Open House Safety: Preventing Identity Theft

If you’re selling your home, it’s possible that your real estate agent will suggest hosting public open houses. An open house can be a useful part of a seller’s marketing strategy, but there are security considerations to bear in mind.

Open house security

Make sure your home is secured. Image by wvhomes

The majority of people coming through your house will likely be legitimate attendees – either potential buyers or nosy neighbours. Unfortunately, there will always be a criminal element in society and there are people who view real estate open houses as an opportunity for criminal activity. One area where home sellers can be vulnerable is identity theft.

Here are some ways you can protect yourself:

  1. Put Your Mail Away – How many of us leave mail, especially bills, out in plain view on a hall table or in a kitchen cupboard? If you are hosting an open house, these items should be out of sight and, ideally, under lock and key. Identity thieves can get a lot of personal information about you with just a few utility bills.
  2. Computer Security – Some criminals attend open houses with the goal of trying to get sensitive data from computers. In a matter of seconds, these individuals can gain access to your computer through a variety of means, including hardware keyloggers. Ideally, computers should be removed during an open house, but given that so many people work from home that may seem impractical. At the very least, turn computers off, unplug them and cover them up. All of these steps will make it more difficult for people to quickly access the personal information you have stored on your computer.
  3. Pack Up Your Personal Items – It’s currently tax season in Canada and I recently showed a house in which the seller had left her tax return paperwork on her kitchen table. Not good! Think further, though, and even consider removing items that reveal personal details, such as college diplomas. With your name and graduation details, the identity thief already has small details that can be used to gather additional information.

When it comes to open house security, common sense is emphasized and it’s important to discuss these issues with your real estate agent. Find out how he or she screens visitors (some agents request identification and formal sign-ins for anyone coming into an open house,) and make sure that security is on your agent’s mind – as well as yours.


Kelly Caldwell is a Canadian real estate agent living and working in Guelph, Ontario.