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Online home shopping could create identity theft risk

Dec 12, 2018 Dave King

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial commitment of a consumers' life. It can be an expensive venture, as not only do people need to make mortgage payments each month, but also cover other new expenses such as homeowner's insurance and property taxes.

With more people turning to the Internet to shop for homes, another factor could make homebuying costly - identity theft. In fact, 90 percent of buyers use the Internet in some form to search for a house, according to HSH.com. For this reason, it is important to stick with reputable websites, such as Realtor.com and Zillow.com when searching listings.

"People who are looking for a home have money and criminals are out there watching," Dmitry Bestuzhev, head of the global research and analysis team of Kaspersky Lab, told HSH.com. "It's like walking around a minefield. Buyers need to take steps to protect their information from identity theft and their computer from viruses."

Banks and other financial institutions, such as short term lenders, need to provider homebuyers with the necessary information to know if they have been victimized. To avoid a situation where people see their consumer credit scores fall markedly, it is important to know the major warning signs of identity theft:

- Errors on bank and credit statements
Many people go paperless with their statements, which makes it more difficult for them to remember to check these documents on a regular basis, but it is extremely important to do so, according to U.S. News & World Report. Some of the first warning signs that someone has been a victim of identity theft are errors on these statements. For example, there may be an unexplained withdrawal or transaction. As soon as an error is realized, people need to be sure to report it to their bank.

- Bills and statements don't arrive in the mail
Consumers who have gone paperless may find it difficult to see this warning sign, but people who still receive these documents in the mail may want to be concerned if they don't arrive one month. According to Privacy Matters, this is a sign that a criminal may have stolen a person's identity and changed his or her address so they didn't notice. Another possibility is that someone just removed that person's mail directly from their box.

- Unwarranted collection calls
Being called by debt collectors isn't uncommon, and people need to be sure not to ignored these calls, especially if there is no reason that they are receiving them. For instance, if a consumer is current on all debts and is still getting these calls, it may be a sign of identity theft. Someone may have opened an account using that person's name and failed to make payments. So, people who get multiple calls a day from 1-800 numbers should be sure to answer one of them to see if it is a debt collector.