How to prevent identity theft as a renter - Roost
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How to prevent identity theft as a renter  

When applying to live at a new apartment, you often provide sensitive financial and personal information—your Social Security number, date of birth, and previous addresses. This information helps landlords qualify rental applicants, but it’s also what identity thieves use to open accounts, file taxes, or make purchases. Here’s how to prevent identity theft as a renter during the application process and throughout your daily life. 

Beware of rental listing scams

When you’re apartment hunting, make sure a rental listing is real. Avoid links, phishing email scams, and suspicious-looking websites—look for lots of typos, missing contact information, and offers that sound too good to be true. Consider whether the rental unit price seems low compared to similar properties in the area. 

Roost Tip! Don’t sign a lease or provide information until you (or someone you trust) has viewed the apartment. 

Some attempts to steal your information are clearly scams, but others are increasingly difficult to detect. Trust your gut, and if something seems off, try googling “______ offer + scam?”. (For example, “Fairmount Apartments rental offer + scam?”) You can usually get a pretty good idea of the reputation of the apartment complex based on reading other people’s experiences.

Check for policies and controls that prevent identity theft

When you apply for a new rental, you provide your landlord with sensitive information that helps verify your identity, credit history, and more. Do you know where your data goes after you’ve submitted it on your application? 

Unfortunately, some landlords are better at keeping sensitive information safe than others. Ask questions about their procedures for handling sensitive information and how they help their residents prevent identity theft. For example:

  • How will my information be used?
  • Who will have access to my information?
  • Will my application be shredded? If not, how are you securely storing or disposing of my information?
  • Can I get a copy of your privacy policy?

If you’re not satisfied with the answers, share your concerns and see how your potential landlord responds. If they appear defensive or unorganized, you may want to keep looking.

Monitor your credit report and score

In addition to working to prevent identity theft, monitor for it. If your score goes down unexpectedly, investigate. You can get one free credit report annually from each credit reporting agency: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

When you get your credit report, check to ensure it doesn’t include accounts you have not opened—credit cards, bank accounts, student loans, car loans, etc. If you notice any discrepancies, ask for more info or dispute them by contacting the credit reporting agency directly. (Here’s our article on how to remove errors from your credit report.) 

Keeping an eye on your credit report is a good way to see if an identity thief has used your information without your knowledge. And the sooner you spot any issues, the less damage they can do.

Make a conscious choice between debit and credit

Debit cards are handy because you’re less likely to overspend or wrack up a bunch of debt that’s difficult to pay off. But when it comes to preventing identity theft–or recovering from it—credit cards reign. Why?

The money disappears from your account with a debit card right away, and you’re responsible for fighting to get it back. Fraudulent charges can also tie up your money so that legitimate purchases or charges—paying your rent, making a student loan payment—may get declined. And if you’re on a tight budget, not having access to your hard-earned money could create a domino effect of late payments and fees. 

Roost Tip! Don’t have a credit card? When shopping online, try using a prepaid card instead to help limit your risk.

With a credit card, the issuer (Visa, Mastercard) tackles the unauthorized charge. Many credit card companies have entire departments dedicated to recovering lost funds. The maximum you’ll pay for a fraudulent credit card transaction is $50—or $0 if you’d already reported your card lost or stolen. 

If you think you’re a victim of identity theft and someone is using your cards fraudulently, report it right away, no matter which kind of card it is. 

Be on guard online to prevent identity theft

Online shopping is super convenient for you—and for scammers. This doesn’t mean you should only buy jeans or snag groceries in person; just be on the lookout for common ways scammers try to steal your information. (Unfortunately, there are quite a few.)

  • Intercepted payment portals where hackers redirect you to a lookalike page to enter payment details and personal information.
  • Copycat stores use an almost identical web address and build their site to look like the one you thought you were shopping at. For example, these false sites might add an extra period or swap an “i” for an “l” in the URL, then link to the fake site.
  • Adware ads posted on social media or other sites entice you to enter personal data for some freebie or discount that’s hard to pass up.
  • Overpayment happens when scammers contact Etsy or Wix storefront owners, claim they overpaid for an item, and get you to issue a “refund” for a payment you never received.
  • Formjacking is when hackers insert malicious javascript into online web forms. When you enter your information in the form, the code transfers your data to another site controlled by the hacker.
  • Data breaches occur when legitimate companies, often larger corporations, get hacked, and login credentials and personal information is stolen from the company and later sold online.

To help prevent online identity theft, only visit HTTPS sites—they are the most secure. Look for a lock icon next to the URL. This denotes that a website encrypts personal data. 

Avoid guest wifi 

Filling out a rental application in a Starbucks using guest wifi? Pay your security deposit online at the airport? While it may seem like a great idea to finish your to-do list while sipping on a latte, you’ll also be at higher risk for identity theft. 

Guest wifi makes your information especially vulnerable, and public wifi hotspots are ideal places for cybercriminals to lurk. Here’s why you might want to avoid using public wifi: 

  • There’s no way to know whether or not the wifi is using an encrypted network
  • Public wifi is susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks, which use wifi as a channel to intercept data transmitted from your device
  • Special software can target specific aspects of public wifi and allow cybercriminals to spy on your internet activity and note everything from browser history to login credentials
  • Malicious hotspots use deceptive names to lure people into connecting to the ill-will wifi instead of the wifi provided by the business.

Try to do important things like banking on your home wifi. If you need to use the internet in a public setting, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which masks your IP address and makes it much harder for hackers to steal your info.

Create strong passwords and use caution on social media

We all know strong, unique passwords help prevent hackers from getting into your accounts and stealing your identity and info. At the same time, it’s not uncommon to go for convenience and create short passwords or reuse them. 

If your rental asks you to set up an account to pay your security deposit or sign up online for cable at your new apartment, double down on your password setting to help prevent identity theft:

  • Do use a password that is at least ten characters long and has a mixture of numbers, letters, symbols, and upper and lower cases
  • Do change your passwords regularly
  • Do avoid using dictionary words; consider misspelling words intentionally
  • Don’t share passwords or write them down
  • Don’t use the same password on multiple sites
  • Don’t use commonly known information, i.e. birthdates, street address numbers, within your passwords

When it comes to social media, remember scammers scan these channels to gain insight into your passwords and security questions. They may look at your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok feeds, and the type of content you post, to glean info that might make them more successful at stealing your identity.

Shred documents with sensitive personal information

Sensitive personal information is any information used to identify a specific individual. Examples include Social Security numbers, Driver’s license numbers, phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, and debit/credit card numbers. All this information is unique to you, and any document floating around that contains that information can make you more vulnerable to identity theft, fraud, and impersonation. 

Sometimes, people will take extreme measures to steal your info, including dumpster diving at your rental. However, the good news is that this is a relatively easy problem to fix. Simply snag yourself a good shredder and shred away when you’re done with the document. (Here are a few inexpensive shredders.) Make sure to keep important documents in a safe, too. (Here are a few affordable safes!)

Are you at a high risk of identity theft? 

According to National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), nearly 10% of Americans experienced identity theft in a single year. Identity theft is stressful, but it’s also costly—fraud cost consumers $5.8 billion in 2021

Surprisingly almost half of the reported fraud cases in 2020 were people aged 18-34, primarily the millennial and GenZ age generations. Why might this demographic be particularly susceptible to identity theft? A few factors:

  • High social media usage
  • Online shopping, which only increased during the pandemic
  • Public wifi usage

Being a victim of identity theft can harm your finances and your emotional well-being, too. Victims of identity theft report higher stress levels and more trust issues after having their identities stolen.

What to do if your identity has been stolen

If you suspect your identity has been stolen, don’t beat yourself up about what you did or didn’t do to protect it–take action! 

First, call the institutions where you noticed fraud has occurred and ask what steps you should take to lock your accounts or prevent additional exposure. They’ll likely have you fill out some paperwork and collect evidence. Once you’ve collected evidence of fraud, also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department.

Next, contact Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. The credit reporting agencies will freeze your credit so that no one can open an account without your consent. Credit agencies can also turn on a year-long fraud alert, requiring a business to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. 

Finally, give a heads up to the IRS, healthcare and medical providers, credit card companies, financial institutions, and the DMV/licensing agencies. They’ll be able to walk you through best practices to secure your accounts.

While identity theft as a renter is not entirely preventable, taking steps to protect your sensitive personal information is the best thing you can do to lessen your risk. As a renter, make sure you ask your rental property for details on how they will protect your information. As a general consumer, always keep an eye out for scams. If you do find yourself the victim of identity theft, act early to limit any damaging effects.

A quick note! Our goal is to gather and share info that’s up-to-date and helps you make great decisions as a renter. That said, the information you get directly from a provider could be a little different. Make sure to review their terms and conditions directly; and, if you see anything here that needs to be updated, please let us know! Advertising disclosure
Last Updated: May 24th, 2022