Concerns about data security and privacy are deepening as the real estate industry is increasingly being targeted by hackers. As personal and financial information is increasingly transmitted via email and between devices, it’s imperative that real estate professionals protect themselves and their clients from scams or data breaches.
On Jan. 28, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) observed Data Privacy Day by partnering with industry, government and the nonprofit sector to educate businesses about the importance of respecting privacy and protecting personal information.
According to a J.D. Power and Associates survey, 81% of Americans feel they’ve lost control over the way their personal data is collected.
“Companies of all sizes and from all industries are continuously collecting enormous amounts of personal data. Consumers want to know how their personal information is collected and protected and with whom it is shared,” says Russ Schrader, the NCSA’s executive director. “In fact, respecting privacy is not only a protective measure but also a smart strategy for enabling consumer trust and enhancing reputation and growth.”
The NCSA has some tips for being more thoughtful concerning information Realtors collect from clients and ways to protect that data and foster trust:
If you collect it, protect it
Personal information is like money. Create a policy for yourself and agents on your team or at your brokerage that includes reasonable security measures to protect individuals’ personal information from inappropriate and unauthorized access. This could include the following:
- Secure logins. Usernames and passwords aren’t enough to protect key accounts like email, banking and social media, according to the NCSA. Always turn on the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or 2 step authentication.
- Keep up with updates. Regularly update security software, web browsers and operating systems to have the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats.
- Be thoughtful with what is shared. Consider what you’re posting online and who might see it.
- Regularly check privacy and security settings on social networks.
- Secure devices. Every device should be secured by a password or strong authentication – finger swipe, facial recognition or other technique. These security measures limit access to authorized users and protect information if devices are lost or stolen.
- Think before you app. Information about you – the games you like to play, your contacts list, where you shop and your location – has tremendous value. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and understand how it’s collected through apps.
- Be open and honest about how you gather, use and share personal info
- Clearly communicate your company’s data-use practices and how you manage customers’ privacy.
Create a culture that respects data security
Educate agents about their role in privacy, security and respecting and protecting the personal information of customers.
“Every company must be able to demonstrate how it is protecting data privacy to earn the trust of customers, users, partners and employees. This takes a collaborative, risk-based data privacy practice that aligns with industry best practices, customer demands and regulatory requirements,” says Michelle Dennedy, vice president and chief privacy officer for Cisco, a partner of the NCSA.
The NCSA has tips on how to check various privacy settings, safety tips for mobile devices, and a #CyberAware monthly newsletter for families to share online safety news and resources. The content can also be shared with clients.
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission created a webpage that has advice to help small business owners protect not only the networks and systems that are the backbone of their business, but also their customers’ sensitive data. The website includes videos that show steps small-business owners can take to ensure their businesses have secure networks.