FBI Special Agent Advises on Preventing Cybercrime in Real Estate

By Kim Shindle | Sept. 21, 2022 | 2 min. read

Business email compromise – or BEC – is the biggest cybercrime threat to the real estate industry, according to FBI Special Agent Patrick Armor, who spoke to Realtors® at PAR’s Business Meetings in Harrisburg this week.

Business email compromise and email account compromise resulted in more than $92 million in losses in Pennsylvania last year, according to the FBI’s 2021 Internet Crime Complaint report.

Armor said BEC crimes include illegal access to email accounts, social engineering, urgent requests for action and hacking businesses’ servers.

Five red flags to watch for:

  • Poor spelling or grammar.
  • Sense of urgency to make an immediate payment.
  • Request comes from slightly different email than usual address.
  • Email marked as “secret” or “confidential.”
  • Unexpected change to bank account details.

“Criminals know the real estate market has been hot,” Armor said. “They understand that clients and agents are moving quickly and they take advantage of it.”

The IC3 report showed real estate and rental internet crimes resulted in $7.5 million in losses in the commonwealth.

“It’s said the weakest link is us, the user. Be suspicious of everything,” he said. “Don’t open email attachments or embedded links from unfamiliar sources or addresses. The attachments are commonly the carriers of malware, allowing hackers to take important information from your computer and your client data.”

Armor advises:

  • Stay alert and be suspicious.
  • Educate everyone in the homebuying process.
  • Avoid being a target by being careful on social media.
  • Maintain password discipline – don’t use passwords for more than one site.
  • Destroy, delete, shred any personal or sensitive information that’s no longer needed.

“It’s important to educate clients and have a plan for the real estate transaction to avoid potential scams,” he added. “Have a plan for any changes in the financial instructions or communications so everyone of what to do in the event of a change.”

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