High profile email, phone, and cloud storage hacks have made headlines in recent years. Lately, hackers have diversified into real estate.
The paranoia about real estate information security has already hit the New York market. In April, an NYC real estate attorney was sued after hackers stole her identity to defraud one of her luxury clients of $2 million. A recent panel of NY real estate firms identified that it is a growing concern for them. One panelist noted: “Five years ago, 10 to 15 percent of my efforts were spent on security. Today it’s 35 to 40 percent.”
The Federal Trade Commission on Real Estate Information Security
The Federal Trade Commission has alerted the public that “criminals are hacking into email accounts and stealing money from people buying new homes. …Hackers have been breaking into real estate agents emails, finding closing dates, and then emailing the buyer.” (Source)
Tip #1 – Better Passwords
If you are like millions of Americans who use the same password for all of your accounts – you are at risk. Every time a hacker steals sensitive account information from high profile entities like LinkedIn, they come away with passwords they can try on other entities like Gmail. Protect yourself and your clients by using passwords that are at least 8 characters long, are unique, and contain a combination of lower case, upper case, numbers, and special characters like “#” or “$” to reduce your risk.
#2 – Secure Your Devices
If your computer and phone do not have strong security measures set up, hackers could gain physical access. It’s a pain to have to re-enter your password if you need a refill at your favorite coffee shop or you hit the break room to clear your head, but it’s nowhere near as painful as losing clients because their information was stolen. Set your computer to require a password if you don’t use it for 5 minutes or if you close the lid on your laptop.
Also be careful of what you stick into your computer as USB drives can contain malware. Make sure you have a strong malware program like MalwareBytes installed.
#3 – Wi-Fi is Not Always Your Friend
Just because your phone or computer can discover a wi-fi network doesn’t mean you should use it. Scammers can set up official looking hotspots and if you log into your bank account on one, they could take you for everything. When you aren’t in a zone like work or home, simply turn off wi-fi – it will reduce battery drain and you won’t have to worry about auto-logging into a network that is being spoofed.
Make sure that your home and work routers are adequately secure. Hackers will drive through neighborhoods “sniffing” for wi-fi and will attempt to take over control of your wi-fi router so they can steal the information anyone shares on it.
#4 – Beware of Social Engineering
Not all hacking takes place online. It can come as an official looking email or a phone call from a friendly or official sounding person. As you probably heard, scammers have gotten wealthy masquerading as the IRS and threatening people with arrest. The celebrities who had their personal pictures shared across the web fell victim to a scammer who used social engineering to gain access to their Gmail and iCloud accounts.
Never give out your social security number, date of birth, city of birth, mother’s maiden name, or any passwords over email. Don’t even give them out via the phone unless you initiated the call and are certain you are talking to your financial institution, electrical company, etc and can’t be eavesdropped on.
#5 – Prep Your Buyers/Sellers
Part of your listing presentation or your initial meeting with buyers should be to discuss how you will handle their information security. This can be a competitive advantage as it shows you take their informtation seriously, but more importantly it will help set them up to avoid making mistakes and blaming you for failure to take precautions. Tell them how you will handle any financial transactions so that a social engineer or hacker won’t ruin your reputation.