National Association of Realtors® Associate Counsel Jessica Edgerton this week offered a Facebook Live audience what she called “a 100 percent, surefire way that business owners can protect their computer from cybercrime.”
Edgerton good-humoredly recommended closing the computer forever, burying it in the back yard and lighting it on fire. “That is how you secure your computer 100 percent,” she said. “The reality here is that perfect security does not exist.”
Despite the levity of her example, Edgerton made it clear that cyber security is serious business. In a session titled “Cybercrime and Cyber Security,” she noted that by 2019 the global cost of cybercrime will reach $2.1 trillion.
So how can real estate professionals actually stay cyber secure?
“We implement best practices, we educate ourselves and we stay vigilant,” Edgerton said.
NAR has worked hard to educate its membership about the hacking threats facing real estate transactions, particularly in the area of wire fraud. To meet that threat head on, Edgerton recommended a range of preventative measures including:
- Communicating with clients before a transaction happens about the dangers of emailed wiring information.
- Considering a standard warning notice for clients to sign.
- Telling buyers to always call the intended recipients of wired funds and independently verifying the phone number before calling.
Edgerton also suggested a number of methods for real estate professionals to ward off hackers such as:
- Securing email accounts with good passwords, preferably one that includes a phrase, and never one that’s easily guessable such as “password.”
- Monitoring “junkmail” and “sent mail” email folders for anomalies, such as messages being forwarded automatically.
- Regularly purging emails and not using inboxes as a “filing cabinet,” especially for emails with personally identifiable information.
- Only doing business over secured wi-fi.
Acknowledging the complexity of cybersecurity, Edgerton urged participants to consider using a password manager to do all of the above and more.
In addition to email scams, Edgerton noted that text message scams and so-called “ransomware” are growing cybercrime trends. According to Edgerton, 2017 has seen a 250 percent increase in ransomware attacks over previous years.
At the same time, Edgerton reminded the audience that, for businesses, being the victim of a cybercrime can mean serious legal headaches. Edgerton referred to a patchwork of state laws that require businesses to protect their customers online in different ways, as well as efforts by the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on businesses that don’t. The result could mean legal liability and big costs for businesses. In addition to keeping themselves secure, Edgerton recommended studying up on relevant laws to ensure compliance.
To learn more, Edgerton directed participants to NAR’s vast toolkit for getting educated and staying cyber secure in their business.