Wire fraud schemes have been a hot topic in the real estate industry lately. But one real estate pro says she’s been caught up in a different kind of nightmarish scam — one that victims can do virtually nothing to prevent.
Sue Dietz, CRS, a sales associate with RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Dubuque, Iowa, who also served as president of the East Central Iowa Association of REALTORS® in 2016, says scammers have used her identity to create fake email addresses in her name and then sent fraudulent emails offering referrals to other real estate agents. The emails also contained fake contact information for Dietz. Recipients who responded to the email were sent a Google Drive link that they were told contained listings the referred client wanted to see. However, the link, once opened, installs computer viruses that allow scammers to scrape passwords and other personal information.
The initial fraudulent email typically reads:
My name is Sue Dietz a realtor with RE/MAX ADVANTAGE REALTY in Dubuque IA, I have a client who is interested in buying a property in your area of expert, Please let me know if you’re available to help them out and I will send their contact details and the listings they are interested in.
People who receive this email are encouraged to report it as spam or a phishing attempt. The hope is that if enough people take such action, the IP address of the sender will be blocked.
Since February 2016, when the scam apparently started, nearly 4,000 practitioners nationwide — from all 50 states and Canada — who received the emails have contacted Dietz to either confirm the referral or warn her of the scam. “I’ve gotten calls at the office, on my cell phone, texts, and emails at all hours of the day and night,” she says. “There was one day I had over 100 pieces of correspondence just about these emails.”
Last year, Dietz received a threatening email from an anonymous sender accusing her of trying to steal their money, she says. She has tried to get the word out about the scam by asking every agent who contacts her about the emails to alert their local associations. She has also included a warning in her personal and business voicemail messages and on her website bio.
Dietz also recently received a fraudulent email in the name of another real estate agent, so she’s not the only one whose identity is being used in this way.
“Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible on the front end to prevent a fraudster from using your name in a scam,” says Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel for the National Association of REALTORS®. “If you are the victim of any kind of identity theft, the best course of action is to immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, and your local authorities.” She cautions that recipients of suspicious emails appearing to come from another real estate professional should search that practitioner’s name on Google to compare their business email address and contact information to that of the sender.
“I think most people respond to the emails and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll take your referral,'” Dietz says. “All they need to do is Google me — my website is the number one result when you search my name — and they’d see I wasn’t the one who sent the email.”
If you want to keep your email more secure, Edgerton offers the following tips:
- Check your sent mail, junk mail, and email account settings regularly for anomalies. Hackers often break into an email account and modify the “email forwarding” settings to forward emails to their own account.
- Regularly purge your email of unneeded or outdated information. Save any important emails securely.
- Avoid email as a method for sending sensitive or confidential information. Instead, consider using a secure document sharing or transaction management platform.
- Use strong passwords that incorporate a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Use two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication.
- Avoid using unsecured or public Wi-Fi.