Hey Kids: Vandalize our house on Twitter and Facebook!

Social networking is being used as communications mechanisms to orchestrate vandalism of vacant homes.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

This Thanksgiving week, my wife and I are in Florida not only to visit my family, but also for another reason: House hunting.

As I wrote in an earlier post, due to the high taxes, deteriorating infrastructure as well as my desire to move to a warmer climate, I'm looking to move out of the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. So we enlisted the help of a local realtor here in South Florida to help us find candidates that might be our new home.

Some of the homes we have looked at or chosen as potential candidates have been bank owned properties that were foreclosed and are therefore vacant. In South Florida this is not unusual as there is a tremendous glut of available real estate, due to many families in middle class or even wealthy communities having to declare bankruptcy or falling behind in their mortgage payments.

One particular house we liked in Coral Springs -- a pristine four bedroom, three bathroom home with open floor plan, vaulted ceilings, swimming pool and fully remodeled kitchen -- was such a bank-owned property. Over the course of the week, we returned to it three times, in order to compare it to other homes we were narrowing down on our list.

On the third visit, upon pulling up to the driveway, we noticed a junk removal truck. I looked at my wife and our realtor and said "What junk removal? The house is empty." We walked inside.

What we saw made us sick to our stomach. The pristine, beautiful home that we had just seen the previous afternoon, with brand new hardwood floors and new bedroom carpeting was a complete wreck. Water was spilled all over the entire floor of the home, and the hardwood was ruined and was being ripped out. What the hell happened? Was it a pipe burst?

After calling the listing realtor, we had found out what actually happened. That morning, the pool maintenance service had discovered that a lot of water was coming out of the front door. The vacant home had been broken into the previous evening, had been vandalized and was used as a party pad by kids in the local area.

As a parting gift, they smashed the toilets which caused water to damage the entire home.

This type of thing apparently happens all the time in Florida, given the large amount of vacant homes for sale, even in gated, protected communities. But what makes this relevant to technology is that teenagers and pre-teens apparently use social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook to coordinate their attacks.

The local police have apparently already found the culprits, and now the parents of these kids are going to have to pay the bank damages. The youths responsible for the vandalism are are likely going to be charged with felony home invasion. In Florida they are going to be prosecuted as adults, and the penalties could be be extremely severe.

I have to wonder whether or not if these kids who live in these upper middle class communities who have access to services like Facebook and Twitter make it easier for them to communicate and organize their activities. Part of the problem I think may lie with the fact that the parents of these children do not monitor them, or it is simply difficult to do so.

Presumably, the juveniles use alternative Twiiter and Facebook IDs in order to conduct their vandalizing activities, so their parents or legal guardians have no idea what is going on.

There has to be a way to deal with the problem, perhaps by using security software on mobile devices and on the computers these kids use, and reporting all suspicious summary keystroke activity to parents, schools or even law enforcement.

The premise is a bit severe, and I'm not happy with the idea that parents should be spying on everything their kids do. But after seeing what happened to a house that could have been my dream home, I'm inclined to favor strict monitoring of what kids do on their computing devices.

Does your community suffer from home vandalism and do you beleive social networking is partially to blame? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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