Real Estate Cyber Security Tips to Stop Hackers and Cyber Theft
How can I protect homebuyers from getting their identity stolen and wire fraud? Tips for real estate pros to protect themselves against cyber crime and ID theft.
Email hackers and identity thieves love to get access to real estate transactions. RE automatically requires enough personal client information to make ID theft easy. The most common way for ID thieves to steal info is through email "phishing." They also hack into social media accounts and can capture passwords through public Wi-Fi networks. Finally, some cyber-thieves engage in outright theft, whether it's through phony ads on online marketplaces promising deals "too good to be true" or wire transfer theft of major transactions.
Real estate has become one of the top industries for malware attacks which can steal information from many clients, not just one. According to the FBI, cyber thieves stole almost $150 million in real estate scams in 2018. Real estate cyber-theft is up more than 1000% since 2015.
Houston IT Consulting & Cybersecurity specialists at SMB Integrations share many of their top tips.
Tip #1: Make sure your email and your devices are secure
If you use a public email network like Gmail or Yahoo, switch your email to a proprietary network like your real estate network's domain or your own website name. Strengthen your passwords -- consider using a password generator. Change your strong passwords every quarter. You can generate a new password for every site that you use.
Use 2FA (two-factor authentication). You can set up 2FA on all your devices, from your mobile phone to your office computer. 2FA adds a second email or your phone number to access your email.
Tip #2: Educate your clients and communicate securely with them
Thieves have gotten clients to wire them large sums of money by creating "lookalike" email addresses and email headers. It takes only moments to recreate an email header and footer similar to yours, but only one character off -- using a zero for an "O" or a number 1 for lower-case "l".
The cyber crooks email clients from a realistic-looking email and tell them they need to wire closing costs earlier than expected. Sometimes they'll just change the deadline by a day. This is how buyers lost $150 million in 2018. It's the reason the FBI has created a special real estate wire fraud division.
Don't communicate any financial information or deadlines to your clients without using your own form of 2FA. Let them know if they get a sudden email that looks like it's from you that asks for money -- it's a fake. Instruct them to always check with you first via phone if there are any financial deadlines or funds owed.
Also, use common sense cyber security: social media networks aren't secure. Don't communicate vital client information on them.
Tip #3: Get a VPN and use it consistently
A VPN or virtual private network encrypts your information when you're using the internet. It provides protection if you're on the go and use a public network to answer emails. Reliable VPNs aren't free, but you can find some good low-cost options.
Tip #4: Protect against malware and ransomware
Malware is software which can break into your data network and steal files or personally-identifying information. Usually thieves get into networks via email "phishing" similarly to the way they have gotten clients to wire funds to their accounts.
Ransomware is a type of malware that takes control of your computer system. It's been used to take over networks for hospitals, schools, and even local law enforcement. The ransomware thieves request payments of bitcoin or other cryptocurrency before they release the computer system. In the process they can also steal personal information from you and/or your clients.
Protect against these threats by using good email security and network security. Use complex passwords, change them every quarter or more frequently, and use 2FA on your office computer and mobile device logins.
Tip #5 Look into cyber insurance
Your errors and omissions insurance protects you from many things in your real estate practice but E & O policies seldom cover digital theft. You can add cyber insurance which will provide coverage in case of malware, ransomware, and wire transfer theft.
Protecting your clients and you from cyber-crime makes good business sense. Cybersecurity is a must for real estate agents, property managers, and title and escrow professionals. You don't need to be a computer expert to work with your clients safely and securely. You just need to use common sense and exercise your personal touch, especially when financial information and deadline are involved.