Fences, security cameras, guards, and gates can go a long way towards bringing condominium owners peace of mind when it comes to their physical safety. But there is another type of security that should be pondered by community association leaders. Theft of data can be just as damaging to unsuspecting condo owners. Do you practice good security measures with your data? Would you know what to do if your email, website, or database of sensitive information were breached?
In this age of technology-driven communications, digital identity crimes have increased dramatically. While the numbers vary widely, the Better Business Bureau reported an estimated 11.1 million people reported their identity stolen in 2009! The numbers get larger and larger every year. To help correct this problem, concerned communities should take proactive steps to combat the threat.
Data breaches of large scope tend to make national headlines. Groups of computer hackers have been known to go after large organizations’ data. These groups often have strange names like “Anonymous” of “LulzSec”. They aren’t likely to target a homeowner’s association but they could definitely target a vendor of the association, especially a bank. If your data is stolen, alert all unit owners immediately.
Social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, have continued to rise in popularity and use. If your condominium or HOA is using social media to communicate with residents, it is best to do so as private group. Use security settings that allow the group manager to closely monitor who has access to the posts that appear in the group page. Also, it is a good idea to encourage all residents to keep their own profiles private as statistics published by the Javelin Group in 2011 have shown that users with public profiles are 68% more likely to have their identity stolen. The Javelin Group keeps a close eye on identity theft.
The onslaught of Smartphones like iPhones and Droids, have also created more avenues for identity thieves to target their victims. A lost or stolen phone is chock full of useful information to identity thieves. If you are a property manager that carries sensitive information with you on your mobile device, be sure to take all precautions to assure safety. Passwords, encryption, and the ability to remotely disable the device are all crucial in protecting that sensitive data.
Of course, plenty of old-fashioned methods for stealing information still exist. Community associations often have community dumpsters that are ripe for the picking of dumpster divers. Think of all of the pre-approved credit card offers, bank statements, and other sensitive information that gets carelessly tossed in the community trash. Encourage residents to protect themselves by purchasing a cross-cut shredder to properly destroy sensitive documents before placing them in the community trash dumpsters.
The bottom line is that it is easier than ever for thieves to target condominium owners for identity theft. As our industry moves more and more of our management and communication functions to online models, we increase the opportunity for data theft to occur. Your best defense is to keep residents informed of the threat and adopt communication policies that assure you don’t make it easy for data thieves to get your data.
Bob Gourley is a condo and HOA industry veteran. He founded MyEZCondo in 2004 and produces the Ask Mister Condo website. He is also a partner in Association Life and HOALendingXchange. He is an active member of CAI and served as Chapter President for the Connecticut Chapter from 2010 – 2011.