April 17, 2015

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How to Prevent Identity Theft When Selling Your Home

As the prime home-selling season nears, potential buyers probably won’t be the only ones interested in checking out your property.

Professional thieves often contact agents to view homes to see what items might be available to “pick up” later. Identity thieves use similar tactics, taking advantage of distracted realtors for the chance to go through files, steal personal documents or pocket pieces of mail.

How can you protect yourself from identity theft when selling your home? Start by following these recommendations:

  • Remove personal information: Realtors often suggest taking down family photos so that potential homeowners can see themselves living in a home. But to prevent identity theft, consider removing other things, too. For example, identity thieves can use seemingly innocent items like junk mail from a recycling bin or family calendars that might list upcoming vacations. Be sure to hide anything with your name, phone number, Social Security number or any other identifying information. A thief, who will already have your address, just needs those additional details to put together a more complete profile of you.
  • Hide your prescription medications: With medical identity theft becoming ever more prevalent, making sure your health data is safe can be a crucial way to prevent identity theft. Prescriptions often include a wealth of usable information for a thief, including your physician’s name and insurance account information.
  • Ask for identification: If you’re selling your home on your own, rather than hiring a realtor, there are several safety tips to keep in mind. Ask potential homebuyers to set an appointment to see the home — as opposed to “dropping by” without warning — and require a driver’s license or other legitimate ID for a showing. Also, be sure that prospective buyers who come as a couple or a group stay together during a home tour. Identity thieves are adept at using one person to distract a seller while the other person slips into other rooms to look for useful information.
  • Lock down your tech: Get a safe for personal documents as well as portable devices like tablets, laptops, iPads and smartphones. As for desktop computers, password protect the machine so the screen locks when not in use. Ideally, you can turn off your computer before showings so that it can’t be used. However, password protection is helpful for those moments when a showing might come up suddenly, before you have a chance to get home and do a shutdown.

With all of the potential changes that come with selling a house (and possibly buying another at the same time), it’s easy for thieves to slip in and scoop up information that they can use later. Stay smart — remember these tips so you know how to protect yourself from identity theft.

Image courtesy of Flickr user DanielSTL.

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Heidi Daitch

Director, Strategic Programs at IdentityForce
Heidi is a busy working mom who juggles many of the same responsibilities and challenges at home and at work - a long list of things to do and not enough time to do everything. With so little time, Heidi tries hard to find simple, but effective strategies to save time for what’s really important – spending time with her family.
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