There’s nothing that derails buying the perfect home like identity theft. Not only can you end up losing money and seeing your credit score tank, but you could also end up losing your ideal home trying to fix the issue. With all of this at risk, the best way to protect yourself is by being proactive. Keep reading below for ways to protect your identity when searching for a new home.
1. Find a service that monitors your identity or credit
It’s hard to keep an eye on your credit when you’re trying to buy a home on top of everything else in life. That is where monitoring services come to the rescue. For a monthly or annual fee, these services will alert you if new accounts are opened in your name among other red flags. These services are especially helpful if you need to recover lost money and repair your credit.
You should consider paying for a service if you have previously been a victim of identity theft or if you lost your Social Security card. Still, make sure that the theft protection service monitors all three credit bureaus or else you would be paying for inadequate protection.
2. Consider freezing or locking your credit until you make an offer
One of the downfalls of a credit monitoring service is that it can only notify you of an issue after someone has stolen your data. This is where freezing or locking credit comes in. Both processes prevent creditors from accessing your credit report, which stops criminals from opening a new account in your name.
Credit locks are products offered by consumer credit bureaus, and you can unlock your credit whenever you wish. Credit freezes are free as mandated by law, but unfreezing an account can take several days compared to locks.
3. Find real estate agents or mortgage lenders you can trust
Many people will have access to your personal information as part of the home buying process. This is why you should seek out professionals that have high recommendations from people you trust. Even after you find someone who is highly recommended, make sure to check his or her credentials. Your local Better Business Bureau will be able to tell you if any problems have been reported in the past.
4. Talk to your real estate or mortgage lender about security
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, more than 400 million people had their sensitive data exposed in 2018. That number was a 126 increase from the amount of personal data exposed in 2017. Those statistics alone should encourage you to talk to your real estate and mortgage professionals about security. Make sure you have a safe way to send sensitive documents and ask them where they store personal information. See if they have security in place in case of an online breach, or security where they store physical documents.
5. Stay safe when you close
Fraudsters are always on the prowl, especially when large amounts of money are at stake. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission found people lost $1.48 billion to fraud last year. Keep yourself safe when buying a new home by using a secure computer with a password-protected network. Be wary of email phishing schemes, and avoid promises that seem too good to be true. Shred any documents with sensitive information once they’re no longer needed. Also, make sure to use a variety of passwords for different logins.
6. Report identity theft
If you find that you have been a victim of identity theft, it is important to report it immediately. Start by canceling fraudulent accounts and alerting your creditors. Next, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department. Finally, present the evidence of fraud to your lender.