One industry that has been increasingly targeted by cybercriminals is the real estate business. Why? One reason, real estate is where substantial amounts of money are transacted every day. The second reason relates to the very nature of how the realtor conducts business, often over unsecured connections. To fight back, realtors must know the threats lurking in cyberspace and adopt preventative measures to protect themselves and their businesses from real estate cybercrime.
Know the Online Security Threats
As cybercriminals get more and more clever, it’s often hard to stay on top of the diverse types of online security threats that can hinder a realtor. As with most habits, without knowing that a behavior is “wrong” there is no way to prevent it. Realtors need to understand the different types of online threats that have the potential to hinder the real estate business on a day-to-day basis. These include:
- Spam – irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large amount of recipients
- Malware – “Malicious Software” (i.e. viruses, spyware, trojan horses and/or worms) designed to damage or conduct unwanted actions on a computer
- Phishing – cybercriminal poses as a trustworthy source in an email, text or other digital communication to obtain usernames/passwords, financial, personal identification and/or digital money
- Email Spoofing – used in spam or phishing scams where the email header is forged so the email seems to have been originated from a trusted source, you the real estate agent
The biggest Achilles heel for a realtor – unsecured email. Unsecured email is a widespread practice for realtors, and cybercriminals thrive on this reality to intercept money transfers and the exchange of personal data. One current way is during the real estate closing process called the “closing cost email scam”.
Closing Cost Email Scam
As realtors and buyers are aware, one of the final steps in a real estate deal is the exchange of money. Since it often involves a large amount of money, the digital wiring of funds is a customary practice. Cybercriminals know this and leverage the virtual transaction by preying upon buyers who are often excited about closing the deal and are more likely to overlook final security measures to get the deal done.
In the closing cost email scam, the way in for the criminal is a realtor’s unsecured email. The cybercriminal uses this to pose as the realtor providing wiring instructors to the client.
Typical scenario is as follows:
- Criminal sends an email with a spoofed sending address to one or more recipients
- Recipient clicks on the “Reply To” email address in the email header
- Criminal continues the conversation and asks for a wire transfer of funds
To avoid this scam, warn your clients! Always provide a hard copy of wiring instructions to clients and tell them to alert you if they ever receive any emails about wiring funds!
Prevention Habits to Adopt
Realtors can fight cybercriminals by preventing them from ever gaining access to email, personal computers and/or real estate digital networks in the first place. The best “protection” is prevention.
Adopt sound digital security habits by:
- Paying attention (i.e. if your computer is inexplicably slow after downloading something online, you may have been infected with malware)
- Being disciplined (i.e. always use strong 10 character + password protection for all devices & never leave electronics unattended)
- Using caution (i.e. make sure your clients know the next steps during closing and never send wire transfers by email unless it is encrypted)
- Using good sense (i.e. don’t utilize a public wifi when passing sensitive client information or digital documentation via email)
Please note: if preventative habits are not adopted, realtors can be held accountable if clients become victims of cybercrime due to negligence!
Cybercriminals count on the inability of realtors to know when they are vulnerable for attack. Fight the rise in real estate-related cybercrime through preventative habits, secure email and clear instructions to clients during closing procedures!
Timothy Dimoff Knows the Unique Security Risks for Realtors
Discover more about the internet safety issues affecting realtors conducting business in today’s digital world. Tim’s Talk Internet Safety for Realtors, can empower realtors to protect themselves from scams, viruses, identity loss and more. Contact Tim and he will follow up with you within two business days to discuss your presentation needs.