This October, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is again recognizing Cybersecurity Awareness Month and the critical importance of protecting Americans’ data and sensitive information from fraud.
Real estate fraud is one of the nation’s most prevalent forms of cybercrime, with REALTOR® associations and Multiple Listing Services being among criminals’ latest targets. Information breaches can jeopardize real estate transactions and have the potential to expose businesses to client lawsuits, government sanctions and large fines. According to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report, more than 13,000 people were victims of wire fraud in the real estate and rental sector in 2020.
Because home-buying requires copious paperwork and large transfers of money, homebuyers can fall victim to cybercriminals posing as real estate agents, lawyers and title agents. NAR maintains membership with the Coalition to Stop Real Estate Wire Fraud to help raise awareness of these scams.
NAR recommends that real estate professionals implement the following best practices to reduce their cybersecurity risks and protect their clients:
1. Maintain Proper Cyber Hygiene
– Never click on unknown apps, attachments or links, as doing so can unintentionally download malware. Malware can cause computers to crash or slow down, lock out users, and allow criminals to track keystroke records.
– Encrypt sensitive information and utilize two-factor authentication for accounts whenever possible.
– Carefully guard login and access credentials and regularly purge your email accounts.
– Use complicated passwords and a different password for each account.
– Avoid doing business over public, unsecured WiFi.
2. Implement Other IT-Based Security Measures
– Keep antivirus software, firewalls, operating systems and security patches active and up to date.
– Regularly back up critical data, applications and systems, and keep those backups separate from existing online systems.
– Prior to engaging any outside IT provider, review their privacy policies and contracts.
3. Review Law, Policy and Insurance Considerations
– Because laws differ between states, NAR recommends that businesses consult a licensed attorney to maintain and update data protection and cybersecurity frameworks.
– In collaboration with your attorney, stay up to date with your state’s data and security privacy laws, and develop a written disclosure warning clients of the possibility of transaction-related cybercrime. NAR has created a Wire Fraud Email Notice Template that you may use and adapt.
– Develop and implement the following:
– Document Retention and Destruction Policy
– Cyber and Data Security Policy
– Breach Response and Breach Notification Policy
– Ensure that staff members and licensees have reviewed and are following all implemented policies.
– Review your current insurance coverage and ask your insurance agent about cyber insurance that addresses both liability and incident response. In 2020, NAR partnered with CyberPolicy® to offer customized cyber liability insurance to REALTOR®-owned brokerages.
For more information, visit www.nar.realtor/data-privacy-security.
Olive Morris is the National Association of REALTORS® policy representative for federal technology issues.