Technology

Safety app helps agents figure out if prospects are sketchy

Verify Photo ID checks identities against sex offender and property databases

On the National Association of Realtors’ list of 56 safety tips, tip No. 1 advises agents to show properties before dark.

Tip No. 2?

Agents should meet a new client in their office, complete a “prospect identification form” and photocopy the client’s driver’s license.

Some agents might feel uncomfortable following this tip.

But the latest safety app for agents is designed to make it easier for real estate professionals to get a bead on who a prospective client is and what he or she is looking for without having to take that step.

Agents who use Verify Photo ID, which is built to function on any mobile device, can send prospects a link by text or email that asks them to scan the front and back of their ID.

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If a prospect complies — which is supposed to take only two minutes — Verify Photo ID will then retrieve the prospect’s full name, address, headshot, age, height, weight, and eye and hair color; check the prospect against a national sex offender database; and pull their social media profiles.

Besides potentially raising red flags, some of the information the app collects can also help an agent get a sense of what a prospect is after.

The app matches a prospect with property addresses, which could allow the agent to “weed out possible time-wasters, or at least ask questions if the prospect is asking to look at expensive homes,” according to Verify Photo ID.

“By putting this process online, Verify Photo ID enables an agent to know exactly who they are meeting and then share the who, what, when and where of the appointment with partners, spouse and broker automatically,” said Peter Toner, founder of Verify Photo ID and a “third generation real estate agent,” in a statement.

Verify Photo ID stands apart from some other agent safety apps, such as Agent.Watch, because it’s designed to help real estate agents avoid putting themselves in dangerous situations rather than helping protect agents who may have already placed themselves in harm’s way.

It’s not the only app to take this approach.

Secure Show, for example, enables real estate agents to ask a prospect to photograph their face and ID to verify their identity.

But Secure Show’s website doesn’t indicate that it cross-checks a prospect’s data against sex offender and property records databases and pull in their social profiles.

“There are a couple that work by texting photos of prospects, or their ID’s … but they lack the data processing and lookups,” said Toner about competing agent safety apps.

Regardless, any apps that are preventive in nature would please reformers  like Dyan de Bruin, a broker-owner of Century 21 Signature Real Estate in central Iowa.

De Bruin, who created the “Realtor Safety Pledge” with Joe Schafbuch, the co-owner of De Bruin’s brokerage, lamented that the real estate industry accepts “as normative the idea that any agent should even entertain the idea of meeting a client at a property without first meeting at the brokerage office or facilitating some sort of initial screening.”

Even still, Verify Photo ID is also trying to add a layer of protection to agents who find themselves in uncomfortable situations.

It has plans to soon enable agents to use the app to send confirmed showing appointments and panic alerts to designated contacts, according to Toner, who is also a San Diego-based agent at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties.

An agent will soon be able to use Verify Photo ID to select a prospect, the property that they are showing to the prospect and the time period of the showing.

At the start of a showing, the agent activates a timer, selecting a countdown in 10-minute increments.

Alarms are sent to specified contacts if the agent does not deactivate or extend the timer before it expires, or if the smartphone is swiped, dropped, shaken or snatched.

The app will text the agent five minutes before the alarm goes off to warn that the timer is about to expire.

Toner said that he recognizes that scanning photo IDs might be considered controversial, but points out that many businesses require proof of identity.

“To get on an airplane, rent a car or check into an hotel – all require to see your driver’s license or passport,” he noted.

In a statement, he said that all data collected by Verify Photo ID is private and protected and employs “state-of-the-art encryption and secure systems.”

Email Teke Wiggin.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that Toner is an agent at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties, not Prudential California Realty. Prudential California Realty rebranded to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in 2013, Toner said.