Cybercrime is increasing in frequency and severity across industries. In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received a record 791,790 cybercrime complaints with reported losses exceeding $4.1 billion. This represents a 69% increase in total complaints from 2019. As reliance on digital technology continues to increase, so too do cyberthreats.
The real estate industry represents a particularly attractive target for cybercriminals, making these cyberthreats a very real and present danger for REALTORS® today. That’s because of the significant amount of personally identifiable and financially sensitive data involved in real estate transactions, such as Social Security numbers, banking information and employment details, and the fact that these transactions routinely involve large transfers of money that go through several different parties.
REALTORS® need to strengthen their cybersecurity posture to protect themselves from becoming the victim of cybercrime, which can result in loss of clients, revenue and reputation.
The following steps can help REALTORS® reduce the risk of cybercrime and better protect their businesses and clients:
Use strong passwords. Weak passwords open the door to data breaches. In fact, an IBM study found that “compromised user credentials were the most common method used as an entry point by attackers, representing 20% of breaches studied.”
REALTORS® should use complex passwords that are a combination of numbers, letters and symbols and change passwords regularly for data security. Simple passwords such as a middle name, name of a pet or children’s names should be avoided, as should using the same password across multiple accounts. Consider using a password manager and the “generate password” feature to ensure strong passwords.
It’s also important to develop good cyber hygiene practices to safeguard email and passwords, including not clicking on any unknown attachments or links or using public Wi-Fi.
Always check the URL. Before submitting legal documents and proprietary information online, double check that the URL is not associated with a fake website. A telltale indicator of a fake website is a misspelled URL. For example, “facebookc.om” for “facebook.com.” REALTORS® should also look for the padlock on a website which means that a site is secured by a TLS/SSL certificate that encrypts user data.
Verify wiring instructions. To avoid wire fraud, which involves hackers sending homebuyers a spoofed email that appears to come from a legitimate source with instructions for last-minute changes to the wiring instructions, REALTORS® should ask clients to confirm wiring instructions by phone. The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) recommends that REALTORS® instruct homebuyers to verify wire instructions by first calling the wire recipient using an independently verified phone number.
Consult a licensed attorney. REALTORS® should also consider hiring an attorney to write a disclosure, warning clients of the possibility of transaction-related cybercrime. NAR has a wire fraud email notice template that REALTORS® can work with their attorneys to customize.
While technology continues to evolve, cybercriminals are evolving too, leaving a trail of costly cybercrime in their wake across industries and sectors. According to projections these costs are escalating. In fact, the cost of cybercrime is projected to grow 15% per year over the next five years, reaching $10.5 trillion annually by 2025.
No industry is immune from cyberthreats. The real estate industry is a prime target for bad actors, making it imperative for REALTORS® to take proactive steps that strengthen their security posture to protect their businesses and clients and reduce their risk of cybercrime.
In 2021, Tansey Soderstrom was voted president-elect of the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association (ORRA). On her journey to this point, Soderstrom has served as treasurer and secretary. She has also been a member of the Board of Directors as well as chaired the Budget and Finance Committee, Professional Standards, Communications Committee and Community Relations Committee. She is currently serving on the Global Committee, Governmental Affairs Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, Executive Committee, and Budget and Finance. She is also on the Honor Society for both the National Association of REALTORS® and Florida REALTORS®.