Unfortunately, today's world is rife with cyber crimes, and you could become a victim if you're not careful. October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an annual campaign to emphasize the importance of staying safe online. Our lives are so entwined with the Internet, it's almost impossible not to be involved online in some way. The key is making sure to follow simple steps to protect yourself, and act quickly in the event that a cyber crime does occur.
In the real estate industry, cyber security is especially important as agents and clients are often dealing with large amounts of money. There are sophisticated cyber scams involving criminals acquiring sensitive personal and financial information, which they use to divert funds related to real estate transactions to themselves. There are many ways criminals attempt to capture your information, including, but not limited to, hacking into email accounts and computer systems. Once criminals obtain transaction details, they impersonate account owners and send legitimate-looking emails with fraudulent wiring instructions.
If you receive an email or phone call requesting sensitive information (e.g. Social Security numbers or banking information) or are asked to wire funds regarding a real estate transaction, be sure to:
- Verbally verify the request with your trusted closing agent (title representative/escrow officer) using a phone number you are confident is accurate. For wiring requests, be sure to verify the amount as well as the routing and account numbers.
- Do not depend on contact information in the sender’s email signature block, as criminals will change it as part of their scheme. Use a trusted source for contact information, such as the title company’s website using a web address you know to be accurate.
- Do not send sensitive or financial information via email. Rather, only share such information verbally with your closing agent at his/her trusted phone number or in person.
- Alert your REALTOR®, closing agent, and the potentially impersonated sender/caller immediately if anything looks or sounds suspicious.
NEVER comply with instructions to wire funds or provide sensitive information unless you are absolutely certain they are from a legitimate source.
For more information on how to stay safe online, please visit the official website of the Department of Homeland Security here and watch the video below from the National Association of REALTORS® on how to protect yourself from wire fraud related to your next real estate transaction.