Protecting yourself against appraiser identity theft is very different from protecting your credit against identity theft. Most of the standard advice, such as shredding financial statements and safeguarding social security numbers, will probably not protect you against an individual who wishes to use your name and appraisal license number to issue fraudulent appraisals. To help you out, we’ve put together some identity theft tips for appraisers.
Identity theft tips for appraisers
Let’s face it—your name and license/certificate number are out there. They appear on your work product, on business cards, and on websites. And even if you remove your name and license number from these places, they still appear on the state licensing board website and the Appraisal Subcommittee’s national registry (www.asc.gov). So what can you do to protect yourself against identity fraud?
1. Screen your assistants and trainees
Because many of the appraiser identity theft cases involve appraisal trainees or ex-trainees, check a potential trainee’s background very carefully before hiring him or her.
2. Safeguard your license/certification
Do not make a copy of your license or certification available on your website. Be careful about sending copies of your license/certification to parties whom you do not know.
3. Safeguard your license/certification number
Remove your license/certification number from your business card and stationery, if you can legally do so. Some states require your license/certification number to appear on your business card, so you may not have a choice in this matter.
4. Safeguard your signature password
Do not tape your signature password to your computer or desk, and don’t choose an obvious password, like your name or company name. Change your signature password frequently.
5. Don’t authorize signatures by others
Make it a firm policy not to provide your password to others or permit them to sign for you. If you are investigated, it may be difficult to convince the investigator that even though you had previously allowed this person to sign for you, in this instance you did not authorize it.
6. Work for ethical clients
If you are working for a client who continually asks you to revise values or remove negative comments from appraisal reports, think twice about accepting future orders from that client. The possibility exists that when you refuse to modify your report, they could simply modify it anyway, without your knowledge or permission. Never give a client your signature password, and never transmit a report to a client without your signature.
7. Keep a complete appraisal log
Maintain a thorough record of every appraisal report you complete. That way, if a client contacts you with a question regarding an appraisal you never completed, you will know right away that it was a forgery.
8. Be proactive
If you believe someone else is completing appraisal reports utilizing your name, contact the authorities immediately. Don’t wait until the authorities come calling. You should start by contacting your state Attorney General’s office, your errors & omissions (E&O) insurance carrier, and your state appraisal licensing board. Ignoring the problem or delaying action may make you seem complicit, and could lead to legal problems down the road.
Other types of fraud affecting appraisers
Identity theft is not the only way in which ethical appraisers are negatively affected by the fraudulent actions of others. Learn about other ways that fraud may impact you in your appraisal practice—and get tips on how to protect yourself—in our course, Managing Appraiser Liability.