When it comes to protecting your personal information while apartment hunting, you need to have a plan and be aware of the common threats that can occur. Hackers rely on scare tactics to frighten people enough so they willingly respond to an email, click on a link, or fill out an application without thinking about the consequences. And when they do, they are putting themselves and their information in danger. Cybercriminals want to catch people when they are uncertain and vulnerable, like during the COVID-19 pandemic or when money is tight.
Apartment hunting can sometimes turn into one of those scenarios. That’s because you are looking at multiple apartments, possibly in areas you are unfamiliar with. Plus, you know that other renters are competing with you for the same property, so you want to be first. By being brash and not understanding the risks, you can become an easy target. Let’s avoid that by looking at some examples of threats and how you can protect your identity while apartment hunting.
Awareness is Key
All apartment hunters should be aware of common scams to avoid becoming a victim. For instance, one trick hackers use is installing ransomware on computers and phones. Ransomware is malicious software that allows the criminal to take control of the device until the victim pays a hefty ransom. This can be an especially costly situation if rent or an application fee is due and you can’t access your accounts to get the payment.
Another common rental scam that hurts inexperienced renters is fake online listings. These are profiles set up by hackers in an attempt to steal your information. The idea is to try and create a sense of urgency with an apartment listing that claims that a property is only available for a limited time and urges people to complete an application so they can reserve their spot on the list.
Rental applications need to contain private information, including date of birth, contact info and, often enough, a social security number so that landlords can protect themselves and confirm your identity. After you send that information to the hacker pretending to be a landlord, they will just send a follow-up email saying that the property has been taken. After that, the victim often thinks nothing of it until they notice an issue on their credit report or fraudulent charges on their bank statement.
To avoid these scams, look for red flags, which include a refusal to meet in person, a lack of information about their identity, and a request to wire money before a contract is signed.
Data and Landlords
Hacker tactics are very popular right now as we deal with a shaky housing market and see more people — including many millennials — choosing to rent, not buy due to a lack of funds or a desire to not be tied down. It’s important to understand that just about every piece of personal information leaked into the wrong hands can be used maliciously. Email addresses can be used to send phishing emails, credit card info can be used to steal money from your accounts, and social security numbers can be used for identity fraud.
Hackers know that landlords have all this information on multiple people, so they will launch attacks to try and break into the system and steal what they can. Because they know they hold very private information, landlords need to do their part to keep their computers secure. That means installing antivirus software and running scans at least twice per week to see if any viruses or malware are detected. An often-overlooked detail is locking their computers when not in use so criminals with prying eyes cannot walk in and copy the information onto their own disks when the machine is left unattended.
Mobile Device Security While Apartment Hunting
Vigilance is required at all times when apartment hunting, especially while you are out and about looking at different properties. Chances are that you’re using a mobile device to keep track of the apartments and to fill out the applications. If you are not security-conscious, a hacker might infiltrate your device and steal your information within minutes.
You should keep track of your mobile device at all times while apartment hunting. There is a lot going on and plenty to keep track of, making it easy to misplace, so keep your phone in your pocket when not in use. This is especially important while you are touring the apartments. Many other people visiting these properties means there is a lot of traffic, including from potential hackers canvasing the area for unaware victims.
To protect your information and any other personal data, be sure to have a passcode set on your phone and double it with two-factor authentication which could be a fingerprint or eye scan. If you implement these measures, you can avoid someone accessing your information even if they do get their hands on your device.
When out and about, be careful about using public Wi-Fi, especially when filling out online applications. Scammers can use man-in-the-middle attacks, which are fake Wi-Fi networks that are often advertised to be free to lure in potential victims. However, when you connect, you are really connecting to the hacker’s device, and from there, they can steal your information.
Since apartment hunting requires a lot of data and back and forth communication, security is key. Take the time to research companies and properties before providing your information, be on alert, and you can find the perfect home with less stress.