We’ve all experienced it. You get an email from a colleague alerting you that a business contact’s email account has been hacked, and you are warned to not open any emails or click on any links from them. You might panic for a moment, unsure if you have accidentally exposed your clients to a security threat.
Email hacking and cyber crimes continue to threaten professionals working in real estate. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your clients and your reputation:
1. Identify digital assets and put a plan into place to protect your clients' sensitive information.
Hackers use links in innocent-looking emails to download Ransomware, a malware that will encrypt everything in your system it can find and force you to pay a ransom in a cryptocurrency to retrieve it or phish for sensitive information like social security numbers, usernames, and passwords. Ransomware can even infect drives and networks connected to your computer.
2. Password strength depends on length and complexity.
Use a phrase password with numbers and special characters. Stay away from simple and short passwords. Hackers have software that can crack something simple in seconds, but adding two additional characters can make it take years. Do not use the same password on your social media accounts as you do for work, and manage your passwords with an application like Lastpass so you don't forget them instead of scribbling them down on a piece of paper.
3. Do not conduct business over a public wi-fi network without a VPN.
We’ve all done it. You’re on the road and busy. You need some caffeine to keep you going, so you stop into Starbucks, connect to their free wi-fi, and answer some emails while you wait for your triple grande nonfat caramel macchiato. Unfortunately, using an unsecured public wi-fi can leave you vulnerable to cybercrime. Set up a virtual private network (VPN) on your devices, which encrypts all transmissions while using a public wi-fi.
4. Use a two-factor authentication (2FA) process on your email account.
This is one of the easiest ways to add an extra layer of protection on almost all your accounts from email to social media. The best thing about 2FA is that even if you accidentally give a hacker your password, they can't access your accounts without the 2nd authentication. It effectively eliminates phishing as a problem for accounts where it's enabled. Apple’s iOS, Mac OS, Instagram, Facebook, and Google all offer 2FA to help prevent hackers from gaining access to your accounts. Here’s a helpful guide that shows you how to do it for each one.
5. Consider using a proprietary email account instead of a free email service like Gmail or Yahoo.
It’s much easier for hackers to impersonate you and create a similar email to confuse and take advantage of your clients. This is how many home buyers have fallen prey to wire fraud scams. They receive an email from their trusted real estate professional and follow the instructions to send money to the criminals. Creating an email with your company's domain name instead of a @yahoo.com or @gmail.com account will help combat these types of scams.
- Granted, all email services are vulnerable to hacking, and Gmail does offer some robust features to prevent hacking such as 2FA. No email service is 100% bulletproof from hacking, so be sure to stay proactive in protecting your accounts.
6. Educate your client.
This may be one of the difficult parts of preventing cybercrimes like wire fraud. You may feel like you are repeating yourself, but keep doing it. For most people buying a home, the amount of information they are receiving is overwhelming. The average person purchases 3 homes in their lifetime, so it’s sure to be a confusing and new experience for most. Don’t let hackers use this confusion and inexperience against them. Share these tips with your clients; it’s not just for real estate professionals.
As a real estate due diligence partner, we take cybersecurity very seriously. This attitude is part of everyone on our team. If you are looking for a trusted partner to help with your closings, we have a secure proprietary system that can be integrated with your preferred closing software. Let us know if you have questions in the comments or if you have any other tips to add to this list.