Real estate phishing scams danger

Real estate phishing scams danger

MAIN IMAGE: Dominique d’Hotman, head of group strategy for ooba Home Loans.

Real estate transactions are at high risk of cybercrimes given the size of the transaction. The most prevalent of these being phishing scams, a trend that is on the rise due to an increase in online communications, work from home policies and weak software security systems.

Phishing, which has risen by 350% since the pandemic began according to a Google Report, is a cybercrime perpetrated by persons or groups who contact potential victims by posing as legitimate institutions to lure them into providing private data, such as banking and credit card details, passwords, or personal identification information.

Phishing threatens to derail deals

According to Interpol, an increase in cyberattacks has left both individuals and businesses vulnerable.

Dominique d’Hotman, co-founder of Buyers Trust and Head of Group Strategy for ooba Home Loans, says that this also affects the real estate sector where large transactions are taking place daily. “The risk is two-fold. Agents are at risk of losing the buyer’s deposit, and as a result the entire deal while buyers are at risk of losing their hard-earned deposits,” explains d’Hotman.

He continues that fees paid in the home buying process are substantial, and the e-mail trails in some cases are easily accessible, leaving all parties open to the risk of phishing.

These types of crime commonly and easily occur when e-mail records between the agent, buyer, and the respective lawyers, to whom the deposit is paid, are intercepted and ultimately, ‘phished’.

Cyber criminals will find ways to intercept emails, typically by hacking into the real estate agency’s system to study the language used, the format of the information, and the transactions, to ensure they appear informed and legitimate in order to commit convincing fraud.

To prevent cyber theft from happening d’Hotman suggests the following safety precautions:

Safety checklist when transacting online:

For real estate professionals:

  • Be really vigilant about emails, links to click and attachments. These are the most common means that attackers use to gain access to your information and devices.
  • Be vigilant with your password – choose a strong password that is not easy for an attacker to guess by examining public information about you. The best passwords are short phrases like: safetyByRealEstate0.
  • Make sure that your compute and mobile devices are kept up to date and that your computer has current anti-virus and anti-malware software
  • Only connect to WiFi networks that you know and can trust; especially with devices that you use professionally.

For buyers:

  • Must also be vigilant about emails, paying particular attention to anyone sending them banking details for a deposit.
  • Must always confirm with their estate agent before making any deposits. This confirmation should be in person or over the phone as by email could allow the attacker to continue the interception.
  • Make sure that they keep their devices up to date and that they choose strong passwords which are not easy for an attacker to guess.
  • Consider using an alternative to traditional depositing of cash into a trust account for securing their purchase. A bank guarantee or the use of a service like Buyers Trust provides a secure alternative that will protect you against the risk of phising or other such cybercrimes.

With so many people working remotely and the security risks this poses, d’Hotman says that vigilance is key. “On the office network, most parties were protected by various layers of security. However, the process of installing this level of security at a home office level is still lacking”, he explains.

All parties should stick to the golden rule: If something feels ‘off’, go with your gut. “Contact the relevant parties via phone to confirm and do your due diligence prior to responding on a platform like e-mail, which can be easily intercepted,” he concludes.

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