Stay safe from cybercrime and phishing attacks

By Michele McCaskill
VP of Risk Management

According to REALTOR® Magazine, scams directly related to the real estate sector rose 1,100 percent from 2015 to 2017.  Other reports show that real estate was the second highest industry hit with malware events in the second quarter of 2018.  Malware is malicious software created or written to damage devices or steal data.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) and NC REALTORS® continue to alert members about the dangers of cybercrime, a problem that worsens with more sophisticated attacks each year.   Realtors® need to be on alert at all times.  Fortunately, there are many ways Realtors® can learn about these dangers and how to protect themselves, their firms and their clients from becoming victims.

NAR’s website offers a multitude of articles, videos and checklists that can help you understand the risks and minimize your susceptibility to cybercrime.  Much of that information can be found on the “Data, Privacy & Security” landing page.

NC REALTORS® also offers members a Tech Helpline with staff ready to answer your questions and offer tips and tricks on how to keep your computers safe and identify potential threats.  You can contact them at 877-573-5612, support@techhelpline.com, or by chat at chat.techhelpline.com.

One newer attack that seemed to emerge near last year’s holiday season and continues to hit businesses nationwide involves what Consumer Affairs calls a “large-scale impersonation campaign.”  This scam tricks people into believing they are being asked to purchase gift cards for an employee reward or a holiday surprise.

In these cases, a “phisher” (person who attempts to trick people into giving information over the internet in order to steal money) uses one of several tactics to impersonate the CEO, broker-in-charge or another person in authority by sending an email to an unsuspecting employee or affiliated agent.  The email looks as if it is coming directly from the CEO or broker-in-charge, and it asks the recipient to purchase gift cards for a secret surprise gift or company-wide reward for employees.  Most often these emails appear to be urgent in nature and state the sender is unreachable.  That is your first clue that the request may not be what it appears to be.

Be wary of any email that comes to you and urgently asks you for help in purchasing anything.  If you are not sure, check with the person from whom the email appears to have come – that person is more than likely NOT unreachable.  Always verify before falling victim to these scams.

Likewise, if you receive a suspicious email that asks you to click on a link to reset a password that you did not ask to be reset, or if an email comes with an attachment for review that you were not expecting, don’t click the link or open the attachment.  Delete the email.

Don’t fall victim to the many risks lurking around every corner.  Set new procedures for yourself, your firm and your clients on how sensitive and critical information will be shared over email and the internet.  Don’t wait – educate yourself now and stay safe in cyberspace.