The transition from paper to digital—as a means to modernize business processes, improve operational efficiencies, and meet consumer demands—is becoming increasingly prevalent in the real estate industry. However, paper will continue to play a key role as we move into 2018, which means that businesses will need to reevaluate both their physical and digital approaches to information security in order to fend against fraud.
When asked to rate their understanding of the legal requirements for storing, keeping, or disposing of confidential information, only 19 percent of respondents in the real estate industry  said they have “some understanding of the requirements and somewhat adhere to them, but not on a daily basis.” This is troubling, as companies lose an estimated 5 percent of their revenue  annually due to fraud, and 49 percent of occupational fraud victims  never recover their losses.
While digital devices are convenient for our increasingly remote workforce, the fact is that they raise the risk for fraud. When it comes to the proper handling of sensitive information on digital devices, only a quarter (26 percent) of respondents  in the real estate industry say no policy exists for storing and disposing of confidential information on electronic devices.
As agencies continue to add digital components to the services they offer, while maintaining a robust level of paper documents to conduct business, it is critical that they implement safe and secure data destruction processes to mitigate the risk of fraud. Real estate agencies and individual agents put themselves, their clients, and their company at risk unless they take proactive steps to improve their fraud prevention and information security.
Here are some ways for leaders in the real estate industry to begin taking initiative to strengthen their information security and fend against fraud:
Develop a Culture of Information Security
Boosting information security starts with providing employees with the tools they need to identify internal risk (i.e., noticing if confidential papers are left around the office printer), monitor for human error, and quickly voice concerns when and if your business’s data is compromised. One easy strategy is to establish an anonymous tip line, so that employees are empowered to speak up without rebuttal or ramification.
Modernize Security Procedures for Your Digital-first Workforce
Holding regular training will help in-office and remote employees understand the consequences of improper data management on their personal devices. For instance, a well-understood information security policy—that includes remote working and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) requirements—will help agencies to address the added risks associated with mobile working by ensuring that their information security protocol extends beyond company walls. Additionally, businesses can reduce the risk of fraud by requiring that company-issued electronic devices are signed out and securely destroyed when they reach the end of their use.
Call in the Experts
Investing in secure paper shredding and hard drive destruction services could be monumental in turning around your company’s approach to protecting data. Third-party experts will help you identify weak points in your office—like messy desks—and develop procedures to correct them. A Shred-it All policy, for instance, eliminates the guesswork from the process and ensures that employees don’t accidentally leave confidential information in insecure locations. Plus, shredded material is recycled when using a third-party provider, equally bolstering your business’s efforts toward sustainability and security.
From external breaches to insider threats, the opportunities for those looking to cause harm is there, unless real estate agents and leaders take actionable steps to prevent fraud in their workplace. The introduction of just a few, small changes in your information security strategy can help to start protecting your business today.