Data Facts Blog


Social Security Numbers and Mortgage Fraud

The social security card looks like an innocent little thing. However, its 9 digit number packs a powerful wallop during the mortgage process.  People who commit mortgage fraud often attempt to utilize other people’s socials to acquire mortgage loans.

According to Fannie Mae’s Fraud Finding Statistics , for the 2011 and 2012 mortgages where misrepresentations were discovered,   8% of the misrepresentations involved social security numbers. This, unfortunately, is an increase from 2010.

Mortgage fraud is a rampant practice in today’s real estate climate, with fake or stolen social security numbers often at the heart of the scams. Fraudsters have several ways of gaining access to a person’s social:

1: Purse or wallet snatching: a thief may utilize this very common practice to gain access to a consumer’s private information.

2: Phone scams: fraudsters call a person with a phony story. Examples of this are scammers telling the person he/she has won a great amount of money, or posing as the person’s bank or credit card companies. In these cases, thieves ask for identity verification in the form of a social security number.

3: Computer hacking: websites where private information is stored may be hacked in order to retrieve social security numbers.

Once fraudsters have secured a valid social security number, they can utilize it to open credit cards, get hired for jobs, AND obtain a mortgage.

Criminals who set their sites on mortgage fraud often set up complex networks and intricate scams to commit mortgage fraud. One person will steal the social security number, while another fraudulent person applies for the mortgage. A group working this way can rack up tens of thousands of dollars in cash without the consumer’s knowledge.

How can consumers protect themselves?

–          Leave it at home. Never carry your social security card in a purse or wallet. This practice will eliminate the possibility of a thief stealing it in a purse or wallet snatching incident.

–          Guard the number closely. Only give out the number on a call that you initiated.  Beware of anyone calling or emailing you asking for your social security number.

–          Report a theft immediately.  If you feel your social security number has been compromised, report it to the FTC, the 3 credit bureaus, and the Social Security Administration immediately. Doing damage control up front will save you big headaches down the road.

How can mortgage lenders protect themselves?

–          Closely check the credit report. Scour it thoroughly for any discrepancies in the applicant’s social security number.

–          Run a social security verification on every borrower. For added protection, this process makes certain the social matches the person trying to obtain the mortgage.

It’s a sad fact of life there are criminals out there who prey on honest people by fraudulently acquiring their social security number. However, by being vigilant (whether you are a consumer or a mortgage lender), these criminals can be thwarted and the incidences of mortgage fraud can be decreased.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company.  Data Facts provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

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From Data Facts: A Quick Check of Your Compliance Standards

Red tape, bureaucracy, paperwork!  Whatever you want to call them, compliance rules and regulations can be time consuming and confusing.

However, complying is very important, and should be a top priority. The penalties for non-compliance are just too stiff to ignore.  Here are a few tips to help make sure you (as a mortgage lender) are in compliance with federal and state regulations. *

Befriend the FCRA:

The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates the operation of consumer reporting agencies, and also affects you as a user of information. It regulates how a consumer’s information may be used, and restricts who has access to this sensitive information.   In order to be in compliance, one needs to have a thorough understanding of the FCRA.

Store your paperwork:

The Federal Equal Opportunities Act states that a creditor must preserve all written or recorded information connected with an application for 60 months. In keeping with the ECOA, Data Facts, Inc. requires that you retain the credit application and, if applicable, a purchase agreement for a period of not less than 60 months.

 Properly dispose of sensitive information:

As part of the Fair Credit Transaction Act of 2003, if a consumer report is being used for a business purpose, it is subject to the Disposal Rule.   This rule calls for the proper disposal of information in consumer reports and records to protect against “unauthorized access to or use of the information.”

Guard your emails:

Email hacking is becoming more and more prevalent. Periodically review how your organization is using email to exchange information. Make sure sensitive information that is being sent via email is protected by using Winzip password protection, and by never sending social security numbers in the body of the email.

Have a plan for a breach: 

If you have not already done so, establish processes and procedures (in a written plan) for responding to and containing security violations, unusual or suspicious events and similar incidents. The goal should be to limit damage or unauthorized access to information assets and to permit identification and prosecution of violators.

 Know your state laws.

Certain states have passed restrictions in addition to the FCRA. Make sure to be familiar with any additional laws in your state, and follow these rules carefully to maintain full FCRA compliance.

 Maintaining compliant procedures and processes is an integral part of doing business in the mortgage industry.  By taking the time to become comfortable with the laws and regulations, you will be better able to protect yourself and your business from lawsuits, fines, and penalties.

*(This is not intended to provide legal advice. You should consult your own company’s Human Resource and Legal departments and/or obtain legal advice).

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company.  Data Facts provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

Identity Theft: The Newest Open Door to Thieves

ID theft continues to be a rampant and expensive crime in the U.S.  Purse-snatching, dumpster diving, and mail stealing are all ways that criminals steal your identity. These thieves can then use your credit cards, social security number, and other personal information to rack up charges, open new accounts, and even apply for jobs!

Identity theft and ways to combat it have been topics of many tv and printed articles. You have probably viewed or read some of these tips and even implemented a few of them into your habits. So you are protected, right?

Uh, probably not.

Unfortunately, these crooks are very creative, and constantly scheming up new ways to steal pieces of information about your identity. So, while you may have a locking mailbox, a shredder you use faithfully, and guard your social security number as closely as you would your little sister, you could be overlooking one thing: your cell phone.

In today’s “smart phone world” a person can manage their entire lives. Paying bills, banking, stock trading, and online shopping can all be conducted over your nifty little phone. This makes your phone a goldmine to identity thieves.

Ways the thieves can steal it:

 They steal your phone. Cell phones are evolving constantly, and the amount of storage available on them is growing by leaps and bounds. By stealing your phone, criminals can access your credit card numbers, banking applications, and email accounts. This can supply them with a plethora of information that they can use to steal your identity.

They tap into your Bluetooth connection: Thieves can access your Bluetooth connection, and connect their device with yours, pilfering pieces of information that are not secure on your cell phone.

They can eavesdrop on you. A crook with access to your phone can download software that allows them to listen to your phone conversations. From there, they can extract any information you talk about on your cell phone, and use this to gain access to your accounts, credit cards, etc.

They buy it from you: There are unscrupulous people cruising the internet for used cell phones on sites like Craigslist and Ebay. Their goal is to buy a cell phone that has not been completely cleared of important, sensitive information that they can use to steal your identity.

When it comes to Identity Theft, ignorance is definitely NOT bliss.  Being aware of these sneaky ways to steal your identity can put you in a better position to protect yourself. Here are some ways to make sure you are not vulnerable.

1: Lock down your cell phone with a strong password. Utilizing a number/letter password is the first step toward securing your phone from intruders. Make sure the password is not easily guessable, and set your phone to auto lock.

2: Don’t auto-save your banking passwords. Any applications that deal with sensitive information need to also have a strong password, and take the few extra seconds to type it in every time you access the app.

3: Always turn your Bluetooth off if you are not using it. This can greatly minimize an identity thieves’ ability to hack your phone.

4: Don’t leave it laying around. Keep your cell phone with you when you are out and about, and out of sight at work. This will guard against a person being able to download software that can tap into your conversations and emails.

5. Erase it before selling. When it’s time to get rid of your old phone, make certain all sensitive information is completely removed from the device.

Identity theft is largely a crime of opportunity. By decreasing your cell phone’s exposure to criminals’ access, you can effectively guard against becoming another statistic.

 

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 22 year old Memphis-based company that provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

Why a Strong Password is Your Best Friend

Your best friend would always protect you and never let you down. The same should be said of your passwords.
In today’s world, the average person needs 28 passwords. You need passwords for your bank, email, social network, bills, and any online ordering accounts. THEN you really rack up the passwords for different logins at work. It can get mind boggling to remember all the passwords that you use in a day’s time.
It’s tempting to use the same password for all the sites and accounts that you must access. HOWEVER, this is setting you up to have your password STOLEN. And the consequences of having your only password hacked can be disastrous.
Think about just how much a password protects.
Online banking and brokerage accounts: your password stands between your money and a thief!
Email accounts: your password protects your emails from being hacked. If you have online bills and bank statement, the thief could gain access to your account information.
Online shopping: Your credit card number and other personal information are guarded by your password.
And these are only your Personal Accounts!
Here are some very important tips to utilize in the creation of your passwords.
1. Throw your password loyalty out the window: Studies show that 1/3 of Americans who use a computer use the same password for every site. If a thief gets your password and hacks into your email, he can then access any accounts that he finds. He could literally clean you out and rack up massive debt within a very short period of time. Using only 1 password for all of your accounts hands the thief an open invitation to all of your accounts and information.
2. Easier isn’t better. A good portion of people actually use their birth date, their kids’ names, or even 12345 as their passwords. These types of passwords take hackers only seconds to crack. Easy passwords leave your accounts open and waiting for thieves to take advantage. You may as well leave your money laying on the front porch.
3. Keep it in the noggin. Even if people have more than one password, they often write them down and leave them by the computer, under their keyboard, in their calendar, or store them in their smartphones. This basically gift wraps them for a thief. Once he scores the password list, its bye bye money and hello fraudulent charges.
4. Mix it up. Passwords that only contain letters are easy to observe or guess, especially if they are only lower case.
5. Get long-winded. Never use a password that is under 8 characters. A short password is more easily observed and guessed than a longer one.
6. Remember you didn’t marry it. Keeping the same password month after month allows a hacker all the time he needs to crack it.
The CONSEQUENCES of having your password hacked are too high to not take immediate action. Here’s what to do:
1: Make a list of all your emails, accounts, banks, and shopping websites that require you to have a password.
2: Make sure your main email address has a password different from any other account.
3: For the remainder of your accounts, have a minimum of 4  hard to crack but easy for you to remember passwords
4: Change your passwords every 3 months.
5. Don’t write the passwords down anywhere. If you are afraid you will forget them, scribble a hint that only you could decipher, and keep it in a safe place. (Do not store this in your wallet or near your computer).
Let’s create a good password.
A. Think of a word that is easy for you to remember, but is not closely tied to you personally (ie: not your spouse, child, or dog’s name). We will use Teague (the name of my Kindergarten teacher)
B. Add a capital letter in the middle of the word. We will use the G. So now we have TeaGue.
C. Randomly choose 3 numbers. Do NOT use the last 4 digits of your social, your birthdate, or your anniversary. We will use 206 (the date of the last Superbowl). Your weight is another easy to remember number.
D. Now choose a character. I will choose ! since I’m trying to make a point.
RESULT: one of my new passwords is TeaGue!206. This will be easy for me to remember, but difficult to guess. My hint to myself would be: Kindergarden!superbowl.

Passwords are the gateway to your money, credit cards, and personal information. Strong passwords, like best friends, keep your secrets secure.  Utilize these tips to make sure you will not become just another identity theft statistic.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 22 year old Memphis-based company that provides mortgage product solutions to lenders nationwide.