It’s no surprise that industries all over have embraced technology to help improve and streamline various processes. But these advancements have also given rise to new vulnerabilities. Among the sectors most impacted is real estate—a massive industry that affects many economies, local and national. In recent years, the prevalence of electronic crime within real estate has surged, with bad actors capitalizing on the increased reliance on digital platforms for transactions, communications, and data storage.
Buying and selling property is stressful enough without having the threat of cybercrime looming over the transaction. So much of our lives are online now, and there’s no way to protect yourself from every instance of cybercrime. Since few, if any, Realtors would work without a computer or smartphone, industry professionals are addressing the threat head-on to protect their clients.
“Cybercrime is a global problem, one that’s becoming more prevalent and more urgent,” said Jessica Edgerton, Associate Counsel with the National Association of REALTORS®. “Smaller and midsized real estate companies—where transactions involve multiple players and large sums of money—are an ideal target for criminals,” Edgerton said.
Unfortunately, hackers can easily access email accounts. Hacking can come in the form of an infected attachment or link that appears to come from a benign sender. “Clicking is something that’s deadly dangerous,” says Edgerton, whose motto is “Think before you click.” Opening a bad link or attachment can trigger a key logger, malware that reads keystrokes to capture your passwords. It can also open ransomware that encrypts everything it can reach on your system, including connected drives and networks.
So, how can you help make yourself more secure? Some easy solutions include keeping your operating systems up to date and checking your social media privacy settings. Less obvious tips include using complex passwords and changing your passwords regularly. Perhaps even consider using a password manager. Once your password is compromised, hackers can put a rule in your settings to forward certain emails to their account.
Realtors and our clients should try to avoid sending sensitive information via email when possible. Attaching forms, financials, and confidential files to an email is an efficient communication method, and criminals seek to take advantage of that.
This practice can lead to another potentially devastating scam – wire fraud. Staying alert can protect yourself and your money. As you approach the closing date, be cautious of emails. It’s unusual for wiring instructions to change at the last minute or for the title company to do so via email. Call the title company using a known phone number, not the one provided in the email, which might be spoofed to appear to be from someone involved in the closing. Before sending the wire, ask your bank to confirm the name on the receiving account. And within a few hours, call your REALTOR® or title company to verify they received your monies.
Another common scam involves taking legitimate property listings from websites and reposting them on social media and other sites such as Craigslist for rent. Scammers typically make up a plausible story requiring the consumer to wire or mail them money without ever meeting in person. The problem comes when all the renters try to move in and discover the property was never the “landlord’s” to rent in the first place. Meanwhile, the scammer takes the funds and disappears.
Educating our clients on these dangers is a top priority. As Realtors, we do our best to ensure the public knows the prevalence of wire fraud and advise clients to call and verify information before they wire funds. To ensure they’re reaching the right person, buyers should contact their Realtor using numbers provided in advance.
Safety is our priority year-round. Realtors are focused on protecting our clients and ourselves. That’s Who We R.