• Identity theft can be slow to catch; take every precaution.

You invested all that time and energy in helping a couple find a house to buy — only to learn that their loan application was rejected because they had bad credit, which they had no idea of because they had a preapproval; but since then, their identity was stolen. There goes your commission.

It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when — when you’ll lose a promising deal because your client’s identity was stolen.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports an estimated 17.6 million persons, or about 7 percent of U.S. residents ages 16 or older, were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014. These statistics were similar to those in 2012. Further, more than 4 billion records were stolen in 2016 worldwide.

Identity theft is so prevalent that you yourself are at risk since you’re in a profession that gets your information “out there.”

In fact, your ID can be stolen in the absence of relevancy to your profession as a real estate agent. It could be stolen by the server you gave your credit card to last week at that steakhouse. That employee could have used a handheld skimming device and snagged your credit card information.

And someone else out there could have opened up a credit card account in your name, maxing it out, never paying the bills. And one day you’ll get a call from a collection agency that you owe $10,000.

There are tons of ways identity theft can occur as you go through life dealing with all sorts of people. Maybe you’re super vigilant. Great!

But what about your clients? Before you get the ball rolling with a new client, require that they check their credit score. They may insist it’s 800, but an identity thief could knock it way down.

Instruct the new client to review their credit report for any suspicious information or unauthorized accounts. If they insist they couldn’t possibly be a victim of ID theft, point out that this disease often doesn’t show symptoms until it’s quite advanced, and that it afflicts 10 million Americans every year.

Also point out that it doesn’t take long for identity theft to occur, and that they need to get pre-approved for a loan ASAP. Serious damage can be done between the time a client chooses you for their agent and the time they put an offer on a house.

You can even suggest to your client a credit monitoring service. There’s been an explosion of data breaches. ID’s can be stolen by hackers halfway across the world. At the same time, reassure clients that their information is safe with your office.

Give your clients (including repeat ones) a copy of the following tips:

  1. Don’t give out your SSN just because it’s asked for. An employer needs it. A real estate transaction needs it. Your medical carrier needs it. But no retailer on this planet needs it unless the client is applying for a store card, which you shouldn’t do.
  2. Place outgoing mail in a mailbox if your personal mailbox is not locked and can be opened by anyone passing by.
  3. Have personal checks delivered to your bank so you can pick them up if your mailbox doesn’t have a lock.
  4. If you haven’t gotten mail in several days, contact the post office.
  5. Twice a year check your credit report, plus your spouse’s and kids’.
  6. Carefully review the statements of all your credit cards every month.
  7. Never make a late payment for anything.
  8. If you’re expecting a new credit card and it’s even a day late, spring into action to find out why. When it arrives, sign immediately.
  9. Shred any documents before tossing them in the trash, and that includes credit card offers.

Get a credit freeze. This is big. A credit freeze locks down your SSN and credit report preventing new accounts being fraudulently opened under your or your client’s name.

Robert Siciliano is CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com and a personal security and identity theft expert.

Email Robert Siciliano.

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