Buying May 7, 2020

The Best Question That No One asks their Real Estate Agent

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You are interviewing real estate agents to help you purchase or sell a home and feel like you’ve asked all the right questions. How long have they been in the business? Are they full-time or part-time? Are they a strong negotiator and why does their marketing plan work better than other options? I’d like to suggest that there is another question that no one is asking, yet is critically important. Before entering an agency relationship with any real estate broker, you should know how do they keep your sensitive information secure.
In general, real estate agents do not need sensitive information such as social security numbers and driver’s license information in order to complete a transaction for you, but even compiling data such as name, address, email, phone and date of birth can be valuable to marketers. According to The Mar/Apr 2018 Realtor magazine, hackers are turning to small businesses such as real estate agents because they are more vulnerable than big organizations with large IT departments to protect their files. In the case of a real estate transaction, hackers will send emails to buyers (which appear to be from the agent, lender, or title company) with new wiring instructions on where to send their down payment. Once the funds are sent, the account is emptied and funds are lost.
Most agents I know of, myself included, make a point to tell my clients that I will NEVER send wiring instructions. The only place those instructions should come from is the title company. Even if you do receive wiring instructions from title, take the time to call title (not have them call you) and verify that they did send them. Scammers have been known to even call the buyer as the title company and “verify” the new wiring instructions. Don’t be fooled into thinking that they called me and it will be okay.
Getting back to the large company with IT departments providing greater security. It is recommended to check your prospective agents email address. A lot of agents use 3rd party email services such as gmail, yahoo, or aol. Those sites are not as secure as the internal email systems provided by the larger brokerages. At Coldwell Banker, the company provided sites all have an address.
Agents are required to keep closed file paperwork for 4 years after a file has closed. In this digital age, it is preferred to keep everything digitally. How secure is that data on your agents computer? I prefer to keep all closed file data on a separate external hard drive that is only connected and backed up monthly. The rest of the time, it goes in a safe.
Unfortunately there isn’t a 100% fool proof way to protect your data, however, asking the right questions and ensuring you real estate agent has a process and plan to keep your information safe should be a critical part of the agent selection process.