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Top 5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Cybercrime When Buying a Home

Written by Posted On Wednesday, 01 March 2017 19:07
Real estate is a candy store for cyber criminals Real estate is a candy store for cyber criminals HomePocket

Real estate buyers, sellers and and the professionals working in the business, agents included, are currently a favorite target for cybercriminals. And the target is getting bigger very quickly.

What can happen in real estate, you may ask?

  • Theft of wire transfer funds
  • Identity theft and impersonation
  • Compromised bank accounts
  • Threat of litigation over stolen data
  • Unauthorized account creation
  • Credit theft and damage
  • Much, much more…

And these are but a few of the risks to all parties involved.

I built the first part of my career around cybersecurity and, in the last year alone, I’ve been asked to consult on more than one situation where real estate brokerages have been the victim of long-term data and financial theft. And it doesn’t just affect the brokerage and agents, but their clients too.

In reality, if most people knew exactly how much invisible risk and ever-present vulnerability they could be subjecting themselves to when buying and selling real estate, they might just decided to stay put.

But cybercrime and cyber insecurity is everywhere and we can’t allow it to prevent us from living our lives.

To make buying and selling a home safer, follow these few simple, practical steps to make your transaction safer.

Ask your real estate agent what safeguards they use to protect your personal data

If they have trouble answering or they can’t answer, beware. Identity theft and financial impact to home buyers and sellers often comes from criminals stealing personally identifiable information (or “PII”) that was inadvertently left lying around in hard copy form. It ends up in the trash, mailed out inappropriately, lying around the office on desks, accessible on unlocked computers, or outright stolen easily by organized cyber criminals.

Verify any emails that come from your agent and never send sensitive info via email

In its 2016 Internet Security Threat Report, Symantec says fake emails, a.k.a. “Phishing” or “Spear-phishing” as it’s called, is the number one cyber threat to consumer industries such as real estate. What can happen? Well all your settlement money can be stolen by having you inadvertently redirect new wire instructions to a new settlement company because you thought your agent asked you to do so in an email. It’s happening every month now. Always confirm by phone any email asking for ANY kind of PII or banking info.

Don’t email sensitive info via email or submit info using insecure websites

Over 90% of Realtor websites are not SSL-enabled. What’s SSL? It stands for “Secure Socket Layer” and it basically means that when you hit send to register, sign in or submit a form on a website that the information being transmitted is encrypted so it’s hard (in fact, nearly impossible) to break and use. If you’re on a real estate website and you don’t see this in top left of your browser’s URL bar, leave quickly (and don’t ever submit any forms!):


Beware of sending or opening PDFs

An increasingly popular way cybercriminals get you to unknowingly give them your PII? They have you install malware without your knowledge. What’s the #1 way they do that? Infected PDF files. Cybercriminals often use phishing to get members of a real estate office to click and install malware by sending emails that look real, but aren’t. When they do, they unwittingly install corrupt files designed to infect others, steal data and send it back to the cybercriminal’s servers. That means the whole office gets infected, then you get infected when you get a PDF from their office. Then PDFs you send are infected and, well, you get the idea.

Don’t ever send sensitive info in email without encryption

For most email users, it never crosses their minds to check whether what they’re sending is secure. The fact is, email interception and theft is very, very easy, but it’s hard for cybercriminals to get any value out of it if the information is encrypted. If your Realtor is using a secure and reliable service such as Docusign, you can feel a bit safer, but NEVER, ever send sensitive personal info like socials or bank account info via email that is not encrypted. Tell your real estate agent it’s a must that both of you communicate via free and easy encrypted email services like Virtru that plug right into your Gmail. Get lazy and you could pay, big-time.

A few more good things to do? See the list below…

If you don’t, you could be very sorry you didn’t.

Sell your home or search for your next one securely on www.homepocket.com!




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Jason Polancich

Jason Polancich is founder and lead architect of HomePocket, a data-driven, residential real estate marketing and listing network. Polancich also founded SurfWatch Labs, a cyber data analytics firm founded in 2013 that provides highly accurate, timely and actionable information to businesses regarding the cybercrime threats they face. Polancich is a serial entrepreneur focused on solving complex internet security and cyber-defense problems. Novii Design, a company he co-founded in 2005 with Rebekah Lewis-Polancich, was based on his contributions to cloud architectures, distributed computing, data analysis and systems integration. The company assisted the U.S. Intelligence Community and Department of Defense in building some of the largest data warehouse and analysis systems ever put into operation within the government and defense contracting sectors. Novii Design was sold to Six3 Systems in 2010. Prior to Novii Design, Polancich assisted technology companies in building engineering practices around software, data and collaboration. He began his professional career 20 years ago, serving as a U.S. Army translator, intelligence analyst, software engineer, systems architect and corporate executive. In addition to completing numerous professional engineering and certification programs through the National Cryptologic School, Polancich is a 1991 graduate of the University of Alabama, with degrees in English, Political Science and Russian. He is a distinguished graduate of the Defense Language Institute (Arabic) and has completed foreign study programs through Boston University in St. Petersburg, Russia. Polancich lives on Florida’s Gulf Coast and in Charleston, SC with his wife and business partner Rebekah, their three teenagers and a very high-maintenance Springer Spaniel. In his spare time, he follows the Alabama Crimson Tide, My Morning Jacket, The Drive-By Truckers, Paul Finebaum, William Gay’s writings, and anything that gets him outside and near the ocean.


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