REALTORS Help Consumers Fight Back Against Identity Theft
Identity theft is a growing problem and costs American consumers billions of dollars and countless hours each year. Real estate professionals and members of the Cleveland Area Board of REALTORS® (CABOR) do not want you to be a victim in waiting.
REALTORS® want to make sure consumers are aware of ways to minimize your risk in everyday transactions and especially in the largest transaction most families ever make–the purchase of a home. Identity theft is a serious crime; its impact on consumers and businesses is staggering. Current estimates by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) indicate that there may be as many as 10 million victims of identity theft each year. Studies estimate that victims of identity theft spend $5 billion to undo its harm, while businesses lose nearly $50 billion in revenue annually.
The FTC has received thousands of real estate-related identity theft complaints. Many consumers first learn they are victims of identity theft when they are in the process of renting or buying a home, derailing their real estate dreams while they work to rebuild their good name and destroyed credit. Identity thieves may also rent or purchase a home fraudulently. Clearly, identity theft is an important issue impacting both home buyers and real estate professionals across the nation.
“People’s dreams of homeownership can be dashed in an instant if their identity is stolen,” said Joanne Zettl, Chair Elect of CABOR. “As America’s leading advocate for homeownership, REALTORS® can help their clients deter, detect and defend against identity theft.”
Because the home buying process involves sharing a certain amount of personal information with third parties, home buyers should be careful when sharing financial or other personal information, whether in person, on the phone, or over the Internet. Many consumers aren’t aware that providing personal information online is in effect authorizing the owners of that site to sell the consumer’s information to third parties.
“REALTORS® take seriously their role in the fight against identity theft,” Zettl said. “When searching for a home online, use only sites from a trusted source, such as NAR’s consumer site, www.Realtor.com.”
Recently, NAR and the Federal Trade Commission formed a partnership to combat identity theft. The program, “Deter, Detect and Defend,” aims to educate consumers, particularly homebuyers, about the devastating effects of identity theft and help them protect themselves against that crime.
To deter identity thieves, the FTC and NAR recommend that consumers:
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before discarding.
- Protect your social security number. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, by mail or the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
To detect suspicious activity, consumers should:
- Routinely monitor financial accounts and billing statements.
- Be alert to signs that require immediate attention, such as bills that do not arrive as expected; unexpected credit cards or account statements; denials of credit for no apparent reason; and calls or letters about purchases you did not make.
If you think your identity has been stolen:
- Place a “fraud alert” on your credit reports.
- Close counts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
- File a police report.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission.