Watch Out for These Cybercrimes if You’re in Real Estate
The Internet is a powerful tool for the buy-and-sell of properties. It makes it easier for both real estate professionals and buyers to check out properties before even stepping foot on them.
Real estate agents need to be careful with what they post online to avoid falling prey to cybercriminals. Without knowing it, you might be making the preparation for a home invasion totally useless. For you and your clients’ safety, take time to familiarize yourself with cybercrime and how it can impact your real estate business.
What is cybercrime?
Cybercrime is any criminal activity that involves using a computer, a networked device, or a network. The main goal of cybercrime is to deny access to a legitimate user and gain unauthorized access to a network or device. Cybercrime may also involve stealing data, cyberstalking, and money laundering, among others.
The impact of cybercrime on society
The impact of a successful cybercrime attack can be devastating and can have a ripple effect on victims that could last a long time. Cybercrime cases can be as disastrous as financial losses and theft of intellectual property (including personal information). In some cases, it can even lead to physical crime.
What types of cybercrime should real estate professionals be aware of?
Cybercriminals can attack in different ways and on different platforms. Often, casual Internet users/real estate agents will find an attack hard to spot initially. Here are some of the most common cybercrimes that professionals can become victims of:
- Fraud. Fraud is committed by deceiving others for personal gain. Real estate agents and their clients keep sensitive information such as residential and business addresses, phone numbers, names, and—in some cases—bank account details. This makes them a prized target of Internet fraud. In fact, Americans lost almost US$150 million in value to online real estate scams.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internet fraud is committed when someone uses the Internet or online software to take advantage of other people’s personal information. To pull this off, cybercriminals lure their target victims to click on a suspicious email link, message or search engine results page (SERP). Doing so will take them to an identical-looking page. When users input their details on this page, cybercriminals can capture their information and use these illegally.
- Identity theft. Identity theft is the unauthorized use of an existing bank account, use of personal information to open a new account, or the misuse of personal data for fraudulent purposes. In 2018, there were 14.4 million cases of identity theft in the U.S., alone, which led to USD1.7-billion worth of financial losses. With the valuable information that real estate agents and buyers have, it’s no surprise that they become targets of cybercriminals.
- Ransomware. This is considered as one of the most destructive cybercrime software available today. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the victim’s files. Much like a kidnapper, the cybercriminal will demand a ransom to restore access to the victim’s files/computer. Storing vital information in a computer about the details of a real estate property, the personal information of the owner and the buyer makes it a high-value target.
- Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Imagine trying to close a real estate deal online when suddenly you can no longer access a website or your Internet browser because of a DDoS attack. You’ve lost your sale and possibly compromised the information you have about your client and their property.
Considered as one of the most popular forms of hacking, DDoS is a malicious attempt to disrupt normal traffic and overwhelm servers, networks, or online services. It all starts when malware or a trojan virus infects vulnerable parts of a system/computer/Internet of Things, effectively turning them into zombies that are under the control of the cybercriminal. These “zombie” computers then overload the network with requests and exhaust data storage, eventually grinding the victim’s website/system to a halt.
Preventive measures against cybercrime
Cybercrime prevention can be expensive and tough to implement. After all, you’re up against professional cybercriminals. No worries, these steps can help you lower the chances of getting cyber attacked:
- Make sure you have an updated antivirus installed. Security software such as antivirus is your first line of defense. They can be easily installed on your browser, to keep your system secure from the websites you visit and the files you receive. The key is to update your antivirus regularly; so that it can keep up with and catch the newest types of viruses.
- Don’t download anything from an unknown sender. No matter how tempting the offer may be, never download anything from an unknown sender. Just don’t! Remember, data protection starts with you.
- Avoid clicking on the links from people you don’t know. Similar to Item #2, don’t click any link from someone you don’t know. It could be a link to a phishing site with a data breach email, which will store all the personal data you have on your computer without you knowing it.
- Don’t ever give out passwords and other sensitive information. Passwords are meant to be private and personal; for your eyes, only. If you give your password away, you may as well have handed the keys to your house or your bank account. Passwords are never meant to be shared, most of all to people you don’t know.
- File a cybercrime report. There are government agencies in place in some countries that help cybercrime victims. In the U.S., “the FBI is the lead federal agency for investigating cyber attacks by criminals.” Find the equivalent agency in your country for more information.
When you’ve been a victim of cybercrime, data recovery can be a long process, even with cybercrime laws in place. Ensure to be vigilant at all times and be proactive in learning about these safety measures to safeguard you and your client’s welfare.
Philip Masterson is a Market specialist, Researcher, Security Advocate, and a Freelance Writer. He has written a range of topics including home and community security, technology, environment, world market, and world businesses. http://www.alarmdefense.com