Maintaining your anonymity can be harder than ever in the digital era. Anybody who can type can search for—and find—an astonishing amount of your personal information. Your name, insurance policies, companies you have an ownership interest in, and especially properties you own are all potentially compromising details that you likely don’t want spread far and wide.
We also know that anonymity on the Internet is crucial to effective asset protection. So what’s the investor with an online presence to do?
The simple reality is that unless you’ve taken measures to protect your personal information, it is likely somewhere online. Without taking precautions to preserve your anonymity, many of your personal details which you might consider private can end up on the public record. Anything on the public record can be easily located with a Google search. There’s no need for sophisticated skill sets or deep knowledge on the other party’s part.
Why is this a problem for real estate investors in particular? Frankly, we have more to lose from too much public information.
Of course, the simplicity of locating public records is one of the main reasons we encourage investors like you to never own property in your own name. This is just one of many steps you can take to secure your anonymity, and it is basic yet incredibly important. When you own property in your own name, simply looking up the address leads straight to you, and by extension, everything you own. This is the most vulnerable position you and the asset can be in. Asset protection is largely about moving those easily seized assets out of your name and into a more secure structure under your control.
You might recall that investors can only lose money in two ways: bad deals and lawsuits. Anonymity helps address the threat of lawsuits. After all, for another person to successfully sue you, they will need to know who exactly you are. They will also need to prove your connection to the property or entity owning the property, a problem savvy attorneys can anticipate and prevent. Put simply, our job as asset protection attorneys is to complicate potential lawsuits as much as possible before they ever materialize. Anonymity helps stop lawsuits by complicating the initial research phase conducted by opposing lawyers to see if suing you is worth the trouble.
That said, you can undermine your own asset protection plan if you aren’t thoughtful about protecting your own privacy. The point is, the less information about you that is freely available online, the better.
Some common-sense techniques paired with simple awareness of the value of your anonymity can help you eliminate potential problems as you navigate an increasingly digital world.
You’ll also want to steer clear of any behavior flaunting wealth. If you have it, that’s wonderful. But in order to keep it, it should stay your business. You can absolutely enjoy the luxuries of wealth, but you don’t need to Instagram your vintage Moet Chandon or post photos of your exotic car collection to Facebook. Instead, play it cool. Be mindful that the internet really is a public space.
Of course, it may be unavoidable for people to know that you are an investor. They do not, however, need to know the particulars of where you invest and what you own.
Sadly, the web is crawling with scammers of all sorts. They come in the form of Facebook Marketplace ads that are a little too good to be true, leading you to a “third-party” registration that looks legitimate, but exists just to capture your information. They can also appear as friends of friends, love interests, wealthy relatives hoping to reconnect, and even as potential investing partners. Even if you realize you’re being scammed, some cons are so finessed that you won’t realize anything’s up until you get an obvious red flag.
Here are some quick and dirty tips that can help you avoid falling prey to scams that could compromise your anonymity on the Internet:
Bottom line: scams and breaches are best avoided by being tight with your security and smart.
There are also legal tools you can use to preserve your anonymity and limit the amount of personal information about you online. At the very least, you can obscure any connection between such information and your business and assets. Not everything can be “undone” online, and absolute anonymity is nearly impossible. What legal tools can provide you with is layers of protection that will make penetrating your anonymity, and therefore connecting you to your valuable assets and suing you for them, far more difficult.
Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.
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