Real estate professionals take a broad array of precautions to stay safe, from taking martial arts classes to setting up complex safety policies within their company. However, what they may accidentally overlook, according to Garry Marsoubian, is online safety. Marsoubian is the director of Data Center Services at MRIS, where he oversees the security initiatives for technology infrastructure at one of the nation’s largest MLSs and frequently speaks on physical and online safety for REALTORS®. With REALTOR® safety month coming to a close, we caught up with Marsoubian to discuss all things online safety.
According to Marsoubian there is not much difference in terms of mindset between physical and online safety. “They are both all about awareness,” he explains. “Awareness of your environment, awareness of your actions and awareness that there really are bad people out there who want to prey on you for profit or power. We must train ourselves to understand the need for protection in both the cyber and physical world until it becomes habit.”
This is especially crucial in a digital age where we are used to sharing everything from our favorite places to shop to what we had for dinner. But what we share online is out there for the entire world to see, and, stresses Marsoubian, often cannot ever be completely erased.
“It’s important for all of us to protect ourselves online at all times, particularly to protect ourselves from victim 'shopping' and cyber stalking,” says Marsoubian, who comments that a few years ago a predator “shopped” several REALTORS® in Houston, Texas before he finally attacked the individual he thought was most vulnerable. “With the heavy need and use of social media for marketing in our industry, it is much easier for predators or obsessed individuals to find information out if proper security measures and best practices are not followed as habit.”
Marsoubian notes that personal information such as your behavior during the day, the names of your family members, spouse, dog, and the neighborhood you live in should never be shared openly, as these are possible tools that predators can use to gain insight and advantage.
So how can we properly protect ourselves online? By incorporating a combination of community, processes and technology.
“Agents must have the proper training on changing behavior, how to react when an incident occurs, and liaisons and relationships with local law enforcement,” says Marsoubian. “We must form a community of awareness and that community must know when we are at a showing, when we are due back, what car we are driving and exactly who the individual is that we are meeting.”
Marsoubian stresses that real estate professionals must establish policies and procedures with association and broker support. He points out that NAR has forms and templates available to use on their safety site, including an Agent ID Form, Prospect ID Form, Itinerary Form and Safety Action plan.
According to Marsoubian, a layered approach must be used here as well. “When we go on a long road trip we don’t just fill our gas tanks. We should be checking out tire pressure and making sure our fluid levels are where they should be,” says Marsoubian, who likens this to how agents should treat technology safety.“The computers we use must always be kept up to date. The operating system should be set to automatically update every month, installed malware protection software should be automatically updated daily, and all programs should be updated whenever we are alerted that there is such an update.”
Marsoubian notes that in terms of safety, technology is not just about apps; it is also about following best security practices online. “That said, when using an app for agent safety, we must choose one that is easy to operate,” he stresses. “Agents should choose apps that involve a community of people who can see where you are during a showing and provide a means of sharing any bad experiences. We should create a habit of using wearable technology that is designed to notify others when we are in distress.”
Safer Social Media
In terms of social media, Marsoubian suggests agents use the security and privacy settings offered, and always separate personal and business accounts. “If using separate accounts for business and friends is not practical, create lists of friends rather than a global list where everything you say is broadcasted to everyone. Your post on where you will be for dinner Friday night should not be visible to everyone on your friends list.”
Social Media Do’s and Don’ts from Marsoubian:
- Have separate personal and professional pages if practical.
- Eliminate or abbreviate your last name on your personal pages.
- If you talk about your dog on social media – don’t use its name as the answer to your password’s secret question (and other information you discuss).
- Use different images on your personal and professional pages. You may use any photo you want on your personal page but stick with a headshot on your professional page.
- Use the social media site’s security to ensure your personal site information is hidden.
- Don’t use location tracking.
- Don’t post your habits. (ex. “I Love this coffee shop, I come here every day.”)
- Don’t post information that could be used to identify your children’s school, spouse’s workplace, etc.
Overall, it takes a broad sense of awareness to secure your information and your personal safety while sharing online. Below are Marsoubian's top three tips for agents looking to enhance their online protection.
Be aware. Never assume it is safe. Rather, always think in terms that you are doing all you can to make it safer and continually assess what other steps you can take. Being aware of this at all times will eventually help you make sound security decisions as second nature rather than an afterthought.
Buckle-up. Who drives without seat belts? Buckle-up the technology services you use. Technology usually doesn’t fail us, we fail to use it properly to secure our resources. Use unique and strong password settings, configure your privacy settings, and use multiple accounts for work and play.
Stay informed. Subscribe to websites, blogs, publications or social media that notify you of new security risks. A great place to start is the Department of Homeland Security. You can subscribe to alerts at the bottom of the page.