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Though a mention of ‘security’ usually calls locks and alarms to letting agents’ minds, it is computers which demand their attention as a wave of online cyber-criminals target the property industry.
A majority of letting agents are self-employed, run their own small company and may own and rent out properties as a supplementary income. We know the importance of operating online in this modern world, but according to research carried out in March 2016 only 7% of SME bosses had cyber insurance in place, despite 31% seeing expanding their online presence as a key business opportunity - a gap of 24%.
It is easy to assume that this won’t happen to you, but as an agent, your tenants and landlords information is likely to be stored digitally, either on a PC or in the cloud, whilst the internet is often where payments are made, and even where contracts are electronically signed.
Landlords and tenants often transfer money online, potentially putting themselves at risk of one of the most common online crimes - phishing scams. This is where fake emails claiming to be from legitimate websites encourage users to click a link and log in, in order to steal access to their account. Recently both Rightmove and Zoopla have fallen victim to this technique, warning their customers that the emails are bogus. Another common scam is for hackers to pose as landlords and ask tenants to pay rent to another account number.
From a tenant’s personal details to reference checks, plenty of personal data is held online which could be stolen in order to carry out identity theft. In 2015, the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service named identity theft as the most ‘dominant fraud theft’. Having used personal information to forge documents such as a passport or driving licence, criminals could take out a credit card, loan or even mortgage, landing the victim in financial hot water – and potentially landing you with legal action.
Encrypt all of your devices including laptops, tablets and mobile phones so that only authorised parties can access them
Password-protect your files, and avoid storing tenant and landlord’s information on a laptop or device which is often taken outside the home and could get lost
Ensure that you understand the level of security offered by your cloud storage provider
Never release personal information over the phone, through the post or electronically until you have verified the receiver as somebody that is authorised
Only employees who need to use sensitive information should have access to it
Ensure you have the latest anti-virus software installed on your computer, and that all plug-ins are up to date
Don’t open suspicious-looking emails or links. Go to websites manually rather than clicking links in emails
Before transferring money online, check bank account details in person or over the phone rather than relying on emails
Online or on paper, make sure you securely dispose of previous tenant records or data which is no longer required
Take out a dedicated Cyber Liability insurance policy, specifically designed to help reimburse you for costs incurred by this type of crime
To find out more visit www.hfprofessionalindemnity.co.uk/ or call 0345 310 6300
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Property Redress Scheme is approved by Government under the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015