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identity theft in real estate

Real Estate Guide to Identity Theft

In the world of mobile phones and social media, gaining access to one’s personal information is easier than ever. Many professionals publish their full name, birthday, and home/work addresses to sound more authentic. However, identity thieves may not even need this much information to do their job. 

Real estate professionals work with a lot of people and companies on a daily basis, so they need to be very careful with how they share their personal information, and more importantly, that of their clients. 

In this article, I am going to define identity theft and discuss its implications for real estate agents and brokers. Also, I will provide some tips at the end on how to prevent being subjected to identity theft.

What Is Identity Theft?

Like most crimes, identity theft is a broad term and may cover a wide range of illegal and harmful activities. Most commonly, identity theft is when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your approval. 

It is very common in the deals or transactions that are too risky for one party. The thief will handle the transaction with another person using someone else’s personal information, then leave the actual person to deal with consequences. 

Common forms of identity theft are:

  • Credit card theft
  • Mail theft
  • Phony health claims
  • Fraudulent tax reports
  • Fishing and spam attacks
  • Wi-Fi theft

In some cases, your personal information might be stolen and sold on the dark web. 

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What Are the Implications of Identity Theft for Real Estate?

As we mentioned earlier, realtors deal with several people and companies, and their job involves a lot of legal and financial contracts. What makes the situation more complicated for realtors is the fact that they often handle clients’ information. It is one thing when someone steals your data, but it is a whole new level of trouble when it comes to your client’s personal information. 

Here are some of the examples of how identity theft might affect your real estate business:

  • Someone steals your credit card information or that of your client.
  • Someone signs a contract using your name or that of your clients.
  • Someone makes illegal payments or money transfers using your debit/credit card. 
  • Someone poses as a buyer or seller using someone else’s identity.

This list goes on since there is so much one can do with identity details. 

How to Prevent Being Subject to Identity Theft?

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the potential risks of identity theft:

  • Be Wary of the Information You Share on Social Media

Some identity thieves need only a zipcode to proceed with impersonating you on a legal document. This might not be a common case, but you are strongly advised against sharing too much personal information on social media. Facebook and Instagram for instance use a lot of photos. Make sure you never post pictures of legal documents or even a passport-like photo of yourself. 

  • Be Careful with Physical Documents too

Our passports, driving licenses, and checks might include random information, but together, they are a perfect identity theft package. Strong recommendations include not writing too many checks and making sure you don’t carry all your physical IDs all the time. 

  • Credit Cards Are Better Options Than Debit Cards

Despite the negative impression of credit cards and the notion that impulsive shoppers might go rogue on their accounts, credit cards are safer options than debit cards. When someone steals your credit card, you can call the company and free yourself from the liabilities. However, if a direct fund is carried out from your debit card, things are going to be more complicated. 

  • Never Share Your Client’s Personal Information

Whatever might happen to you can happen to the information you are trusted with. As an agent, you are a representative of your clients, and it is your job to protect their information.  

  • Shredding Is Still an Important Thing to Do

Some folks have a habit of writing numbers or codes on a magazine on their desks. I have seen busy agents dribbling social security numbers or even combinations to the client’s door on a piece of paper in their file. This might sound a bit paranoid, but shredding (even micro shredding) is highly recommended. 

Bottom Line

As a realtor, you don’t have time to worry about liabilities and legal issues. The best way to manage this is to be vigilant and follow the recommendations. It is always easier to prevent identity theft than to resolve it. 

If you need to know more about common legal hurdles for real estate professionals, make sure you check out the following article:

Top Legal Issues For Real Estate Agents and Brokers

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