Safer Real Estate Transactions

Tips to stop online crooks from stealing your information

TomPhoto-Curiosity helps drive online interest in prime real estate markets throughout South Florida. But once potential buyers become serious about a property, how safe is it to exchange information over the internet?

Veteran real estate agent Tom Carroll, who’s been selling homes in the Sunshine State since 2000, warns buyers to be cautious of the “phish” that lurk in the dark waters of online real estate communications.

“Phishing” is a form of internet fraud that aims to steal such personal information as credit card numbers, user IDs and passwords. These cybercriminals use the information to hack into legitimate online accounts, posing as the victim. According to Verizon’s 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report, 48 percent of data security breaches were caused by acts of malicious intent.

Carroll, co-owner of an Assist-2-Sell franchise since 2004, says phishing started to impact the real estate world more seriously in 2016. For real estate agents and buyers, an attack starts with a suspicious email (spelling errors often are a tipoff) with an invitation to click a link for more information. Plenty of people do that, giving attackers access to personal email files.

The attackers then monitor emails between a buyer and real estate agent—including information about the closing date. A common scam: A few days before closing, the seller will indicate how much money is required on signing day. Often, companies will give the buyer instructions on where to wire money. Attackers, having seen the amount, send an official-looking email to the buyer with instructions to transfer money to an account the attackers control. Once money is wired, there’s no getting it back.

“What’s unfortunate is that you often see older members of the community being vulnerable to these cybercrimes,” says Carroll, a Creek resident since 1996. “They aren’t as aware of spam like the younger generations.”

Real estate companies are doing their part to combat online hackers. In 2016, some Florida companies began using “The Wire Fraud Prevention Notice,” requiring homebuyers to sign an acknowledgement that they understand the dangers of cybercrime and will not accept a wire number via email.

A successful online transaction “goes back to the ABCs of protecting yourself online,” Carroll says. He suggests the following:

Change your email password often.

Invest in good virus-protection software.

Avoid sending sensitive information.

If you do plan to wire money, call the real estate agent with the number on his or her website, and verify the information.

Assist-2-Sell/The Marton & Carroll Group

Contact: 954.571.6700; [email protected]

Web: flatfeesavings.com

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