Buying or selling your home will likely be one of the biggest transactions of your life. So it’s no surprise that it poses a major risk for cybercrimes. The most dominant of these being phishing scams, a trend that is on the rise due to an increase in online communications, working from home and poor software security systems.
Phishing, which has hiked by 350% since the pandemic began according to a Google Report, is a cybercrime performed by persons or groups who contact potential victims by posing as legitimate institutions to persuade them into providing private data, such as banking and credit card details, passwords, or personal identification information.
Phishing threatens to disrupt deals
Both individuals and businesses have been left vulnerable due to an increase in cyber attacks, according to Interpol.
Dominique d’Hotman, co-founder of Buyers Trust and Head of Group Strategy for ooba Home Loans, says that this also affects the real estate sector where large transactions are taking place daily. “The risk is two-fold. Agents are at risk of losing the buyer’s deposit, and as a result the entire deal while buyers are at risk of losing their hard-earned deposits,” explains d’Hotman.
He continues that fees paid in the home buying process are substantial, and the e-mail trails in some cases are easily accessible, leaving all parties open to the risk of phishing.
These types of crime commonly and easily occur when e-mail records between the agent, buyer, and the respective lawyers, to whom the deposit is paid, are intercepted and ultimately, ‘phished’.
Cyber criminals will find ways to intercept emails, typically by hacking into the real estate agency’s system to study the language used, the format of the information, and the transactions, to ensure they appear informed and legitimate in order to commit convincing fraud.
To prevent cyber theft from happening d’Hotman suggests the following safety precautions:
Online Safety Checklist
For real estate professionals:
- Never click on unknown emails, attachments or links, as doing so can download malware onto your device. These are the most common means that attackers use to gain access to your information and devices.
- Guard login and access credentials to email and other services used in the transaction. The best way to do this is by using a password manager.
- Make sure that your computer and mobile devices are kept up to date and that your computer has current anti-virus and anti-malware software
- Avoid doing business over public, unsecured Wi-Fi. Only connect to WiFi networks that you know and can trust.
- Be very vigilant about emails, paying close attention to anyone sending you banking details to make a deposit.
- As with any financial transaction, always confirm with your estate agent before making any deposits. This confirmation should be in person or over the phone as by email could allow the attacker to continue the interception.
- Consider using an alternative to traditional depositing of cash into a trust account for securing your purchase. A bank guarantee or the use of a service like Buyers Trust provides a secure alternative that will protect you against the risk of phishing or other such cybercrimes.
- Ensure that you keep your devices up to date and also choose strong passwords which make it more difficult for an attacker to guess.
Be more cyber security conscious
With an abundance of people working remotely and the security risks this poses, d’Hotman says that vigilance is key. “On the office network, most parties were protected by various layers of security. However, the process of installing this level of security at a home office level is still lacking”, he explains.
All parties should stick to the golden rule: If something feels ‘off’, go with your gut. “Contact the relevant parties via phone to confirm and do your due diligence prior to responding on a platform like e-mail, which can be easily intercepted,” he concludes.