How tenants can protect themselves from identity theft

Private Property South Africa
Carmel Woodman

Tenants can be left vulnerable by having to provide sensitive information to future landlords. Here’s how they can protect themselves from their information being misused.

Let’s start by clearing up exactly what identity theft is and what can happen if you’re a victim of it. The definition of identity theft is someone obtaining key pieces of information, like your ID number or drivers licence, and using it to impersonate you. This impersonation can take the form of using your name to register bank cards and running up debt in your name. This could end up with you being blacklisted, or your identity number being linked to bad credit loans.

Applying to rent a property requires you to provide documents like your I.D, drivers licence, credit record and bank statements – all of which are of a sensitive nature. These documents, in the wrong hands, can leave you vulnerable to identity theft. Renters should make sure to follow the tips below to avoid becoming a victim of this.

• Knowledge is key

Before handing in your application, check with your landlord about a few key factors. Ask them who will have access to your private information, what their privacy policy is, and how your information will be used and destroyed after use. The best way to destroy sensitive documents is to shred them, instead of simply crumpling them up and throwing them in the bin. If your landlords hadn’t thought about these questions, or don’t have solutions, you can always suggest ideas for them. Make sure that your landlords understand the importance of destroying your private documents once they are done with them.

• Online scams

Once you’ve found a property that you’re interested in renting, make sure the listing is real. Go and take a look at the property before you take any steps toward renting it. Make sure you follow up with your landlord, and make sure you meet the landlord or agent in person. Research the landlord and make sure that they do in fact own the home. Don’t hand over sensitive information before making sure that the listing is legitimate and not a scam.

Tell-tale signs of a scam:

  • The rental is too low for the area or property type
  • The landlord wants a deposit before you can view the property
  • The person listing the property won’t meet with you in person or is a “long distance” landlord

Credit record

Request your own credit report and give it your landlord personally, to avoid the chance of someone else getting hold of your credit report at any stage. This also gives you a chance to look through your report and make sure that no fraudulent activity has been happening to your accounts.

• Be tech savvy

Get SMS alerts from your bank so that you can quickly spot any fraudulent activity on your bank account, and request that your account be frozen. Don’t click on any hyperlinks on unsolicited emails or text messages, particularly ones that require you to fill in personal information, as these could be scams. Do not give any of your personal information over the phone, particularly if the phone call was not initiated by you.

• Don’t rush it

Wait for the right rental property where you feel the most comfortable, and everything checks out. Do not simply submit private information unless it is absolutely necessary and trust your instincts. If you have a criminal problem or credit blemishes, make sure to warn the landlord of these, before submitting your documents so that they don’t have any nasty surprises.

Your private information needs to be dealt with carefully, pay attention to any red flags and only provide your sensitive information when necessary. Make sure you ask the right questions of your landlord or rental agent and give your information when you feel comfortable.

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