Facebook crime-boasts help police nab cons

Police in Saskatoon are scanning social-networking sites, such as Facebook, for chatter about criminal activity.

The front page of Facebook declares that the social-networking website "helps you connect and share with the people in your life," but police in Saskatoon say some of the people doing the connecting are partners in crime

Officers are using this to their advantage by scanning the site, which allows users to post personal information and photos, looking for criminals who boast about their activities.

"We do have one case ... where somebody is actually admitting to their friends, through open communication, which they haven't clicked off privacy, that they were involved in a fairly serious crime. I think it was an aggravated assault," Insp. Neil Wylie of the Saskatoon Police Service told CBC News.

Wylie said Facebook, which claims to have more than 250 million users worldwide, as well as other social-networking sites such as MySpace, are useful starting points for police investigations — leading officers to photos and personal information that connect people to crimes.

Police also use the personal profiles found on Facebook and MySpace to compile lists of friends of criminals.

Wylie said sometimes those "friends" can turn out to be victims of sexual predators.

Protecting privacy

Wylie said users of social-networking sites can also find themselves the victims of crime.

He said people will sometimes discuss their vacation plans openly in their posts, which strangers might be able to access.

"The next step [for criminals] is, 'Let's check the phone book and see where they live'," said Wylie.

"And they know their house is vacant for a month. You're … setting yourself up … for a crime to happen."

Wylie is urging people to review their privacy settings on Facebook and other sites to keep personal information out of sight from would-be criminals.