California Association of REALTORS®’ Member Legal Services has received several reports of REALTORS®’s identities being misused without their knowledge. Unscrupulous people are generally impersonating real estate agents to defraud members of the public into paying money for fake real estate transactions, such as buying or leasing homes or timeshares, either within or outside of California. The fraud is generally uncovered when the consumer eventually pays out money, the fraudster severs any further contact, and the consumer, while attempting to locate the fraudster, finds the true agent.

Combating identity theft can be a challenge for REALTORS®, given that your license number and contact information are readily available to the public from the California Bureau of Real Estate (BRE) website. Fraudsters can also easily impersonate you online by creating email addresses and websites containing your name, and setting up phone numbers with your area code.

Here are a few suggestions to help prevent identity theft from C.A.R. that SILVAR would like to pass on to REALTORS® and other members of the public:
• Be Vigilant: Frequently monitor your online presence. Regularly search the Internet to see how your own name and other information are coming up. Search whether anyone has posted advertisements or created websites using your information or engaged in other suspicious activity. Use Google Alerts and other tools that can provide you updates when the Internet has new content about you, your company, your license number, or any other keywords you’ve requested.

• Keep a Strong Online Presence: Establish and maintain a strong online presence both as an individual agent and brokerage. Provide prominent and up-to-date contact information, photographs, videos of yourself, and recent news items on your websites and blogs, so you are easy to identify and contact. Also carefully consider providing some personal information online to send a message to fraudsters that “it’ll be too difficult for you to try to impersonate me.” Suggestions include providing some information about your personal background, affiliations, memberships, achievements, hobbies, or other unique attributes that may deter someone from trying to impersonate you.

• Strengthen Your Reputation: Establish and maintain a strong presence in your community. Not only is name recognition good for your business, but if everyone knows who you are, a fraudster is unlikely to impersonate you or succeed at impersonating you. Keep in mind, however, that a fraudster impersonating you could be targeting people in another community altogether.

• Stay Connected: Communicate with your clientele on a regular basis to help ensure they always have easy access to up-to-date contact information for you.

• Report Suspicious Activity: Immediately report any suspicious activity to the proper authorities. Depending on the circumstances, you can report fraudulent activities to the police, district attorney’s office, FBI, BRE, and other entities.

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