Criminals continue to hack email accounts, and many are specifically targeting real estate professionals and their clients.
In such scams, the hackers send an email that appears to be from a realtor or title officer involved in a transaction. The email is sent to a client, usually a buyer who is ready to wire the remainder of a down payment to close escrow. The email informs the client of a last-minute change to wiring instructions and directs the buyer to wire funds directly to a fraudulent account.
“This scam is especially alarming in the Bay Area,” said Denise Welsh, president of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors. “It is a busy and hectic time in real estate because home prices are high, inventory is low and buyers are trying to close escrow quickly because of the fierce competition for homes.”
SILVAR warns realtors and their clients to be on high alert for email and online fraud. The National Association of Realtors issued the following tips, aiming to keep transactions safe from hackers.
• If possible, do not send sensitive information via email. If you must use email to send sensitive information, use encrypted email.
• Immediately prior to wiring any money, the person sending the money must call the intended recipient to verify the wiring instructions. Only use a verified telephone number to make this call.
• Do not trust contact information in unverified emails. Sophisticated hackers re-create legitimate-looking signature blocks with their own telephone num- bers.
• Never click a link in an unverified email. In addition to leading you to fake websites, the links may contain viruses and other malicious spyware that can make your computer vulnerable to attack.
• If an email or a telephone call seems suspicious, refrain from taking any action until it can be independently verified as legitimate.
• If your email has been hacked, immediately contact all parties to all of your upcoming transactions and inform them of the possibility of fraud.
• Clean out your email account on a regular basis. Your emails may establish patterns in your business practice over time that hackers can use against you. Save important emails in a secure location on your internal system or hard drive.
• Change your usernames and passwords on a regular basis.
• Implement the most up-to-date firewall and antivirus technologies in your business.