Investors and landlords are easy targets for fraud because they have to put their information out there in many databases.
By David Pickron
Just last week I received an email that promised me the easy life. King Jeremiah from Zimbabwe had 45 million dollars that he needed my help with to get out of his country. Imagine that… little ole me being contacted to help royalty in another country. And for my troubles, I’d get half of the money. I was blown away, even overwhelmed, by this amazing turn of fate that had come my way. Most of us can clearly see through offers like this a mile a way but they keep coming. Someone must be falling for these types of scams, or they would not continue month after month, year after year. Though fraud schemes like these are easy to see, scammers are getting better and better at using your information against you. One slip and you could lose your identity or thousands of dollars.
Recent statistics provided by a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report that there are over 6,000 reports of fraud on average every single day. And that’s just those that are reported. I would guess that the actual number of acts of fraud committed daily are 3-4 times as many, but they go unreported. These acts include check, credit card, bank account, email, and/or mail fraud; they are all around us.
As an investor/landlord you have to ask yourself are you at risk, and if so, how?
Investors have their information literally everywhere online as it is stored in several databases. The simple act of buying a home opens you up to people seeing and eventually stealing your data. Think of the places you provide personal information during this process: application forms, down payments for escrow, public websites like the county recorder and assessor, landlord registration, corporation commission, Zillow, and other data harvesters. In fact you’ve probably experienced our very own investing industry grabbing this data and soliciting you directly to buy, sell or manage your properties. How many unsolicited texts, phone calls or emails have you received from people who want to buy your home? Ever wonder how they are getting your number? Your personal information is more accessible than ever.
As a Private Investigator with the click of just a few buttons, I could tell you everywhere you lived, what you owned, who your neighbors were, names of your family members, cell phones, social security, date of birth, extended relatives, cars, employment etc. When you set up your last online profile, wherever it may be, did you answer a new security question? Boom, that is one more piece of data collected on you. It used to be as simple as asking for your mother’s maiden name, but that has now extended to things like your high school best friend, sisters date of birth, name of first pet or any other crazy question. Unknowingly we are all sharing information that may be used against us.
We rely on great relationships with our bankers who have seen a large increase in bank fraud over the last several months. While they may seem safe, wire and money transfers have become targets for fraudsters, and they do not have the protection credit cards have. Wire transfers are immediate and clear banks quickly and before you know it, your money is gone. Our personal and business accounts are at risk too. It is crazy to me that we will diligently protect our social security number but then give anyone a check with our routing number and bank account number printed right on it, leaving us massively exposed to online check fraud. It’s time to protect our bank account numbers like just like we do our social security number.
I suggest that you do these THREE things immediately as an investor:
- Put a freeze on your credit. Experian has made it easy to freeze and unfreeze. Freezing your data stops anyone other than you from accessing your information and receiving new credit. If you are at a car dealership and looking to finance, you simply go to the Experian portal and remove the freeze for the day. It automatically freezes again the next day. Create your freeze today at: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- Use an online rent payment system to manage your rental payments. This system allows rent to be paid from bank account to bank account, without giving out your personal bank account numbers to your tenants. This will protect you from one more person having your personal information.
- Watch what you post online. When you search your name, what do you see? I personally write many articles, do podcasts, record videos, and have my information everywhere…I am toast! In helping others, I expose myself and, in an attempt, to be personal, tell many stories that give data about my family, properties, hobbies etc. Social media is also the perfect medium for people to grab pictures or personal information. If you find yourself in a similar situation with a growing online presence or increased exposure, go back to number 1 above and make sure you freeze your credit. You don’t want to be one of those 6,000 reports a day going to the FTC.
In reality we aren’t ever going to be able to entirely get away from those that want to use our good information for bad purposes. But we can take steps to protect ourselves that will at least limit the damages. The good news for me is that King Jeremiah is going to make me mega rich, so I’ll just find a quiet home in a sleepy town, own a Dairy Queen, and be set for life.
About the author
David Pickron is president of Rent Perfect, a private investigator, and a fellow landlord who manages several short- and long-term rentals. Subscribe to his weekly Rent Perfect Podcast (available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts) to stay up to date on the latest industry news and for expert tips on how to manage your properties.