Target. Equifax. Verizon. Whole Foods. Uber.
These are just some of the companies that had private, personal information stolen in the last year. A 2017 identify fraud study released by Javelin Strategy & Research found that 15.4 million U.S. consumers were victims of online fraud in 2016, totaling $16 billion dollars stolen. If you’re concerned about your personal information when picking up groceries, think about how much more important it is to protect yourself when going through the home buying process.
Because of regulations and stricter requirements for mortgage lenders, a large amount of sensitive information must be provided when you’re working with a lender like FirstBank Mortgage to determine qualification for a mortgage. The information might include your bank statements, tax returns, W2s and recent pay stubs. They may also need to know your credit card history and the balance of those accounts.
During the pre-qualification process, your lender will examine all the details closely, pull your credit score, gather pay stubs and obtain tax and assessment documents. This information transfer can leave you exposed to identity theft. But there are ways to protect yourself – and your personal and financial data.
1. Ask Questions First
Start the conversation with your mortgage loan officer by asking about their overall security practices. Do they offer a secure portal to deliver information? Do they have strict policies in place about who can view the information and how it’s shared within their office? Before applying for the loan, ask to read your lender's privacy and security policies. If you have doubts, dropping off the information in person might be worth the peace of mind.
2. Rely on Referrals
There are plenty of online lenders you may discover when shopping for a mortgage. If you’re never heard of them, proceed with caution. Your best bet is to apply with well-known lenders, and seek referrals from family members or friends who’ve had good experiences. Another safeguard is to check with regulatory agencies to ensure your mortgage loan officer has a current license.
3. Share Files Securely
If you’re applying for a mortgage electronically, only use a secure network when submitting your application. Make sure your personal Wi-Fi network is password protected, and never share information from your phone on a public network.
What’s more, email isn’t a foolproof way to send files securely. Unless you’re sending encrypted files, you’re still at risk. There are plenty of free encryption software packages available for just this purpose. When sharing personal information via email, always send files and passwords separately. Better yet, text the information directly to the lender or make a quick call to relay the password. This extra step can help keep your information safe.
4. Know What Happens After the Loan
When you’re through the process and enjoying your new home, who will have access to your personal information? Will documents be destroyed or stored? How will it be disposed of when the transaction is complete?
5. Trust your instincts
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If you receive a suspicious email from an address you don’t recognize, don’t open it or respond with your personal information. Pick up the phone and call your lender to confirm whether or not the communication is legitimate.
Want more facts and stats about identity theft and cybercrime? Visit the Insurance Information Institute. If you’re looking for some additional ways to protect your personal information, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy, identity and security resources.