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Commentary by Margaret Kelly

RISMEDIA, May 16, 2008-Building and protecting client trust couldn’t be more critical than in an adjusting market like today’s. Buyers and sellers rely on you to guide them through challenging transactions, and entrust to you their most confidential information.

Imagine those relationships being compromised by lurking data predators.

According to a periodic survey last conducted in 2006 by the Federal Trade Commission, an estimated 8.3 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2005-at a cost of $15.6 billion and their peace of mind.

kelly_margaret_new.jpgSo what’s your best line of defense? Layers. The more layers of protection you put in place, the better your chances of thwarting a would-be thief.

These are some of the best practices I’ve known proactive agents to institute to safeguard their clients’ information, and their good reputations in the marketplace:

-Password-protect everything. Use strong passwords on all of your electronics. More importantly, each one should be different and changed regularly. If you have to document the passwords, lock the file away.

-Update security software. Heed all computer antivirus and spyware update notices, and schedule automatic updates if you have the option.

-Schedule data backup. Move sensitive computer files to external storage devices on a regular basis and keep only minimal client data on the more vulnerable desktop computers and laptops. Don’t keep information unnecessarily.

-Store files in secure areas. Keep files containing hard copies of credit reports, bank statements and other confidential papers in locked cabinets at all times. Never leave these files open or unattended on desks, photocopiers or fax machines.

-Dispose of documents properly. When you’re ready to toss paper files, shred them first. Destroy CDs and DVDs as well. Use a reputable disc-sanitizing tool to erase electronic storage devices and computers before recycling or discarding them.

-Outline your privacy policy. Let your clients know about your efforts to protect them in your privacy policy. Make sure every client receives a copy and understands how you use and archive personal information.

-Don’t be caught off guard. Businesses of all sizes are one-stop shops for information and prime targets for identity thieves. Take time to understand how these predators operate and how you can stay ahead of them. Your clients deserve it and your business could depend on it.

Margaret Kelly, CRB, is chief executive officer of RE/MAX International.

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