TAMPA, Fl - Burglars have a new tool to help them break into your house, and it is right at their fingertips.
Hillsborough County authorities report seeing incidents of burglars using Google maps to case homes.
"They can look without driving through the neighborhood and case your house," said Larry McKinnon with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "They have a bird's eye view of it."
Google maps not only offers aerial views, but street views of your home. Ultimately, thieves can get a 360 degree look at your property and what is around it.
"They'll know maybe where they can get in a back screen porch, because just because driving down the street they wouldn't see that," McKinnon added.
Similar property images can also be found at the tax assessors office. However, those are records burglars would most likely need to ask for in person.
With a computer or smartphone, you can do this in the privacy of your own home or at your own discretion.
"Who doesn't have a map app on their smart phone?" said Mitch Neff, an internet safety expert. "It is very quick and easy to get that information."
Neff explained that homeowners do have the option to block their homes from being seen. Here are the steps to follow to do so:
1. Go to maps.google.com .
2. Type your home address into the search bar.
3. Once your home is located, click the red push-pin marker representing your house.
4. Click Street View.
5. Click the Report a Problem link at the bottom right hand corner of your home's image.
6. A new screen will pop up and you need to click on Privacy Concerns. When the menu appears, click My House then choose the option stating, 'I have found a picture of my house and want it blurred.'
7. A comment box is there for you to briefly write your safety concerns.
8. Type in your email address and click submit.
A Google representative should respond to your request within an hour. If they OK your request, your home's image will be blurred.
But, before clicking submit, Neff said you need to consider the message you are sending if you do blur your home's image.
"[Burglars may think] this image is blurred out so these folks have something to hide and that actually make you more of a target," Neff said.
Neff said Google can and will deny requests if you live in an apartment complex because there are other tenants.
While you can get rid of the street view, Neff said you cannot request the aerial view of your home to be blurred.
McKinnon said that is why people need to return to the basics when protecting their property. He urges residents to always lock their doors and close their windows, put up security lighting and put on an alarm if you have a system installed.
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