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Real estate: The second-most targeted industry for scammers

Posted by Editor on December 14, 2018
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 More and more phishing scams are targeting real estate professionals and their clients, attempting to dupe them out of money. New and unique types of cyber scams appear every day as tech-savvy criminals invent new ways to separate victims from their money.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) issued an all-member alert on Sunday warning members of the latest email phishing attempt targeting the industry. The email appeared to be under the Realtor Party banner and solicited members to help “Support Diana” with a financial donation through a GoFundMe page. NAR says it will never solicit donations for personal or individual charities.

The latest is part of a string of phishing scams targeting the real estate industry – a business email sent from a seemingly trusted sender tries to get a recipient to wire payments, open links or do something else that makes the scammer money.

A recent report from the cybersecurity firm eSentire found that real estate was the second most-targeted industry hit by malware events in the second quarter of 2018.

Law enforcement, along with NAR and other business trade associations, have been meeting to address the security threats posed to businesses. In one growing Business Email Compromise (BEC) scam, for example, scammers will infiltrate an email account of a real estate professional and send out an email to a client that appears to be from the professional, redirecting them to send their funds to a fraudulent account.

Victims receive a spoofed email on behalf of a participant in a real estate transaction – agent, title company or law firm, say – with instructions to change their payment type or location to a fraudulent account. These transferred funds are nearly impossible to track once deposited.

Sometimes scammers don’t target funds; instead, they’ll go for personal identification information or even W2 tax forms for identity theft.

From 2015 to 2017, the FBI reports a 110 percent rise in the number of such scams involving real estate transactions.

How do you keep transactions safe? The FBI offers some of the following suggestions through its public service announcement warning businesses:

  • Verify all requests of a change in payment type and location. Scammers often request that payments originally scheduled for check deposit be made via wire instead. Also, they request changes to the original recipient’s financial information. Real estate professionals and clients should verify with their main contacts whenever they receive information via email that involves financial changes or financial solicitations.
  • Be wary of communication exclusively by email. Scammers will take public information available on real estate listing sites and use it to target victims. They may see listings are “under contract” and then use the contact information of the real estate agent to insert themselves into the transaction, posing as the buyer’s agent. “Be wary of any communication that is exclusively email based and establish a secondary means of communication for verification purposes,” the FBI writes. And don’t assume a website that uses the padlock security icon – containing “https” in the URL – is safe. Scammers increasingly using the icon on their sites, so it’s not a foolproof indicator.
  • Set a code phrase with main contacts. Victims have reported receiving phone calls from scammers requesting personal information for “verification purposes.” To verify the person is correct, encourage clients to establish code phrases that could be used to verify two legitimate parties, such as client to real estate agent or financial institution to client.
  • Act quickly if you think you’ve been scammed. Time is critical. Contact the financial institution first and request a recall of funds. Then, contact your local FBI office and report the fraudulent transfer. File a complaint at www.ic3.gov or bec.ic3.gov. The IC3 will assist the financial institutions and law enforcement in the recovery efforts of the funds.

Source: “Business Email Compromise the 12 Billion Dollar Scam,” FBI (2018) and “Scam Alert: Email Phishing Attempt Reported,” National Association of REALTORS(R) (Dec. 10, 2018)

© Copyright 2018 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

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