How to Protect Your Identity While Moving Residences
The summer months are some of the busiest times for consumers entering the real-estate market, whether through renting or buying a new residence.
Moving time is also a busy time for another category of people: identity thieves.
"Typically, protecting your personally identifiable information is not at the top of your mind during a move," said Steve Schwartz, executive vice president of consumer services with Intersections, Inc., a provider of identity risk management services in Chantilly, Va.
Anyone changing residences will be more concerned with getting the old place packed up, coordinating the actual move with professionals or friends, dealing with banks or realtors and making sure the place looks good for a parade of potential buyers or renters.
Yet each of those activities provides ample opportunities for someone to steal your personal and financial information, beginning with all of those forms you have to fill out to begin the whole moving process.
Giving up the goods
"Whether you are buying or renting, chances are high that you are completing forms that contain your information, including your name, Social Security number, date of birth and bank-account information," said Tami Nealy, senior director of corporate communications for Lifelock, a identity-theft-protection firm based in Tempe, Ariz. "As agencies collect this data, there is always risk for compromise."
Nealy suggested that as home buyers and renters fill out the mountain of forms, they should ask questions.
For example, you could ask the landlord, seller or broker what happens to temporary paper forms once your personal data is entered into a computer. Are the forms shredded, filed or tossed into the trash intact?
Don't be afraid to ask about an institution's network security and who else has access to your personal information. Will all the other brokers, lawyers or clerks in the office be able to read your files?
The person you're dealing with may or may not know any of these details, but they should be able to direct you to someone who does know.
Open house, open season
Your information is also at risk when you are showing your home or apartment, even if you've put all of your papers out of sight.
"People who come through your home are going to be looking at everything, including potentially going through drawers, cabinets and closets," Schwartz said.
He said the best bet is to put all sensitive paperwork in a locked drawer or box before visitors arrive, and to shred or dispose any paperwork you no longer need, including junk mail.
During an open house, computers should be turned off and password-protected. Laptops and tablets should be safely stowed away out of sight.
"Make sure anyone being shown your home or apartment is supervised at all times," Schwartz said. "Never allow a prospective buyer or renter the ability to just roam."
Tossing around your identity
Professional movers who are hired to pack your belongings may also have access to your personally identifiable information. It's better to move sensitive paperwork and anything that stores sensitive data, such as computers, in your own vehicle or rental truck whenever possible.
"When hiring a moving company, the only information you should have to share is your name, current and new addresses and payment details," Nealy said. "Date of birth and Social Security numbers should never be required when contracting a moving company."
If a moving company asks for such data, Nealy said, look for another mover.
When you learn your new address, file a change-of-address form with the post office and arrange to have your mail forwarded to the new place beginning on the day you move in.
Let everyone you do business with know your new address as soon as you can, so you can avoid having things such as bank statements and other sensitive mail being delivered to the old address.
You'll also need to keep track of your mail to make sure you haven't missed receiving anything you expect.
Finally, once your belongings are out of your old place, do one final walk-through to make sure you've collected everything that may reveal personal details. Check every drawer and cupboard to make sure an old bank statement or that lost Social Security card didn't get stuck.
Moving is stressful and things get forgotten in the chaos. But, as Schwartz warns, one small misstep in terms of exposing personal information could be a disastrous way to start off life in a new home.