If you’re on vacation enjoying a chilled margarita on the beach—and taking pictures of yourself while you’re at it— you should probably wait until you’re back home before posting those selfies online.

That’s because “instabragging,” or posting photos on social media that announce you're on vacation—or, say, out of the house at a fancy restaurant—may make you a target for criminals.

And if you’re robbed and make an insurance claim, instabragging might get you in trouble with your insurer. 

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Although no one tracks crimes committed because a criminal got wind on social media that a homeowner was away from home or bought something expensive, insurance and home-security experts say the threat is real nonetheless.

“We don’t realize there are bad people out there who might be watching everything we do, waiting to pounce,” says Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an industry not-for-profit group.

According to Scafidi, instabragging could violate an insurance policy’s "reasonable care" clause, which stipulates that policyholders do everything they can to make their home burglar-resistant and secure from risk.

He says he isn’t aware of home insurance companies scouring claimants’ social media posts during the normal course of business. But Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group, says insurers may look at social media posts in some specific instances.

“If you make a number of expensive claims, then they may check your social media activity and whether you’re doing everything possible to secure your home,” Worters says. “They probably won’t deny your claim, but they may raise your rates.”

Scafidi says there’s also a risk of losing your insurance. Some companies “may decide to settle up on the claim and simply not reinsure you,” he says.

Don't Overshare Online

To avoid trouble, you should be careful about what you post and what you write in the comments section of a post when friends ask you where you are or how long you’ll be there. This is especially true in August, the peak month for burglaries because so many people are away, Worters says.

It may seem obvious, but you should never post your phone number or home address either.

“It’s akin to what we recommend folks do when they go on vacation,” Worters says. “Make sure you leave the lights on in the house. Make sure that your newspaper is taken in. If you’re taking these precautions while you’re on vacation, you should take precautions online, too.” 

If you’re very active on social media and are concerned about potential insurance ramifications, Scafidi recommends asking your agent about it and keeping notes about what he or she says.

More Safety Steps to Take

Of course, exercising caution with social media is just one smart practice. Here are some additional tips on how to protect your home from burglars while you’re away: 

Start with a great lock: Consumer Reports test engineers found big differences when they evaluated deadbolt door locks for their ability to resist being kicked in, drilled, or picked. And price is no predictor of quality.

Experts at our National Testing and Research Center tested 22 models in door locks to see which ones perform best.

Lock your windows: No less than 30 percent of burglars gain access to a home through an unlocked window or door, according to the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. So lock your windows and doors, folks.

Consider a security system: “Get a home security system and display the sign prominently,” advises Richard Berk, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. According to the FBI, on average, only 12.4 percent of burglaries end in a conviction. In other words, a majority of burglars get away with their crimes, a fact that probably emboldens a fair share.

Put on a good show: Taking steps to make your home appear occupied when you're away is an effective way to deter burglars, according to Berk. “Leave items in your yard that make it look like you’ve got a dog,” he adds, and “put a few lights on an automatic timer, so it looks like people are home.”

Look for weak spots: A thoroughly secured front door won’t do much good if you leave other entry points, like cellar or garage doors, unsecured. Those are best locked from inside rather than with a padlock on the outside, which can be cut with bolt cutters.

Avoid gimmicky key-hiding solutions: You might think you’re protected by hiding keys outdoors in fake rocks, leprechaun statues, and other such staples of home-improvement catalogs, but you're not. Burglars read catalogs too and will know where your keys are stashed.

Inspect the exterior of your house: Burglars can hide from observant neighbors or block patrols in tall shrubs and hedges near the house. Add lighting where necessary; motion-sensitive fixtures are best.

Don’t advertise the goods: Doing some shopping? Don’t announce it by leaving the packaging outside for pickup. Cut it up or dispose of it elsewhere.

Let the authorities know you're away: Tell your local police department that you're traveling and ask it to put your home on its watch list. You should also leave a spare key and contact number with the department in case of an emergency. 

Paul Hope, a Consumer Reports writer, contributed to this report.

Protect Your Home When You're Away

You want to keep what you have safe from burglars, right? On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, Consumer Reports shows you how to protect your property when you're not home.