Owning a home is the quintessential American dream. But that dream can quickly turn into a nightmare if your identity is stolen in the process.
A new survey uncovered some shocking information about the mortgage process and how you can be susceptible to identity theft.
More than 70 percent of mortgage companies use information-sharing practices that run the risk of exposing your data to cyber thieves, according to the survey conducted by cyber security firm HALOCK Security Labs. The company investigated 63 U.S. mortgage lenders and found that at least 45 permitted applicants to send personal and financial information over unencrypted email in the form of email attachments. This information includes tax documents and W-2s.
Eight out of the 11 top U.S. lenders were found to allow for the same unsecure practices as smaller lenders. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of the surveyed lenders encouraged faxing sensitive data, which may reduce risks of breach, but are still not as secure as encryption.
So, how do you keep your information safe while making presumably the most expensive purchase of your life?
There are a few things you can do:
- Be aware of the information you’re sending via email or fax. If it has your Social Security number on it, it’s best to hand over those documents in person or through certified mail.
- Send mortgage documents via encrypted email or a secure portal that is password protected.
- Ask your lender or broker how they will handle physical or digital copies of those sensitive documents when the process is over. Will they be shredded or stored somewhere secure?
- Take note of how organized the office is as well. If the broker’s desk is a mess there is a chance they won’t be careful with your sensitive information.
- Work with someone you trust. Ask your friends and family for referrals and make sure you trust your gut instincts when hiring a real estate professional.
- Monitor your credit by signing up for a credit alert or identity fraud service. There are free websites, such as Credit Karma, where you can monitor your credit report daily if needed without an impact to your credit score.
What happens if your identity gets stolen?
An identity thief can steal your Social Security number and other personal information, then steal your home equity by refinancing your home for more than what’s owed on your mortgage and taking the extra cash, or obtaining a home equity line of credit, using your house as collateral.
There is enough to worry about when buying a new home; make sure your information stays safe during the arduous process.
Are you worried about identity theft? How do you keep your information secure?
Log in to AHRN.com to create or update your dashboard for housing availability and make sure you keep your information secure.