Identity theft is very common today. According to an Annual Data Breach Report by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), there were 1,862 cases of identity thefts in the first quarter of 2022. This is 14% more cases compared to the same period in 2021.
Cases of identity theft, particularly of government-issued documents are prevalent, and, unfortunately, are projected to keep increasing. But how common are they in real estate?
Real estate transactions often involve large amounts of money and a lot of personal information. For these two reasons alone, these transactions often attract criminals looking to take advantage of any loophole they find.
It is also clear that technological advancements have made it easier and more convenient for hackers and identity thieves to carry out financial transactions.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a criminal activity where someone acquires the personal information of the victim without their consent and then uses it for their own purposes.
In real estate, stolen identities are often used in various types of scams including imposter scams, advance-fee scams, and fake listings and rental scams.
How Do Real Estate Identity Thefts Occur?
Identity thefts in real estate transactions are often planned and executed over multiple transactions. Hackers, scammers, and thieves often gain access to a customer’s or agent’s computer, email, or other accounts.
Criminals often use malware or spyware to gain more information about the victim, including name and address, place of work, phone number, license number, and social security number, among others.
With this information, they can use phishing, social engineering, or other unscrupulous methods to obtain transaction-specific information from the agent or their staff.
Once the criminals have access to an agent’s or customer’s itinerary, they may impersonate the real estate agent or the customer using their names, license number, or other credentials. They can then pose as real estate agents to trick unsuspecting customers into paying them for various ‘fees’ or even complete real estate transactions. Once they get paid, the criminals will vanish into thin air.
Consequences of Identity Thefts in Real Estate?
One of the worst experiences an agent, broker, or customer can have is having their identity stolen and used to carry out real estate transactions. The thieves can use the stolen identity in these ways:
- Emptying victims’ bank accounts
- Acquiring new credit cards
- Signing new transactions with potential customers
- Creating new online shopping accounts
- Defrauding customers and others posing as the victim
- Opening new lines of credit and taking out loans
- Taking over the victim’s online accounts and changing passwords
Victims of identity theft often suffer financial devastation that takes them years to recover from. The victims will often suffer a drop in credit ratings, and their ratings and those of their businesses may be damaged irreparably.
What Can A Real Estate Agent Do to Prevent Identity Theft?
In this age of rampant identity theft, it is critical that you protect yourself and your agency from identity thieves. You must always be careful about any personal or business information you disclose and to whom. Here are five important steps you should take to minimize chances of having your identity stolen.
- Enable two-step verification for personal and business accounts. These include email, banking, cellular, and other accounts.
- Use complex passwords for all your accounts. Avoid using the same password in more than one account.
- Separate your business and personal credit cards. Use a separate credit card that you can quickly cancel for online purchases.
- Keep your software and systems up-to-date. Ensure that your antivirus and firewall software are frequently updated.
- Educate your agency staff about cybercrime and real estate transactions identity theft, and how to look out for them
Identity theft is increasingly becoming a costly problem in the United States, and real estate agents are not immune. Criminals are constantly coming up with new ways to steal from people, damaging their lives and often getting away with it.
As a real estate agent, you have a lot to lose should you lose your identity. You should constantly be on the lookout for strange behavior in any of your personal or official accounts.