Written by Antonie Goosen, Principal of Meridian Realty

The real estate industry has recently been flooded with a large number of online scams.  These scams and phishing attempts are very varied and have included:

  • Emails supposedly sent from your own company’s servers informing agents that there is a problem with their mailboxes, and that they need to login with their email and email password to receive mails that have not been received;
  • Buyers that contact agents through legitimate sources like Property24 and PrivateProperty.  After a number of communications back and forth, they send PDF documents or other executable files / links that they request you to open to view their “documentation” or “property requirements”;
  • Supposed sellers requesting that agents click on links or executable files in order to see details about a property they want to sell;

There has been a marked increase in the amount of scam / spam and hacking attacks targeted at real estate agents in general.

Why?

According to the expert’s real estate agents are seen as potentially soft targets.  Most agents don’t invest in proper internet security software.  Their email addresses and contact information are freely available on the web. Agents work with people that have money, and often substantial amounts of it.  Agents work with a lot of personal information, which may include full names, ID numbers, personal addresses, bank statements etc.  Estate agents are often targeted as the scamsters try to get to other people via them.

As a result, estate agents need to be vigilant.  We need to take the necessary steps to ensure that we, and our clients, don’t become victims of these scams.

Here are a number of tips you should follow to prevent becoming a victim:

  1. PASSWORDS

Don’t use the same password for all your accounts.  If a hacker cracks just that one password on one platform – they could potentially get into all of your accounts.  This is probably one of the most important things to keep in mind.  It is also good practice to change your passwords regularly and often.  Let’s say your normal password is xxx.  You could then monthly change the password to xxxjul, xxxaug, xxxsep – as an example.  Still easy to remember, but it gives you an added level of security.  It is also very important that you enable two-factor authentication wherever it is possible to do so.  Two-factor authentication gives an important second level of security to your key accounts.

  1. EMAIL

Your email is a critical part of your day to day business.  Should a hacker get access to your email accounts, there are unfortunately a lot of bad things they can achieve.  Email security should therefore be a top priority.

If your provider allows for this, make sure that you enable two-factor authentication!   Two-factor authentication will mean that a hacker cannot access your email (even with your email password), unless it is approved through an app on an approved device (normally your own mobile phone).

It is also important to never react to an email requesting you to sign into your “email provider” in order to “unblock” messages.  Only sign into your email on your email providers normal, secure, login site.

  1. ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE

It is important that you have a good quality anti-virus program installed.  Yes, even if you have a Mac!  Install it on ALL YOUR DEVICES – including your phone / iPad / Tablet.  There are some excellent options available from McAfee, AVG, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Avast to name a few.  It is important to note that it may very well be worth the investment to go for a paid option from an accredited and well-known anti-virus company.  For the price of a couple of coffee’s per month you could have the peace of mind knowing that your computer and other devices are properly protected.

  1. AUTOMATIC UPDATES / LATEST UPDATES

Make sure all of your devices ALWAYS run the latest operating systems.  Enable automatic updates if you can.  Security risks are often fixed in the latest versions of the operating systems, and that is why it is so important that you always have the latest updates installed.

5. THE APP / PLAY STORE

Be careful with the apps you, and your children, install on your devices.  Sometimes the terms and conditions of those apps allow the developers access to your emails and other information you would never give out to a perfect stranger.  Install apps only from trusted developers and read the terms and conditions.

6. ALWAYS LOG OUT

Finished with your internet banking?  Just updated a tenant’s details on PayProp?  Always, always…. log out from websites like these after you are done.

7. FREE WI-FI – be cautious

Hackers can do amazing damage to your life when you login to “free wi-fi” that you think belongs to the institution that you are at, but in fact it is not.  As a result, you need to be very careful when logging into free wi-fi areas.  Have a look at these videos to see what I am referring to.

The intention of this article is not to alarm you, but to instill in you some good practices that will make safeguarding your data much easier.  Unfortunately, data is the new oil, and this is a trend that I believe we will see more of in the future.

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