When you're buying a home, the only people who need your personal information are potential mortgage lenders. Real estate agents and sellers need only know that you can afford to buy.
So get pre-approved before you start shopping. Then, when you approach an agent, all you need is the letter from your bank. "You've efficiently handled the challenge," Phipps says.
Negotiating with a lender? Gabby Beltran, spokeswoman for the Identity Theft Resource Center, recently bought a house, and admits she learned a few lessons the hard way. Among them:
- Deal with one person at the lending company. That way, you minimize the number of people who have access to your paperwork.
- Send papers by fax or snail-mail. Ask that anything with your Social Security number or other vital data not be sent via email.
- Ask to see where and how your information will be secured. "For me, on a desk is not a safe place," Beltran says.
When you make an offer, consider a cashier's check instead of a personal check for the earnest money deposit, says Michael Gilbert, detective with the Montgomery County, Pa., Detective Bureau. That way, you're not sharing your bank account numbers, he says.