Unfortunately protecting yourself in this age of technology is becoming more and more of a challenge. There is identify theft, credit card skimmers, a variety of internet schemes, and social engineering just to name a few.
You may ask, “What is social engineering?”
Social Engineering is the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes – and it is hitting the real estate market. HARD.
The most common example is wire fraud. Here’s what it looks like. You are under contract to buy a home and you receive an email from your Realtor (seemingly) right before your closing. This email provides instructions on where to wire a certain amount that you believe is needed for your closing. Since you trust your agent, you call your bank and send the wire. And goodbye, money.
But how did this happen? Through Social Engeneering.
Someone was able to obtain your email login information and has been going through all of your emails, sees you are under contract to buy a house, and then spoofs your Realtor’s email account. And just like that you have become a victim in a very large real estate scheme.
So, how can you protect yourself?
First, it’s always advisable to change your passwords on a regular basis. And to not use the same password for multiple accounts – if a hacker gets into one account, they will try the same user name and password on multiple sites. Also, use a combination of letters, numbers, symbols and capitalize letters.
Most importantly, turn on two-step verification. When you enable 2-Step Verification (also known as two-factor authentication), you add an extra layer of security to your account. You sign in with your user name and password (when you sign in from a new device) and then a code is sent to your phone. Unless the hacker has your phone as well, they will not be able to get into your account.
For Google folks, click here for instructions.
For iCloud folks, click here for instructions.
Also, your Realtor should not be the one giving you wiring instructions. That should come from your closing attorney or your title company (depending on what state you are in.) You should also pick up the phone and call them to confirm that the instructions came from them and to verify them.
And as for generally protecting yourself from social engineering, never click on a link in an email unless your are certain it is safe. If you receive an email (seemingly) from your bank, PayPal, Amazon etc asking you to verify information NEVER click on those types of links. Close the email and open your browser and go directly to the site and sign in there to see if there is, in fact, a problem. And you will likely see that there is not.
Also, be leery of emails with broken English and grammatical errors. Most of these scams are coming from overseas and that is a dead giveaway.
Unfortunately scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated and it is important that we remain hyper vigilant. When in doubt, ask someone. Feel free to reach out to me anytime. If I don’t know the answer, I will find someone who does.