Identity protection real estate

identity protection
Be proactive with identity protection (infographic from nsa.gov)

Even with precautions and laws to protect your sensitive data while conducting financial transactions, there can still be a weak link in the chain that can put your personal data at risk.  You may not have heard about the latest data breach, but it involved the potential leaking of over 24 million mortgage documents. Identity Protection during the real estate process takes awareness and vigilance. However, what do you do after the transaction is over?

The data breach to which I refer was discovered and reported by Bob Diachenko, Cyber Threat Intelligence Director of Security Discovery with the assistance of Zack Whitaker of Techcrunch.  This data breach was discovered by Diachenko just by searching public search engines.  According to Diachenko’s report (securitydiscovery.com/document-management-company-leaks-data-online), the unprotected database contained about 51 GB of credit and mortgages information.  The database potentially exposed more than 24 Million files.

Essentially, the over 24 million unprotected records (24,349,524 according to Diachenko) that existed on the database were likely scanned (OCR) from original documents.  Diachenko stated, “These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as social security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history, and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report. This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.” 

Diachenko and Whitaker tracked down the owner of the database and found that the exposed database belonged to a third party.  After the database was secured, however, Diachenko found a second vulnerable server that contained original documents.

How is consumer identity protection handled through through institutional real estate transactions?

According to Whitaker, the documents date as far back to 2008, possibly further.  The documents concerned “correspondence from several major financial and lending institutions” including government entities such as HUD.  Whitaker stated that not all data was “sensitive,” however the database included: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, bank and checking account numbers.  They also found some documents that contained other “sensitive financial information,” such as bankruptcy and tax documents, including W-2 forms. 

To understand the broader implications of identity protection in a real estate transaction, read Diachenko and Whitaker’s first (techcrunch.com/2019/01/23/financial-files) and second (techcrunch.com/2019/01/24/mortgage-loan-leak-gets-worse) report. The reporting of Diachenko and Whitaker is significant because it exposes how your identity and sensitive information can be mishandled in the broader financial transactional process that occurs between entities.  Even though direct correspondence with you may be encrypted and secure, security lapses can occur during the institutional transaction process (such selling and/or transferring a mortgage)

The moral of the story is that once your information is out of your hands, you cannot assume it’s 100 percent secure.  Even blockchain technology, which has been touted as a safe means of digital data management, has weaknesses.  And as governments and financial institutions are looking to blockchain as the “answer” to data security, there are reports of “attacks” of increasing sophistication according to James Risberg (Yes, the Blockchain Can Be Hacked; coincentral.com; May 7, 2018). 

Take your identity protection seriously when buying and selling a home

Be vigilant and proactive to protect your identity and sensitive information.  Be wary of unsolicited requests for information, even if it appears to be from someone with whom you are conducting business. Always make a call to confirm the request. Consider a credit freeze to prevent fraudsters from opening credit accounts in your name.  Check your credit report regularly and dispute errors.  If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov site can help you report it and create a recovery plan.  You can learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft from the FTC (consumer.ftc.gov) and the Federal Reserve (federalreserveconsumerhelp.gov).

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/identity-protection-real-estate

Copyright© Dan Krell

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

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