Identity theft. The US Federal Trade Commission received 250,854 complaints about identity theft during 2010 – nearly one-fifth of the entire number of complaints received by the agency (1.34 million complaints). For the eleventh year in succession, it was the subject most consumers complained about.
The Commission’s identity theft statistics show that Florida had the highest per capita rate of reported ID theft, with Arizona and California following close behind. In my neck of the woods, one out of every three of us here in the Miami-Dade County area will be a victim of identity theft sometime or other. Amazing statistic – South Florida leads the all states in identity theft. Everyone in Florida…everyone across the United States and around the world are potential victims of this increasing consumer targeted crime.
We can’t run our businesses without collecting personal and financial information about our clients. Yet, if sensitive data falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to fraud and identity theft.
Given the cost of a security breach—losing our customers’ trust and perhaps even defending ourselves against a lawsuit—safeguarding personal information is just plain good business.
1. Take stock of what you have. Know what personal information you have in your files and on your computers. Understanding how personal information moves into and out of your business and who has access to it is essential to assessing security vulnerabilities.
2. Secure your Web applications. Pay particular attention to the applications on your Web site through which you collect information and consumers request information. These can be vulnerable to a form of hacking known as injection attacks, in which a hacker inserts malicious commands into your online form. Once the commands are in your system, the hacker can grab your data.
3. Secure your points of connection. It’s one thing to secure your computer system; it’s another to secure the devices and applications that connect to it. These include laptops, cell phones, and your Web site. If your laptop has been compromised, it can open a door into your system.
The same thing applies to vendors who provide data processing or other services on a contract basis. If their computer is compromised, they can infect yours when they access your system. You’ll also want to limit storage of your sensitive information to only computers that don’t connect to the Internet.
4. Don’t trust just anyone. Your security measures are only as thorough as the people who work with you. Assistants and team members must agree to uphold the confidentiality of your sensitive information and participate in training on keeping your data secure. If there’s ever any doubt, withhold their access to sensitive data.
5. Think about physical security too. Many data compromises happen the old-fashioned way—through lost or stolen paper documents. Often, the best defense is a locked door or an alert employee. Store paper documents, sensitive files, and backups in a locked room or file cabinet.
Four Areas Where You’re Most at Risk
1.On the computer
Risk: An unattended computer, in any environment, is always at risk. In minutes, a data thief can plug in a USB flash drive, copy files, and walk away with a career’s worth of information. Then there’s the danger of theft, especially with laptops.
Solutions: Have a log-in password and password authentication to copy files or change system settings; a plug-in USB fingerprint reader; security cables; or subscription to a PC recovery service.
Risk: All types of threats abound on the Web. Hackers want into your computer and network and are very creative in their efforts to wreak havoc.
Solutions: A firewall and a security software suite, always on, and automatically updated. Also, take common sense steps. For example, don’t launch unexpected links or attachments; ignore requests for personal information or account numbers that come to you via e-mail; only download files from trusted sites; and check a site’s privacy policies before completing online forms.
3. On a network
Risk: Wi-Fi hotspots are a great convenience, but also an invitation to prying eyes. If unauthorized users can connect to the network, they can steal files, corrupt data, install spyware. Think Starbucks, McDonalds, Barnes & Noble…the list of convenient hotspots goes on and on.
Solutions: A network firewall; log-on passwords; and password-protected access to authorized users and devices. Also, if you’re working with sensitive client data in public places, get a privacy filter.
4. Talking on a cell phone
Risk: When you’re in public talking on a cell phone, you’re broadcasting one end of a conversation to anyone within earshot.
Solution: Use discretion when discussing business with clients; move to a more private space and speak in softer tones. And remember, smart phones are as much phones as they are mini computers. So the same security dangers for PCs, holds true for smart phones too. Learn about and activate built-in security features to your smart phone, and also subscribe to its security suite.
Realtor.org/safety and JustBeSafe.com are just two sites where you can learn a wealth of information about identity theft and to how to be safer. I have also posted a great article to my Facebook page: 10 Ways to Guard Against Identity Theft When Traveling – check it out for some great tips that we can all use.
Awareness and common sense…these two things can help every one of us to keep our clients and own information safer and reduce the chances of Identity Theft.
Until next Monday….
Information Sources for this post from: REALTORmagazineOnline and JustBeSafe.com