The National Association of Realtors – as well as state and local associations across the country – recognize September as Realtor Safety Month. While we focus on safety throughout this month, safety is a focus for Greater Chattanooga Realtors all year.
As my first in a series of articles about Realtor safety, I’m writing about an issue that affects agents and consumers alike – cybercrime.
Phishing, hacking and wire fraud are all ways people attempt to steal from others online. As many real estate searches and transactions have moved online, the chances of being caught up in a cyber scam have become even greater.
Most people are familiar with the occasional emails from a foreign prince asking for a Social Security number or a person’s banking information, but many people don’t know they need to watch out for more realistic scams when buying or selling their home.
Cybercrimes have become increasingly sophisticated over the years and the people perpetrating them focus on situations where a lot of money is changing hands, making real estate transactions an ideal target.
The NAR recently warned its members and consumers about a wiring scam during the closing stage of the home buying and selling process.
In this scenario, hackers break into the email accounts of consumers and real estate professionals to obtain details about a real estate transaction. The hacker will then send an email pretending to be the buyer, seller, real estate agent or someone else involved in the closing process, say there’s been a last-minute change and ask for the recipient to provide new wiring instructions for funds to be sent.
Alas, the instructions send the closing funds directly into the hacker’s account.
While it might seem like there are hundreds of ways for a criminal to take advantage of a consumer online, there are just as many ways consumers can protect themselves. Here are a few tips to help homebuyers and sellers recognize and avoid real estate scams.
Don’t send sensitive information
Do not send banking information, your Social Security number or anything else that could be used to compromise your identity over email. If you absolutely must send personal or sensitive information via email, use only encrypted email.
Many title companies and lenders offer assistance in transmission of these requests, and you should always call them directly to verify any request and ask for the encryption platform they prefer.
Ignore unverified email
If you don’t recognize the name or email address of the sender, don’t open the email. Also beware of any attachments or downloadable files from unknown email addresses, as they can contain viruses or provide a way for a hacker to access your computer.
If you suspect an email is fraudulent or a request seems out of the norm, call your Realtor, title company, or lender to discuss your concerns.
Avoid unsecured Wi-Fi
It might seem harmless to check banking information using the free Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, but using an open connection can leave you vulnerable to hackers and scammers. Only access sensitive information on your home computer or on a secured network.
I tell my clients if they suspect fraud, or if something simply feels “off,” to pick up their phone and verify the information with their Realtor or lender.
Also, if you suspect fraud has occurred, or is in the process of occurring, immediately contact every relevant party. Unfortunately, there’s usually nothing that can be done to retrieve money stolen in the scam; however, you should still report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or the Federal Trade Commission.
Educating our clients on these dangers is a top priority. Realtors do our best to make sure the public knows the prevalence of wire fraud and we advise clients to call and verify information before they wire funds.
To ensure they’re reaching the right person, buyers should contact their Realtor using numbers provided in advance.
For my fellow Realtors, I urge you to visit gcar.net/realtor-safety-month-2022 for information on training classes, webinars and other tools, as well as a list of five safety action items. The latter include guidance for planning your safety strategy, tips and best practices, training videos, personal protection resources and the Realtor safety pledge.
These items will help Realtors keep safety as our priority year-round. Realtors are focused on protecting our clients and ourselves. That’s Who We R.
Founded in 1912, Greater Chattanooga Realtors is a regional organization with more than 2,500 members servicing Hamilton and Sequatchie counties in southeast Tennessee and Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in northwest Georgia. The association is one of approximately 1,100 local associations and boards of Realtors nationwide that comprise the National Association of Realtors. Greater Chattanooga Realtors owns and operates a multiple listing service that’s one of approximately 600 MLSs in the country and services more than 2,700 users.