It is paramount that real estate agents protect themselves from identity theft. It is not just happening online. The type of crimes identity theft includes range from credit card fraud to having all your financial and personal information stolen. If it happens to you, it can be very scary and time-consuming to fix. Now is your opportunity to be proactive.
Here are the top 9 ways you can protect yourself.
1. Get an EIN number – (Employment Identification Number)
When you are in a business such as real estate, many people operate using their social security number to complete the paperwork for their real estate broker and their taxes. Consider forming your own business entity. (Please consult your tax advisor for the one that best suits your business.) Giving out your social security number increases your risk for identity theft even from legitimate businesses such as your brokerage.
An EIN number is a nine-digit tax identification number issued by the IRS. You can use it in place of your SSN on tax forms and other documents related to your business. It is much harder for someone who has your EIN number to open credit cards and bank accounts in your name. This greatly reduces your risk of identity theft.
2. Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
An increasing number of banks, credit cards, health services, and even email services are offering, or even requiring, an additional step besides using your password to authenticate access to your online account.
There are several types of MFA methods, such as app-based authentication and SMS-based authentication. And while they may take an extra minute to set up, it is well worth it.
SMS-based authentication is the most common (a code is sent to your phone via a text message), and if you are using it, as an added measure please make sure that your mobile provider is set up for you to be able to use it. Some mobile providers don’t automatically allow this; so, verify with them.
Another option is to request that the authentication code be sent to you as a phone call to your mobile phone. You will receive a call immediately with the code to access your bank account as example.
Multiple-Factor Authentication is not a one-time deal. It must be done every time you want access to your account.
3. Consider using a password manager
Having multiple passwords for all the websites you need to access can be a bit overwhelming. And because real estate professionals are always on the go, carrying those passwords with you or on your phone is not the safest option.
Consider using an online password manager instead. It will keep track of your passwords on various sites as well as your security phrases, should you forget. The password managers can be used from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Some examples include 1Password, Last Pass, Norton, Keeper and Dashlane. There are many more to choose from. Research what will suit your needs and give you the best protection.
4. Protect yourself from robocalls
We are in the people business and need to answer our phones all the time. Right? Well, what about the “Scam Likely” calls or the calls that have a local number so you think it could be important except for the silence on the other side?
The Federal Trade Commission states, “If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall. If you’re getting a lot of robocalls trying to sell you something, odds are the calls are illegal. Many are also probably scams.”
Telemarketers, scam artists, or spam callers could be targeting you. Consider not answering calls from blocked or unknown callers. And definitely don’t ever give out personal information or give them payment until you have independently verified the authenticity of the caller.
Want to know more about call-blocking solutions? Check out this information from the FTC: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-block-unwanted-calls
Don’t want to miss a call? Have a phone message or text that lets them know you will call them back within XX minutes if they leave you a message.
5. Shred. Shred. Shred.
Make it a practice to shred anything with your personal information on it. That includes financial statements, magazine labels with your name and address on it, and prescription medication bottles. Peel those labels off and shred them.
When purchasing a shredder, buy one that does micro-shredding so the pieces of paper look like rice. These cannot be put back together by potential thieves. The other types of shredders that shred vertical or horizontal can be put together again by those determined to steal.
6. Limit pre-screened offers
Is your mailbox loaded with pre-screened offers from financial institutions or those seeking to solicit money from you each week? You can opt out of these offers by calling toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or filing a form online (www.optoutprescreen.com). For additional resources, visit: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0262-stopping-unsolicited-mail-phone-calls-and-email#:~:text=
7. Use a credit card instead of a debit card for your spending
The benefits of using a credit card for your spending is that the major credit card companies such as American Express, Discover, Visa and Mastercard offer fraud protection built in for unauthorized transactions. Whereas if your debit card is lost or stolen, funds withdrawn from it may be difficult to recover.
When purchasing online, consider getting a bank gift card with a fixed amount of funds on it, to prevent unauthorized transactions, or using a card like Akimbo for managing budgets.
Also, be careful about what who has permission to use your debit or credit card, and review your financial and credit card statements monthly for charges you don’t recognize. One real estate agent complained about a doctor’s office that kept her credit card on file without her permission. She noticed it was compromised when the office withdrew funds for visits when she never even had appointments. The money was returned, yet it was a hassle.
8. Stay on top of your accounts and your credit report
You are also entitled to a free credit report once every 12 months from TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, per the Fair Credit Reporting Act. If you space out ordering your free credit report every four months for each of the above companies, that will cover you for the year. Usually, the credit score is an additional fee. To order, visit annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228.
Also, the FTC recently updated their website to state that “Starting in 2020, everyone in the U.S. can get 6 free credit reports per year through 2026 by visiting the Equifax website or by calling 1-866-349-5191. That’s in addition to the one free Equifax report (plus your Experian and TransUnion reports) you can get at AnnualCreditReport.com.”
9. Sign up for credit monitoring
This could be one of the best investments you make as part of your business. If you have had a breach in the past and received a letter, you can receive credit monitoring, in many cases for free.
When you sign up with a Credit Monitoring company, you will be alerted within 24 hours of any changes to your report. The sooner you know about any potential signs of identity left, the sooner you can take immediate action.
You are worth it!
Much time is spent taking care of your clients and real estate transactions to ensure smooth and safe closings. Spend some time ensuring your own safety as well.
Nothing is life is fool proof and can guarantee protection of your privacy from identity theft. Being proactive is better than not doing anything at all. Take the same time as you would for your clients to care for yourself and protection of your assets.
Written for Form Simplicity by Janice Zaltman, a Realtor, LEED AP, Marketing Coach and Writer with more than 20 years of experience in the sales, marketing and media fields.