. Assessing what physical and digital security you currently have in place and the personal information in the public domain will help to safeguard yourself from those who might exploit this information for malicious purposes. It doesn’t have to be a focus on hiding your wealth, as there are undeniably instances where you may be expected to display luxury items as part of a commercial endorsement. Rather, the focus should be building awareness of the risks and proactively putting mitigations in place.