The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as nine million Americans have their identity stolen each year. Yes, you read that correctly…nine million and that number is growing!
None of us are truly insulated from the possibility of having our identities stolen unless we refuse to purchase items or pay bills by check or credit card and never venture out of the house to the doctor’s office or other location where our private information may be required. However, for those of us living in community associations, the threat may be even greater, particularly if sensitive information was gathered during the approval process and such information is not destroyed or, at a minimum, safeguarded.
Some but not all associations do run background and even credit checks on potential purchasers and renters in their communities. Often, a social security number, date of birth and enough other information to effectively steal an identity is requested on the application. The association uses this information to presumably undertake its due diligence and determine if the renter or purchaser poses any sort of real or financial threat to the community.
Assuming the association’s governing documents provide the board with the authority to perform such scrutiny, the real concern then becomes what happens with that sensitive information provided by the purchaser or renter? Is it immediately shredded or is it tossed in the garbage where it can possibly be retrieved by an identity thief? If it is not destroyed, where is it stored and who has access to it? Is the information kept under lock and key with only limited access by a defined group of people or is it tossed in a drawer and no further thought given to its existence?
As the identity theft crisis continues to grow, boards and managers who come into contact with sensitive information must start asking the foregoing questions and creating useful protocol to ward off a potential problem. Individuals applying to live in or rent in a community association should inquire about how their personal information will be handled both during the approval process and aftewards.
Victims of identity theft spend countless hours and real dollars trying to clear their credit history and correct their financial resources. Horror stories abound about the steps needed to pick up the pieces in the most drastic identity theft scenarios. As a result, many insurance companies are now offering relatively inexpensive identity theft endorsements to standard homeowners’ and renters’ policies. Homeowners should ask their insurance agents about the benefits of this coverage and the costs. Boards who collect sensitive information should similarly speak to their insurance agents about what they can do to protect themselves and their residents from an identity theft incident.
It’s never too soon to start thinking about ways to protect yourself and your community from this insidious problem.