Each day we turn to the Internet to find answers to our questions, perform our banking, and run our businesses. We enter our personal information without a blink of the eye. But what happens when that information gets into the wrong hands?
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) logged 301,501 complaints involving Internet crime, totaling over $1,418.7 million in losses from 2013 to 2017. These complaints ranged from business email compromise to ransomware, tech support fraud, phishing and extortion. You must always be vigilant when providing personal information online or granting remote access to a computer.
Certainly, one of the most common issues reported in real estate transactions is wire fraud. Often this scenario plays out when one of the Realtors® or attorneys involved in the transaction has their email hacked or spoofed with new wiring instructions sent in order to have the funds diverted to the hacker’s account. These emails look legitimate and are extremely convincing. Whenever receiving wiring instructions via email, you should personally speak with the intended recipient of the funds through an independently verified phone number (not the one included in the email) and confirm that the instructions are correct. IC3 received nearly 16,000 complaints of this nature in 2017.
Ransomware is another avenue hackers use to access to your sensitive information. With ransomware, a hacker gains access through a link in a phishing email or through remote desktop protocol. In order to regain access to your files, the hacker demands a ransom payment, usually in the form of virtual currency, such as Bitcoin. The FBI does not recommend paying a ransom in these scenarios as it serves to embolden the hacker and does not guarantee access to your files.
A scam that has become increasingly common over the last couple of years is tech support fraud. Here, the hacker claims to provide some sort of technical support to a customer and in doing so gains access to the user’s personal information contained on the computer. A variation of this happens when the hacker contacts the user to offer a refund on tech support services previously provided, and then “accidentally” refunds too much money. The user is then asked to return the overage. This refund and return process can occur multiple times, potentially resulting in thousands of dollars lost.
In 2017, Massachusetts residents lodged 5,221 complaints and suffered $39 million in losses due to cybercrime. Being a victim of cybercrime can be devastating for individuals and businesses. Many small businesses are unable to survive following a breach. Cybercrime is a very real threat, but short of digging a hole in your back yard, throwing your computer in, dousing it with gasoline, and lighting it on fire, there’s no foolproof way to protect yourself from cybercrime. However, by following the following tips, you can limit your risk of becoming a victim:
- Think before you click. Only click on trusted links from a trusted sender.
- Keep your operating system up to date.
- Check your social media settings. Do not have personally identifiable information, such as your birth date, viewable by the public.
- Use complex passwords and change them often. Do not use the same password for everything.
- Do not send personal information over email unless it is encrypted, and even then, sending this information via email should be a last resort. Consider using a document-sharing platform instead.
- Educate your clients and others involved in the transaction.
- Always independently voice verify wiring instructions.
- Contact your insurance provider for coverage relating to cybercrime.
In the event you do become a victim, you should immediately disconnect your computer and contact the FBI at (857) 386-2000. You should also contact your bank and any other individuals that may be impacted.
Learn more about IC3 via the 2017 Internet Crime report.
Catherine is the Associate Counsel for MAR and joined the professional staff in November 2017. In her previous life, Catherine owned her own law practice where she primarily handled estate planning and domestic relations matters, along with working as a Realtor® in her spare time. When she’s not working, you can find her spending time with her husband, two kids, her dog and two cats.