October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month—a time for cautionary reminders of the digital dangers to your business. Take these steps to keep you and your clients safe from scammers.

Are you doing enough to keep your personal data and that of your clients secure? Recent cyberattacks, including the hacking of the Corcoran Group’s computer systems—which exposed agent commissions to company employees—should serve as a wake-up call to the industry. Wire fraud, another prominent problem in the real estate industry, also can cost your clients their entire down payment and unravel transactions in the final minutes.

Real estate was the second-most targeted industry for malware in the second quarter of 2018, according to a report from cybersecurity firm eSentire. October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and security organizations are using this time to raise consciousness about making cybersecurity a priority in business. REALTOR® Magazine uncovers a few of the vulnerabilities that real estate pros are facing.

Wire fraud

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1. Wire Fraud Scams

Before settlement of the transaction, hackers may send your clients an email that appears to originate from you or the lender and contains directions for wiring their down payment funds. Unsuspecting clients who follow the directions often lose their funds permanently; hackers can make the money trail untraceable in mere minutes. Security experts urge real estate pros to post warnings about such a wire scam to their email signatures and address the threats face-to-face with clients.


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2. Unsecure Wi-Fi

As a road warrior, you often have to plug into your business from remote locations. But using public or unsecure Wi-Fi enables scammers to gain access to your data. That puts your information at risk of being compromised. Take precautions when using a Wi-Fi network by disabling sharing on all your devices before connecting to public Wi-Fi and using a VPN. Here are more tips.

  • Public Wi-Fi can be a means for hackers to prey on your private information, including client data. So before you take advantage of free Wi-Fi at businesses, take these three precautions.
  • Researchers at Dartmouth University have discovered that a simple life hack involving aluminum foil can improve a wireless network’s range and increase Wi-Fi security.
  • You probably conduct a lot of business from your phone. Be sure to follow these precautionary measures while accessing client data on the road.

Outdated software on phone

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3. Outdated Software

You know that software update you’ve been putting off? Well, it’s time to stop delaying. Many updates contain important security patches. Cybersecurity experts urge businesses to not fall behind on software updates, which can make their electronics and information vulnerable to hackers. 

  • Few computer problems can slow down your productivity and endanger your data more than using outdated software. Fortunately, keeping current is easier than ever thanks to automatic updates.
  • Security capabilities are already built into iPhone and Android devices. Make sure your phone’s protective software is on and guarded against phone-snatchers.
  • Remote data back-up options remove obstacles to protecting your valuable real estate information.

Data policy

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4. Lack of a Data Policy

Without a solid data privacy plan, your brokerage could be putting your clients’ information at risk. If you don’t have a corporate policy regarding customer data—or haven’t revisited your policy in a while—now is the time. Several brokerages are forming data security privacy rules about how they will keep client information secure during a transaction. Such a policy can even serve as part of your value proposition to consumers.

  • The National Cybersecurity Alliance encourages all businesses to create a culture of respecting privacy, safeguarding data, and enabling trust.
  • How do you ensure the security of your clients' personal and financial data? Here are some solutions you should implement in your business now.
  • Real estate transactions look like gold to cybercriminals. Are you doing your part to keep your clients—and yourself—safe from scammers and hackers?

Weak password

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5. Weak Passwords

Your password is a layer of defense against hackers. But studies show that millions of people rely on easy-to-guess passwords, which has been blamed for a growing number of data breaches. Security experts advise using stronger passwords as well as two-factor authentication, such as with the addition of a fingerprint or PIN.

  • Learn the formula to make your passwords even stronger in order to secure your email and data.
  • More than 23 million breached accounts worldwide used this number combination. See the five worst passwords of 2018.
  • Read these tips from security experts on how you can make sure your various passwords don’t become easy guesses for would-be hackers.

Phishing email

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6. Phishing Emails

Phishing emails may appear to come from a respectable business—even your professional association. In 2018, a scammer sent members of the National Association of REALTORS® an email posing as the trade association, directing recipients to open an email attachment to update their information in the membership directory. Be cautious about what you download. Cybersecurity experts say there are key things to look for in determining a phishing email scam.

  • Email ploys are trying to dupe you. Here are some security tips to make sure you don’t fall victim.
  • Consider taking extra security precautions to protect sensitive business communications.
  • A Google subsidiary has rolled out a quiz to test internet users’ knowledge of the signs of fraudulent emails. Are you savvy enough to catch them?

Download NAR’s Data Security and Privacy Toolkit