Millions of American consumers are using technology that is being made available to them, often for free, through the web. Companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo!, and Microsoft have created powerful communication tools allowing consumers to connect with others and conduct business online.
Real estate agents are always eager to both connect with consumers and conduct business with them, so it comes as no surprise that they are communicating over these networks with prospects and customers on a daily basis. Unfortunately, these tools are not particularly hard for criminals to hack into. When criminals get access to a consumer’s web-based e-mail account during a real estate transaction, fraud and serious loss can result. It’s even easier if they gain access to the real estate agent’s e-mail account.
The National Association of Realtors warned its Realtors about this threat last December, but the problem persists. In short, hackers get access to someone involved in the real estate transaction and then uses that information to convince a party to make a fraudulent wire transfer. NAR suggested that agents consider any e-mail in their inboxes a potential threat.
The best defense may be to avoid sending sensitive information via e-mail. NAR makes this suggestion, and we did also in another post on this blog. If you must connect with your borrower via e-mail, add a telephone call to the verified consumer or partner number before any funds are wired. Do not trust contact information in unverified e-mail. As NAR points out, fraudsters can be very convincing in their forged communications.
As Inman News recently pointed out, real estate agents are very vulnerable to adverse legal action, due to the nature of their businesses. There is no reason to risk being sued for the actions of a fraudster. Create a policy that works around web-based e-mail accounts that are susceptible to criminal hackers.