Article provided by Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR Magazine
Hackers could be using the global pandemic as an opportunity to target real estate as more transactions and communications are conducted remotely. What’s more, phishing emails may try to use COVID-19 as an excuse for why professionals need to renew login credential or passwords, or hackers may prey on any relaxed online security of the increased numbers of those working from home.
Now more than ever, you need to be on guard, said speakers on Thursday during a National Association of REALTORS®-sponsored virtual session, “Cyber and Data Security,” as part of the Tech Edge series. The warnings by speakers were strong because real estate scams have become a prime focus of hackers in recent years. Last year alone, real estate and rental fraud resulted in $221.3 million in total losses to victims—a 48% increase in monetary loss over the year prior, according to FBI data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
“Real estate is a major target that hackers are going after,” said Craig Grant, CEO of the Real Estate Technology Institute. “Be vigilant,” or it can destroy your finances, reputation, and harm your clients.
To protect your business and your clients, “awareness is key,” said Chris DeRosa, NAR’s member information and ecommerce product leader, who spoke at the session. “Whatever people tell you, there is no guarantee to keep you safe from data breaches, but awareness can help so you become aware of the threats and how they are getting through so that you can then take more preventative efforts to protect your business.”
After all, real estate scams could trick your clients out of their entire down payment, scar your reputation from clients who accuse you of not doing enough to protect them, and even pose a liability to your business for failing to warn clients of the risks.
Adopt risk management and mitigation strategies to protect yourself and your clients from real estate scams. Here are a few ideas from the Tech Edge session:
1. Ask “Stop, wait, does that make sense?” When you receive an email, take an extra few minutes to question it, even if seemingly from a contact. Ask yourself: Would this person normally email you with that request? Does your bank ask you to send them your password? Does this sound like a client you have been working with? Were you expecting this attachment from your colleague? “It is not bad customer service to add a minute or two before you answer,” DeRosa said. “It will save you a big potential mess on your back end if you are caught by phishing, malware, ransomware, or give out personal data.”