By Geoff Ramsey, CRS, GRI
President, Greater Chattanooga Realtors®
I have been working with buyers and sellers in the Chattanooga region for almost two decades. In real estate, every transaction involves multiple persons and companies – buyers, sellers, Realtors, title companies, and lenders to name a few – making it an ideal target for cybercriminals. Opening a bad link, sending personal or financial information in an email that’s not encrypted, and installing malware posing as antivirus software can quickly cause a real estate deal to fall through.
A few years ago I requested and received a new debit card from my bank. The same day, I received what appeared to be an email from the bank asking me to reset my password. You guessed it! I took the bait. Within five minutes of clicking a link to reset my password, my personal account was drained to 73 cents. The cybercriminals withdrew all they could without closing the account, so I wouldn’t be notified. I felt helpless. Fortunately, my bank replaced the money which took about two weeks.
Here are a few tips and practical strategies to help you not become the next cybercrime victim.
Tip #1: Update Firewalls, Usernames, and Passwords. Regularly check that you’re using the most up-to-date firewall and anti-virus technology. Updating passwords often is a standard line of defense against cybercrime, but when is the last time you updated a username? When updating one, make it a habit to update the other. Word to the wise, if your password is “password” or “123456” it might as well be your bank account number as these are the most commonly used passwords.
Tip #2: Do Not Open Suspicious Emails. While this is a tip you’ve likely heard before, I included it because we can all can be tempted by a sly, well-written subject line. If you do not know the sender or notice misspelled words and odd characters in the sender’s name or subject line, don’t let curiosity get the best of you. Before opening, contact the sender via phone to confirm the email’s authenticity. Remember, it’s important to reach out to them via phone because their email could be hacked.
Tip #3: Do Not Send Bank Info Via Email. This includes banking details, routing numbers, and PINS. Regarding a real estate transaction, Realtors (and financial institutions) will almost never request or send sensitive information like this via email. If a circumstance arises in which such information must be sent via email, make sure the email is encrypted.
Tip #4: Damage Control. If your email or any other account has been hacked, immediately change the compromised usernames and passwords that are now vulnerable. Then, report fraudulent activity to the Federal Bureau of Investigation via their Crime Complaint Center: www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/e-scams. Contact friends, family, clients and others that may have been exposed to the attack. Realtors, report fraudulent activity to your state and local associations so they can take appropriate action.