10 Things You Need To Do Immediately To Protect Your Online Privacy

Privacy is an increasingly rare commodity these days. Just search for yourself on Intelius.com and take note of the information they are handing out about you for free.  For a significant amount of pocket change, one can uncover the real scoop—a true testament to the fact that our personal information is worth something to legitimate businesses as well as criminals.

Today’s Realtors are faced with an ever-increasing number of privacy and safety concerns. There are multiple reasons for this. For Advertising purposes, Realtors often publish pictures and personal details and sometimes reveal location information unknowingly. Secondly, they rely heavily on technology (computers, smartphones, and tablets), that can be hacked if preventative measures are not in place. In addition, there are transactions such as short sales which require Realtors to collect and store the same information that data criminals seek. And herein lies the problem. For many of us words like “spoof” and “phish”—that relate to receiving bogus e-mails—are not part of our everyday lexicon, nor do we want them to be. But the time has come for everyone in the real estate industry to get educated in this digital economy. Knowledge and awareness is the name of the game or the consequences can be devastating.

A few unsuspecting real estate professionals in different parts of the country have realized the painful truth in this reality. They were victims of what is now referred to as The Wire Fraud Scam. While this scheme has played out in several different ways, it leads to the same downfall – a hacker successfully attacked. In a nutshell an agent receives wiring instructions from her closing attorney, unaware that Hacker Joe has placed himself in the middle of transmission and changed the routing account information in the email before it gets forwarded to the buyer. On the receiving end, the buyer complies with the instructions, and in doing so, makes a 20% deposit into Hacker Joe’s account.

Time to Tighten it Up

In light of this example and a growing number of other scams pervading the real estate industry I believe a review of some key privacy guidelines and rules are in order.

Consider taking the following actions to protect your privacy and secure your data.

1. The First Step – Your Online Self-Assessment

Your first step to online privacy and protection is to know what information you already have online. When was the last time you Googled yourself? What websites are sharing information about you? What private information are you storing on your computer?

These are only a few of the questions you need to answer to begin your self-assessment. If you find highly confidential information on any website (i.e. images of your signature or your social security number), you can request a removal from Google and other search engines. Simply do a search using the keyword phrase “Removing content from Google” for directions on how to do this.

2. Stop using Public Wi-Fi Networks

Hackers who creep onto public Wi-fi networks are hoping that you haven’t received the all-important memo years ago that began with “Never Use a Pubic Wi-fi Network.” If you fail to heed this warning, you need to realize that you are wide open to potential hackers who insert themselves into the line of communication in order to harvest your account passwords and read your e-mail. If you think a hacker had to go through extensive training to learn how to do this, think again—think Google and YouTube.com. There are video tutorials online that demonstrate how easy it is to do this.

There are other spots where a virtual agent might work or conduct business, such as a coffee shop, which is an ideal place for a hacker to set up a fake network. Even worst, if you stay on such a public Wi-fi long enough, a hacker can take complete control of your computer.

Protect yourself and don’t take the bait. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Service providers like Private Internet Access (PIA) charge a nominal fee per month to encrypt your data so hackers cannot see it and Tunnel Bear is a VPN service provider with a free option up to 500MB.

3. Adhere to strict email security rules

Chances are good that you have received a phishing message in your InBox. This message appears urgent and comes from a known source such as FedEx or a bank in your area, when in fact it’s a scam designed to get your attention, to persuade you to click on the webpage and enter your personal details. Never click on the link – you could download a virus that affects everyone on your network. Beware of a suspicious email from someone you know. Unfortunately, your friend’s email contact database could have been hacked. If in doubt, pick up the phone and call them.

Lastly, if sensitive financial data is being sent over the Internet, use email encryption.

Most VPNs have this feature. If you are not using a VPN, Info-encrypt.com is a free, web-based service for easily securing your email that does not require installation on a PC. There are also videos on youtube.com on how to encrypt an email in Gmail or Outlook. For large real estate firms, there are enterprise options from HP Securemail and Hushmail.com.

4. Perform a Facebook Privacy Check up

The number one place that people voluntarily relinquish their right to privacy is a social network. Remember once on the Internet, always on the Internet, so do not post anything you would not share with the world—forever. Most of Facebook’s one billion users do not realize that everytime they update their Facebook timeline or profile, search engines are immediately notified and soon indexes this new information.

Action Item: If you do not want other search engines to link to your Facebook timeline, visit your Settings and select Privacy from the left column. Under the Who Can Look me Up? Section, look for the question Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline? Click Edit and change this setting to No.

5. Clear your browser history and cookies

Cookies are tiny pieces of code that websites attach to your computer to store information about you and your activities on their website. Cookies remember your preferences and can save you a good bit of typing. However, if you are trying to tighten up your online privacy it is a good practice to clear your cookies and delete your browser history on a regular basis.

6. Password protect your hardware

This is a simple but important requirement for your computer and mobile devices. For your mobile devices, fingerprint recognition is a great option. Those who oppose this option argue, “But I trust my family and co-workers.” To be clear, requiring authentication is necessary in case your laptop or mobile device is lost or stolen.

In addition, make sure you use strong passwords (not the four-digit simple passcode) for your devices and for online applications, use only passwords that contain uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

7. Consider two-factor authentication for business related applications

There’s another way to ensure your accounts are never hacked and involves the use of two-factor authentication. Accounts such as Google, Facebook, Evernote, and Dropbox give you this option, just to name a few. In this way you will need your smartphone as well as your account password to login.

8. Practice Mobile Safety

Did you know that a picture taken on your smartphone with location services turned On embeds GPS metadata into the photo? With proper software someone can pinpoint your exact location, including latitude and longitude coordinates. Keep it simple and disable locations services if you know you will be uploading a picture to the web. Other mobile safety precautions include:

 Keep your operating system up-to- date. New updates addresses bug fixes and also keeps your device safe from the latest threat.
 Check the image on your lockscreen. If your device is lost then found by a good Samaritan, will they be able to contact you? While there are apps for this, you can use simply write on an existing image in your photo album using the free app Skitch.

9. Mask Your IP Address

When you land on a website you leave a footprint in the form of IP information. It gives a website owner, at the very least, your location and service provider. For example a site owner looking at analytics will recognize me as a visitor from Atlanta. By using an IP masker, this will not be the case.

10. Get Notified if Your Name is Mentioned Online

If your name is ever mentioned on a public page online, you might want to know. You can do this by going to www.google.com/alerts. Make sure you have a Google Alert setup with your first and last name in quotations (Example – “Juanita McDowell”). The quotations tell the search engine to keep string of words together. If you are logged into your Gmail account, the email will be delivered to this address. If you prefer it be sent to another address, log out so it will prompt you for another email address.

Final reminder

No doubt there will always be personal information that you need to keep private. As a Realtor serving the public, maintaining online anonymity is a major challenge. With daily advances in technology it is hard to go anywhere online where our information is not being tracked or accessed. The solution is not to avoid the digital landscape, but to exercise caution and remember these important guidelines to ensure that you will not compromise your privacy and therefore your security.

Top 10 Things to Market Your Listings

1. Double Check what you have put into your MLS- Send a copy to your sellers for review to have another set of eyes on the correct information on the house. Sell the lifestyle as well as the house if room in MLS. Make sure you have the correct parameters/fields/terms filled out in your MLS to make a consumer better to find your listing online.

2.  Please! Please! Please! Pay for a professional photographer – Now, I am not saying to pay for a professional photographer on a $1200 lease (which I don’t-because not cost beneficial) but the photos taken from your smart phone that you have not even gotten out of the car to take….. PLEASE!!!  Can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?!? We live in a visual society so the old saying pictures are worth a thousands words…hmmmmm- just something to think about as you are wondering why your listing that has your photobombing the bathroom mirror is not selling!  #justsayin

If I have a super type A client, I encourage them if they want to stay for the photos! I had a seller that thought she was a “professional photographer” and complained about every photo my photographer had taken. So I had to pay for another round of photos but I insisted the seller be in attendance so she could be comfortable with the angles that the photographer was using. Worked like a charm! Made my seller happy to have an opinion, so I have learned to ask clients if this is something they would like to do.

I also firmly believe that future seller prospects look at other listings in their market area online and they make opinions about the listing agents. It’s a marketing tool for your sellers but also for yourself!

3. Give the room feeling with descriptions  Now, I am a professional REALTOR and I even wonder what room is/could be used for based on pictures alone. Tell me and the consumer on line what the room is, ambience to a room, if its a flex space, or the reference point of where the photo was taken in the house.

4. Update photos on your listings  If your listing photos have snow on the ground in the winter, it’s now April with flowers blooming, it is definitely time to update photos! Christmas/Halloween decoration showing on a listing in February gives the online consumer an idea very quickly of how long the house has been on the market. No bueno for your seller!

If your seller has updated paint colors or other items in the house based on feedback on showings, then get new photos done and replace them in your MLS as well as any online portals that listing is on. Same goes for if a tenant occupied the house when photos were taken and its now vacant, then update it. 9 out of 10 times it will look better than the tenant occupied photos. Safety Alert – check with your sellers if they are ok with photos showing the house is vacant!

5. Update your listings on Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com- You can normally add or change things based on how consumers search those portals to better enhance that the online consumer can find your seller’s listing. Depending on what you are trying to achieve it may be free or with a premier package.

6. Share your listing on Social Media-  Post your listing on all the Social Media sites you belong to that you think your friends/followers will like. I do a #comingsoon on Instagram to garner interest before it hits the market. That helped a lot on my listings this past summer when we were in a hot market.

Make sure you abide by NAR Social Media policy on correctly posting listings, as well as the Code of Ethics, local MLS policies and your Broker policies.

Encourage your client to share their home to their Social Media accounts. They love to show off their home and they help you market.

7. Just Listed Cards- I know! I know! Most of you know me as being paperless but this “old” school approach still works in a lot of markets. Think about who you are sending the Just Listed cards to. For example, if it is a listing that could be a “move-up” listing then target apartment dwellers or an area that would target that move up buyer.

Sending Just Listed cards to the neighbors of your listing is another great option. They may have a friend or family member that wants to move to that area. Bonus- you may get another listing out of it!!!

Resources for Just Listed cards:





Plus tons of additional ones out there!

8. Host an Open House – A very tried and trued method! Send out invites to neighbors or knock on doors to the neighbors to invite them. Post in local paper, in MLS, Social Media sites, yard signs and word of mouth. Statistically, an attendee on an open house in most areas don’t normally sell the house, the marketing you do for it makes the sellers happy.

Side benefit is you may get some leads off it.

9. Follow up on feedback for Showings- A lot of agents don’t give feedback because they are normally putting out fires on other deals, so tell the seller to not get disheartened. If an showing agent is inquiring about the property, I keep an Evernote note on information that an agent would want, so I can quickly give it to them. I do that for prospects as well so I can quickly answer their questions in hopes to capture their interest in seeing the home with their agent.

10. Set up Google Alerts on Your Listing    Although this is not a marketing tool per se, it allows me to monitor what websites my listing may be going to.

Go to google.com/alerts and type in the whole address of your listing. Follow the instructions on when you want updates. I have found my listings on website I did not know they syndicated to , so I could pass that information on to sellers.  It also allows me to see if my listings are getting scraped.

Visit RETI.us for more marketing ideas for your listings and for yourself.

How to Add Video to Your Website

As we have covered in a lot of lessons here on RETI, everything is going towards video.  Google is estimating that 70% of consumers will search for videos and not websites by 2017.  And video is the best performing kind of content on the internet.  So it makes sense to have video on your personal (or team/company) site.  In this video Craig will teach you how to install a video from YouTube to your own website in seconds!

Using URL Shorteners

Sometimes having a long url can be problematic.  Let’s say for example you want to send a client a link to a listing from your MLS and the url is so long that it will take up multiple lines in the email.  Well most email programs will break that url at each line break leading to your customer being frustrated not being able to click on the link (or clicking on a broken 404 link).  Then they contact you and feel you don’t know what you’re doing, etc.  Well that’s where a URL shortener comes in, as you could take that long url and turn it into a short one that is guaranteed not to break!  Watch this video to learn more about URL Shorteners.

Signing a PDF on an IPad

There are times when you are out in the field or with a client and you need to sign something (contract, form, etc.).  Well you don’t want to go all the way back to the office or home but guess what you have your IPad with you.   Good news is, you can sign it right then and there.  Watch this video to learn how.