Cybercrime Continues to Plague Real Estate Industry

By Kim Shindle | July 6, 2022 | 3 min. read

Pennsylvania again ranked in the top 10 states for internet crime last year, according to the FBI’s 2021 Internet Crime Complaint Center report. Victims’ losses totaled $207 million, up 90% over 2020. The number of victims of internet crimes in Pennsylvania dropped slightly to 17,262.

The IC3 report showed real estate/rental-related internet victim losses nationwide jumped to more than $350 million in 2021, up from $213 million in 2020.

Business email compromise, which are scams targeting both businesses and individuals performing transfers of funds, remained the highest loss reported, with nearly $2.4 billion lost nationwide last year.

“We really have seen fraud expanding more into rental properties, especially short-term rentals,” said Sean Stajkowski, Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center intelligence analyst II with the Pennsylvania State Police. “We’re seeing cases where someone lists a property they don’t own, then consumers put a deposit down on it, but the money isn’t going to a legitimate rental property owner.”

The rising prices of homes have also added to the opportunity for crime. “The price of real estate has gone up significantly so there’s an even better reward if a criminal can convince the buyer or seller to wire money to a fraudulent account,” he added.

Stajkowski stressed that it’s important for real estate professionals to warn their clients about the potential for scams during the real estate transaction. “When we purchased a home, our agent warned us that if we received any email requesting a payment that we should call her immediately before transferring money. She made sure we were extremely aware of potential fraud. She said we should be suspicious of anything we didn’t request, like additional insurance, odd emails and even traditional mail.”

“Urge your clients to go to their real estate professional when they have questions. Anytime they’re asked for money, they should be talking to their Realtor® first. That’s really the value of working with an expert, they know about everything related to the real estate transaction,” he related.

Because more business is being conducted virtually, Stajkowski said the state police is seeing more fraudulent construction loans. “People are sending their quotes online, sending images of the construction online and people need to make sure they’re dealing with a legitimate company,” he stressed.

Ransomware attacks are another issue that often strike small companies. “Oftentimes, when a company is struck with ransomware, it’s not just about getting the ransom, although ransom prices have gone up. Once they have compromised your computer, any information your company has stored in the system –  email addresses, mailing addresses, fax numbers from other companies – can be used to create a better environment for the criminals to create a better scam,” he explained.

He said he has seen a great consumer awareness about recognizing spam, fraudulent emails and potential threats.

“Many of these are crimes of opportunity. It helps to create better safeguards, verifying who’s on the phone and taking a few extra steps to reduce the opportunity for fraud,” Stajkowski added.

If you or your client are the victim of an internet crime, you should file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and contact your local police department.

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