A Crash Course on Personally Identifiable Information

Every day businesses of all types collect and store the personally identifiable information of new and existing customers and clients. This data could consist simply of a name and address, or it can be much more comprehensive, containing social security numbers, credit card numbers, and checking account details.

In the real estate industry, even more private and personal information is collected, such as bank statements and other financial documents. But regardless of the industry collecting the information or how much is actually collected, the information is referred to as personally identifiable information, and any business that collects it from an individual has a responsibility to keep it safe, private, and secure.

Data breaches are a serious issue affecting business of all sizes, as well as individuals. In fact, even though the news often only reports data breaches that occur within big corporations, it is small businesses and individuals that are the more common targets, with hackers successfully acquiring sensitive data from thousands of individuals each day. Quite often, a data breach occurs simply because basic data security protocols were not practiced or followed.

Today, many organizations and businesses focus more on ways to improve data security and keep personally identifiable information secure because cyber criminals are consistently using more advanced and sophisticated methods to attempt to access networks or computer systems. Depending upon where a data breach occurs, stolen PII can affect anywhere from just a few individuals to potentially hundreds of thousands.

What is Personally Identifiable Information?

PII refers to virtually any piece of information that can be utilized to either locate, identify, or contact an individual. Some types of PII are often publicly available, such as names and addresses. Other types, such as social security numbers, criminal records, medical records, phone numbers, banking information, etc., is not publicly available but able to be accessed by specific organizations or is collected by an organization or business when necessary.

Why Must PII Be Kept Secure?

It’s vitally important for any organization that collects and stores personally identifiable information to keep it secure, because hackers, identity thieves, and other unscrupulous individuals could utilize that information to commit identity theft or many other types of fraud. Likewise, data breaches can often result in the leaking of PII, which in turn can be sold on the dark web and similar online black markets to cyber criminals.

Real estate professionals and associated parties such as lenders, title companies, closing lawyers, and others must be extra vigilant in ensuring that the PII of buyers and sellers is kept secure because the real estate industry is a common target of cyber criminals due to the massive amount of personal and financial information that is collected from individuals.

How to Keep PII Safe in the Real Estate Industry

Failure to keep PII safe and secure can result in large fines against an organization, not to mention a massive loss of trust by customers. And, perhaps of even more significance, successful real estate fraud endeavors can result in a large loss of finances and additional misfortune for all parties involved in a real estate transaction. Following these steps can minimize the risk of a data breach or a hacker or cyber criminal gaining access to PII, and subsequently preventing real estate fraud or identity theft.

1. Identify, Locate, And Secure

All parties involved in a real estate transaction must be cognizant of the types of personal identifiable information they collect, as well as where it is stored. In a real estate office, PII is likely stored in a database, but PII can also be found in email servers, on mobile devices, and other areas due to the fact that information between buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals is often sent via email on a daily basis.

To ensure optimal security, all of these networks and devices must be properly secured with strong passwords, firewalls, virus protection software, and other data security protocols, such as encryption.

2. Be Cognizant of Phishing Attempts

Phishing emails are emails that appear to come from a trusted source or organization but are actually cleverly designed impersonations that a cyber criminal uses to trick unsuspecting individuals into giving up sensitive data, such as usernames and passwords. Phishing emails are one of the most common ways in which a cyber criminal manages to gain access to the email accounts of both individuals and real estate professionals.

If such an attempt is successful, the cyber criminal can scan through all the emails shared between the buyer, the seller, and other parties involved in the real estate transaction, and possibly gather enough PII to commit identity theft or fraud.

3. Educate Employees

In addition to making all employees in an organization aware of what phishing is and how to identify a phishing email, it is also recommended that employees be educated in some common sense data security protocols. This includes:

  • Using a separate, strong password for each individual account
  • Deleting old PII that is no longer needed
  • Keeping mobile devices and laptops in sight at all times
  • Preventing others without permissions to access accounts that might contain PII

Many of the above protocols are simply common sense, but you’d be surprised how many just don’t follow them, and how often disregarding those protocols leads to a data breach or allows a hacker to access sensitive data.

4. Use a Secure Money Transfer Platform

Check fraud is unfortunately a growing problem in the real estate industry. Cashier’s checks and money orders are often easily counterfeited, and there is always an inherent risk in waiting for a check to clear if you are unknowingly dealing with a scammer. To combat this and ensure a more secure method of payment, many real estate professionals utilize a secure money transfer platform to initiate ACH transfers in lieu of checks.

Through an intuitive, secure, and compliant ACH transfer platform such as paymints.io, real estate professionals can instantly request payment for earnest money, closing costs, or other fees associated with a real estate transaction. Buyers can easily send money via the platform without the need for writing checks or providing financial information via email, saving time, and ensuring that sensitive financial details are kept private.

In Conclusion

If your organization doesn’t regularly practice data security and your employees need education regarding how to ensure PII is kept safe and private, you may want to look into retaining the services of a cyber security firm. However, you can also immediately start using a secure money transfer platform such as paymints.io to reduce the risk of check fraud and other losses of financial data.

Visit paymints.io today to learn more about how this fully electronic, easy-to-use platform can benefit your business and save both time and money.