I had the opportunity to attend a day of training. The topic was safety. Since I so rarely get the opportunity to be the student, I was excited about the chance to learn something new. The speaker was engaging, pleasant and most of all informative. Not only did I gain some great ideas for our offices but for me personally as well.
– Diana Williams, FNF Corporate Escrow Administrator
The most disturbing statistics were the top three real estate crimes: data theft, stalking and assaults. It is no secret identity theft, also referred to as data theft, is on the rise. Although the Company has installed firewalls, invested in anti–virus software and restricted access to unsafe websites on our computer systems, our business still requires us to have non–public sensitive information in file folders in our offices. On a daily basis we have people in and out of our offices with access to all of this information.
What part can settlement agents play in keeping this information safe? Here are a few tips:
- Make sure if you walk away from your computer (even for a minute) you hit "ctrl+alt+delete" to lock your computer. It takes only seconds for a thief to download information from your computer or load a virus on your system using a USB drive.
- Do not leave back doors unlocked. Only allow customers to enter through the front door.
- Have a bell on the front door if it is unattended.
- Do not leave someone unattended in your personal office where they have access to your files.
- Never allow a visitor to freely wander through the office. If someone needs to use the restroom ask a colleague to escort them.
- Scale down. It is not necessary to keep a copy of everything, especially a copy of the entire loan package in your files.
- Encrypt emails which contain non–public personal information.
- Consider having visitors sign in or be sure the receptionist has a list of appointments scheduled for the day.
Most of all, plan ahead by having a process. Discuss office safety together, come up with a plan and follow it. Our Company has an entire website dedicated to Information Security which can be accessed through the Company's intranet at home.fnf.com. You can learn about our policies and procedures.
Although the class provided the great office safety tips I was much more inspired by the personal safety tips. Having been in this business for 20 years I have seen many settlement agents put themselves in harm's way. Truthfully, I have even put myself in harm's way. All of these tips are common sense but serve as an excellent reminder of the simple steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Do not put your vacation schedule on Facebook® or Twitter®. Make sure your out of office message does not say you are leaving town.
- Lock up or keep your purse out of sight at the office and in your car.
- When leaving the office after hours, call to let someone know you are leaving. Talk on your cell phone while walking to your car or ask the security guard to escort you if there is one available to you.
- The same is true if you attend a local event or meeting outside of the office. Be sure someone knows where you are and when you are leaving.
- Slow down, take a look around. Take just one second to look around before leaving the office, getting in or out of your car.
- Do not park near shrubs or something a perpetrator could hide behind.
I learned all of these tips from Andrew Wooten, C.P.P. and President of Safety Awareness Firearms Education (S.A.F.E.). Their website is full of tips for living a safer life including an option to sign up for their monthly newsletter (www.justbesafe.com). The newsletter offers quick and easy tips on how to live a safer life. Take advantage of these free tools to be safe.