How to Protect Your Clients From Hackers

December 30, 2016

It's important to have conversations with your clients now about how to safeguard against scams, as hackers are increasingly targeting real estate transactions. Instances are becoming more common in which criminals hack into real estate professionals' emails and send messages to their clients asking for down payment funds to be wired to a fraudulent account. These accounts are usually offshore, and once the money has been transferred, it's nearly impossible to recover.

"One mistake could cost you your life savings," warns Al Sargent, senior director of product marketing at online security company OneLogin. "And there is little to no recourse to be taken. Hackers are attracted to it because it's a lot of money protected by very little security. This is like banks shipping money around in a convertible instead of an armored vehicle."

The recent Yahoo! security breach compromising more than 1 billion email accounts should put real estate pros on alert. So what can you do to combat scams and protect your clients? Some agents are including language in their email signatures warning clients to be vigilant against suspicious messages during a transaction, particularly near closing time.

But you can also make it more difficult for scammers to access your email and online information. Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel with the National Association of REALTORS®, urges practitioners to adopt a two-step authentication process, which confirms your identity with both a password and a secondary code sent by text or phone call. Edgerton also urges agents to never conduct business over public Wi-Fi and to take extra caution about what links they click on.

To better protect your clients, always use secure technology such as DocuSign and ZipLogix for sharing and signing documents, Edgerton notes. "People are just so used to email as a form of communication and document sharing, and really it's not an ideal or secure form," Edgerton says. "Until the technology is able to be perfected and secured, everyone needs to stay aware of the problem and educate each other. We are dealing with international crime syndicates who are highly organized and highly professional. If we aren't careful, they are going to keep the upper hand.”

Source: “The $72,000 Question You Should Be Asking Your Real Estate Agent,” MarketWatch (Dec. 28, 2016)