As a landlord or even someone living in a rented property, did you realize your position makes you potentially vulnerable to identity theft? This isn’t speculation, as there is certainly evidence that suggests that landlords are one of the groups at greatest risk of this and when you consider the issues of not having a fixed address, it is easy to see how tenants are also susceptible to becoming victims of this crime. It’s something that often isn’t considered, but being aware of the issue and taking the necessary steps to protect your identity when renting out homes or living in a rental, can prevent any nasty surprises in the future.
Landlords and tenants at most risk
The UK credit report company CreditExpert recently published a report, which highlighted those at risk of identity fraud. The crime isn’t necessarily committed by strangers and this study showed that of those who knew the people using their personal details, nearly 50% were landlords. It was also pointed out by the report that landlords who have previously lived in the properties they are now renting out are at even greater risk of having their identities stolen. More than 40% of the identity thefts were committed when someone was living at the address they were using to take out credit in someone else’s name, usually the landlord or a previous tenant. Opening the mail of old occupants - or even the landlord if they still get post delivered there - is a source of extra details that can be used for the purposes of credit cards, loans and products bought online or through mail order. It seems that tenants who move from place to place on a regular basis, as well as those who live in buildings that use shared mailboxes, are more likely to find their details have been used by corrupt individuals living in that or neighboring properties. Landlords may also find that their personal information is used falsely by others beyond their tenants; a very small proportion of those working in the property industry that are unscrupulous and have access to their clients’ information can pose a risk to landlords.
The worst possible outcome
For landlords who find out that tenants have taken out large amounts of money in their name it’s a blow, but a minority of tenants will take things to another level; it has been known for a handful to even sell the rental property in which they are living. Again looking at the UK, their records indicate that over just a two year period there were 50 cases of unlawful house sale where properties were sold without the owners’ knowledge; though admittedly they were not all the result of dishonest tenants. While this might be a rare worst case scenario, it really isn’t worth taking the risk that this could happen to you, so taking the necessary steps to prevent identity theft as a landlord is vital.
How to best avoid identity theft
While it is never possible to completely guarantee you will escape becoming a victim of identity fraud, there are some key points that can minimize your risk as a landlord or tenant:
When you are renting property to someone, never have any mail delivered to that address; have it sent to where you currently live. It might sound surprising, but junk mail can even give out information of use to those wishing to steal your identity. Set up mail redirection with the United States Postal Service and inform all family, friends and businesses that you receive mail from of your new address; also make use of the Mailing Preferences Service so that your name can be removed from the main mailing lists. Both of these are essential for landlords and tenants to complete.
If you notice mail has gone missing and might have been diverted by someone else, the postal service can let you know whether a redirection has been created without your knowledge.
Landlords should never accept a tenant without requesting previous references. Just asking for that from the current landlord is not adequate; they may only give a glowing reference to get rid of a problem tenant, so obtain one from their previous landlord, as well as their current employment. Additionally request to see proof of a prospective tenant’s ID and address to check they are who they claim to be. Consider carrying out an online search of their name in case this brings up any issues regarding their past that might suggest letting a room or property to them will bring you problems.
The best indication of whether anyone is using your details to take out credit is to check your credit history and rating. Everyone in the United States is entitled to a free credit report each year from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax; these can be obtained easily by visiting the Annual Credit Report website. Those people resident in Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey or Vermont are able to get a second free of charge annually, but for this you must contact each organization separately.
As a landlord you have a duty to ensure your tenants are not placed at risk of identity theft, so if you rent out property in a block of apartments, ensure each tenant has their own lockable mailbox. If you are a tenant and your landlord has not provided this facility, consider asking for it to be installed.