If you’ve recently purchased a home, there are a lot of things you may be thinking of doing to make it a safer home for you and your family (click here for some of our suggestions on ways to secure your home as soon as you close).
However, while most of us have our minds of changing locks and installing security systems, we may not be thinking of ways to virtually protect our homes. We want to help you create a “Home, Safe Home” — both in the physical and virtual sense.
These days it seems scams and rip off artists are around every corner. As REALTORS®, we see and hear about rental scams almost daily, but many of our clients and friends don’t know they exist, unless they’ve been a victim of one. Rental scams usually involving a scammer who has stolen pictures off the internet of a property for rent or sale, set up their own fake rental on CraigsList (or a similar site) using the photos they’ve downloaded, and is trying to lure a trusting prospective tenant to rent the property sight unseen. This can happen anywhere, in the city and the suburbs, and in any price point. (Read more about Craigslist rental scams, here.)
What can you do as a property owner to protect yourself?
Our best advice is to set up a Google Alert on your home or rental property. Google Alerts are a simple and free tool provided by Google that enables you to get regular updates about any term or phrase that interests you, such as your name, your property address, or your tenants’ names. Google Alerts will send you an email any time the search terms you’ve set up appear online, on a new web page appears in the top 20 web results or top 10 news results for the terms you specify.
As a homeowner or as a landlord, you should set up a Google Alert on your property’s address so you can see whenever someone posts something on the internet about a property you own, you are (almost*) guaranteed to see it and be able to monitor all mention of your address.
(If you own rental properties, you may also want to set up a Google Alert using the name of your tenant(s), so you can be on top of what your tenant is doing in case he or she gets arrested or in trouble for any illegal activities. We also recommend setting up a Google Alert with your tenant’s telephone number. This could possibly tip you off if your tenant plans to move without providing notice. If they place a “MOVING SALE” advertisement on Craigslist with their telephone number it should turn up in a Google alert notification.)
As a homeowner, we also recommend setting up a Google Alert so you can make sure someone doesn’t try run a rental scam using photos of your property.
How do I set up a Google Alert?
Setting up a Google Alerts is simple. Go to http://google.com/alerts (please note: you’ll need to have a Google login/account to use the service; however, it is a free service, so if you don’t already have a Google account, set one up so that you can take advantage of this benefit!).
For each Alert, you need to decide the following:
- Search Terms. This can be as simple as entering the property address in quotations. For example: “123 Main Street.” You may also want to set up another alert if there are alternate ways your address may appear, for example including the abbreviation for “Street” (making the alert active for: “123 Main St”) or including the town (such as: “123 Main Street, Atlanta” or “123 Main St, Atlanta”). NOTE: using quotation marks around the search terms will help filter the results.
- Type of information to search. This tells Google which information to include in its search (Everything, News, Blogs, Web, Video, Groups) Setting this to “everything” will include all types of search results.
- Frequency of the alerts (as-it-happens, once a day, once a week). Google will send notifications only when it actually finds new material in the top 20 (web) / top 10 (news) results, so you won’t be getting messages unless there’s something to report.
- Volume. This setting determines how many results you see in each alert.
- How you would like to receive the alerts (email or via RSS feed). For each alert you create, a separate email will be sent depending on how often you’ve chosen to receive it. You can also subscribe to the alert via RSS feed in Google Reader instead of email. Personally, we recommend that you choose email — this way, the alerts are emailed directly to your Inbox, and if you choose “everything” for Type of Information and “as it happens” for How Often, you will receive real-time updates into your Inbox so that you can see and review them quickly.
What other types of terms might you want to set up on Google Alerts?
Consider setting up searches on any and all of the following:
- Your name (“first last” — in quotation marks), so that you can see if you are ever mentioned online. Click here for a a great article about why setting up a Google alert on your name is a good idea.
- Your company name, if you own a business.
- Your child’s full name (“first last” — again, in quotation marks) to monitor your child’s digital footprint. Click here for a great article on why a Google alert on your child’s name makes sense.
- If you are a tenant yourself, it even makes sense for renters to set up a Google Alert on the address where you are living.
*DISCLAIMER: Google Alerts are not guaranteed to be 100% foolproof or reliable. Also, keep in mind that they only send alerts when new pages enter into the top searches, meaning there may not be exhaustive results for every term or phrase for which you set up a search. However, it’s a great place to start and helps you cover your bases!