Our E&O client recently contacted CRES Risk Management to report that somebody was using her name, license number and professional background on a fake website. The website was designed to lure unsuspecting real estate consumers into a scam involving timeshares. She wanted to know what she could do to protect herself.
Be Aware of Emerging Scams
In this case, the scam involves tricking timeshare owners into paying a permit fee to complete a transaction. Once the fee is paid, the money disappears, the deal never happens, and the “broker” and title company stop all communication.
What do brokers need to know? Scammers are fraudulently using the name and license of actual brokers and agents on their websites. You could be at risk and not know it.
Actively Search for Your Credentials
You should conduct an active search of your name and license number to see if it is being used to market or sell real estate without your permission.
Here are 4 tips for conducting an effective search:
Use quotation marks around your name in the website search bar. For example, enter
“Thomas Adam Smith” real estate agent into the search bar with quotation marks around your name.
Search multiple variations of your name. A scam could be using your full name with middle name or initial, just your first and last name, or a shortened version of your name. Here are some examples of variations to search.
“Thomas Adam Smith” CA real estate broker
“Thomas A Smith” CA real estate broker
“Thomas Smith” CA real estate broker
“Tom Adam Smith” CA real estate broker
“Tom A Smith” CA real estate broker
“Tom Smith” CA real estate broker
Use a qualifier to help narrow the search results. For example, use your state and real estate broker or real estate agent: “TX real estate broker,” “Texas real estate broker,” “TX real estate agent,” or “real estate broker.” Focusing results on your field of work or market area make it easier to find misuse.
Search your real estate license number. A scammer could use your license number with a false name, so look for misuse of your license number as well.
Take These 6 Steps If You Discover ID Theft
This is the advice the CRES Risk Management legal advice team gave our client who discovered her identity was being misused:
Alert your employing broker and work with your information technology department or consultant to ensure that there have been no further compromises and that clients have not been put at risk.
Report the incident to your state licensing body.
Report the incident to the local FBI cybercrimes unit and your state attorney general consumer protection division. Check with local police about filing a criminal complaint.
In the unlikely event you are able to determine the identity of the perpetrators, take legal action, including having an attorney send a cease and desist letter, seek an injunction, or initiate a civil action.
Alert other brokers who may also have had their professional identities stolen or misused.
Check to ensure that your personal identity, bank accounts, credit cards, social security number, credit agency profile, and all other forms of personal identifying information have not been compromised.
The bottom line is that as a real estate professional, you need to be proactive in protecting your professional and personal identities. Routinely search online to see if your professional identity has been wrongfully appropriated or misused. Stay on top of evolving scams, so you can be proactive in protecting yourself and your clients from losses and claims. Know what to do if your identity is stolen—and act quickly.
If you are a CRES client and learn that your identity (real estate contact and license information) is being misused, report it to the CRES ClaimPrevent® Hotline. The hotline is available to our clients 7 days a week to help with professional identity theft and any other issues that put you at risk.
What steps do you take to protect yourself from identity theft?
This blog/website is made available by CRES Insurance Services for educational purposes to give you general information and understanding of legal risks and insurance options, not to provide specific legal advice. This blog/website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. Claims examples are for illustrative purposes only. Read your policy for a complete description of what is covered and excluded.