Cybercrimes, Phishing & Email Scams Pose Serious Threats To Real Estate Transactions
Cybercrimes and hacking are making the news daily. As technology continues to develop and shape the way the world does business, new threats to security and protection of non-public information and funds transfers will continue to develop as well. Email has emerged as a reliable and important tool to quickly communicate with all of the parties associated with a real estate transaction. Unfortunately, this convenience is accompanied by the risks of conducting business electronically without verbal communication and confirmation. Scams related to the real estate industry are a serious threat and require vigilant attention. It has been estimated that over the last 3 years, real estate wire scams have cost consumers losses in excess of $5 billion. There has been a dramatic rise in business email compromise (BCE) scams which have targeted businesses of all sizes. But now, the risk is facing consumers directly as well.
Over the last several months I have presented seminars to real estate agents and brokers on cybersecurity, fraud prevention, best practices, incident response strategies, and damage control. But the problem is real; it is serious and requires everyone, including consumers to be extra vigilant.
Here is a list of steps that you can take to protect yourself:
- Change passwords frequently;
- NEVER click on links or open attachments from people you do not know or that look suspicious;
- Use complex passwords and don’t reuse old passwords or the same password for multiple websites/accounts;
- Do NOT conduct business over free or unknown Wi-Fi networks;
- Always implement and update anti-virus software and endpoint protection;
- Use dual-factor or two-factor authentication when available for email accounts, bank accounts, websites, and portals.
At Ligris we have instituted several measures that are designed to add additional layers of protection for our clients and consumers. These measures, although at times may seem burdensome, are designed to protect the parties involved in transactions that we are managing.
The best advice is to “stay paranoid.” We at Ligris will NEVER change wiring instructions over email and will never communicate or transmit non-public information on email that is not secure/encrypted. We also strongly urge our clients, referral partners, and the real estate title and legal community to call and verify wiring instructions over the phone. In all such cases, use a phone number from a third party source. Many email scammers will include a telephone number on an email signature that is not accurate. Search the web or your contacts for a firm’s phone number.
Finally – Please Trust Your Instincts. Treat any, and all, communications pertaining to non-public information and funds transfers as if they are being monitored by a criminal. These scammers are sophisticated, they understand real estate transactions and they either create email address with display names of people you trust or mask the email to look like it is coming from your broker, attorney or banker. Pick up the phone and call to confirm anything that involves non-public information or transmission of funds. Always make sure you are calling a number that you trust and never rely on contact information on an email signature.
Be vigilant and stay paranoid –you are the last line of defense.
For more information see the following useful links:
Hank Investigates: Wire Fraud featuring Attorney Kosta Ligris:
Urgent Alert from the National Association of Realtors:
Federal Trade Commission: “Scammers phish for mortgage closing costs”