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Friday, March 21, 2008


The “For Sale” signs are out everywhere, and in many cases they have been there for a long time. Many will continue to sit in front of homes that have been impacted by the downturn of housing and mortgage money available. If you are a regular reader of The Dunning Letter, you know that I consider mortgage offices one of the largest depositories of consumer personal data in the country. They are often the most insecure with file cabinets stuffed with your name/address, Social Security number, date of birth, and the list goes on. Even if the records are computerized, I doubt seriously that this industry has advanced any further—if that far—than large corporations like TJX (TJ Maxx, Marshalls), where close to 94 million credit card number were breached in early 2007. On March 13 of this year, I did a post based on the housing market meltdown, and how some of these bankrupt mortgage companies were dumping clients’ private information in the trash, without shredding. The fact that most of these records were still on paper indicates the level of technology accomplished by this industry. It also points out the lack of consideration some company managers and employees have for their customers’ personal data. Some mortgage companies keep your records long after the loan is refinanced or paid off. Like Joan Carpenter of Toms River, NJ, whose Countrywide loan was paid off, yet the mortgage company retained all her records and an employee ended up disclosing them. What was worse, it took her almost 6 months to be notified, according to a article. It is bad enough to lose the private information, but many companies like this increase the victim’s liability by delays in notification. On a similar level, there are thousands of real estate offices in the U.S. A recent article in quotes some ID theft statistics and comments from a real estate industry “visionary” by the name of Stefan Swanepoel that leads me to believe that the security of customers’ private information has not been one of the top priorities of this industry. Swanepoel said: “the protection of a customer’s data has always been important, but it was largely taken for granted prior to the Internet.” He continues, “With the advent of computers and the Internet, data on any given real estate transaction is now stored in multiple databases and computers, transaction management systems, Internet websites as well as paper files. “ Stanpoel offers seven suggestions on how to secure personal data, and the first tells us that many real estate offices do retain Social Security and credit card numbers along with your name/address, etc. This is where you find your dream home that you eventually go to the mortgage company to finance, once again giving up all that private information. In many cases this is unavoidable so why not go ahead now and do what will solve the problem. Give consumers control over their names and personal data.

1 comment:

Stefan Swanepoel said...

Identity theft and data security in the real estate industry has always been important to me and I have discussed it various times in my books and reports since 1997. It was extensively covered in the Swanepoel Trends Report (2006 edition) The real estate industry has however not really experienced serious breaches before 2007 and therefore the issue was again raised in the 2008 edition so that brokers, agents, Realtors Associations, MLS Boards, and others can refocus on this crucial item and take action before they pay the price for ignoring it. I am glad that you also feel that it is important and would encourage you to continue to blog about it.
Stefan Swanepoel
Author of the Swanepoel Trends Report (2008)