March 2021

Cybersecurity for your business starts with you

In contrast to industries like medicine and finance, where information security mandates guide safety measures, the real estate profession has no such formal safeguards. As a result, real estate's computer systems are generally more vulnerable to cyberattack.Footnote1

Additionally, real estate is a prime target for cybercriminals due to the frequency of financial transactions, the large number of participants involved and the availability of substantial amounts of data.Footnote2

So, whether you're part of an agency or working alone, by increasing your awareness and taking preventive measures, you can begin to protect your business right now.

Be on the lookout for these types of cyberattacks

Business Email Compromise. With this category of fraud, the goal is to mislead a business into wiring money to an alternate bank account rather than to a legitimate colleague. This is accomplished by spoofing a business associate's email address and substituting the hacker's bank account number.Footnote1 Footnote3

Ransomware. This is an attempt to install malicious software onto an email recipient's computer or network by deceiving them into clicking on an enclosed link that encrypts and disables access to data until they pay a ransom.Footnote4

Spyware. This type of malware is also initiated by clicking on a bogus email link, but with the intent of surveilling the target's real estate activity. By installing spyware, this may lead to scrutinizing, stealing or even wiping out data, correspondence, transactions and banking credentials.Footnote4

Mortgage Closing Wire Scam: In this deception, your client receives a counterfeit email — allegedly from you, their attorney or other trusted advisor — with closing details and instructions for wiring the down payment. Once the wire transfer is complete, the cybercriminal disappears with the cash.Footnote4

Protecting your interests and those of your clients

You don't need to be an IT specialist to help protect your real estate business and your clients from cyberattack. By maintaining vigilance and employing the following tactics, you can reduce the risks dramatically.

Verify email details. As a rule, don't trust bank account numbers, links, phone numbers and attachments contained in emails if they're different from what you have in your records. Follow up with your associate — but with contact info you already had — to verify they sent the email and that the updated information is correct.Footnote3

Carefully examine email addresses, URLs and spelling used in any correspondence. Scammers use slight differences to trick you and gain your trust. For example, could be substituted for

Install IT-based security. If you haven't done so, install antivirus software and a firewall, and always keep them active and up to date.Footnote5

Purchase cyber liability insurance. Yes, this type of insurance does exist! But do your homework to be sure your policy provides comprehensive coverage.Footnote1

Back up your data. In addition to cloud backup, use an external hard drive or USB stick that's not connected to the internet to ensure your data is safe.Footnote4

Provide a Wire Fraud Email Notice on your email signature line. See the National Association of Realtors' version listed in the footnote below.Footnote6

I'm here for you

Please feel free to contact me anytime you or your clients have questions about home financing. And rest assured, at Bank of America, we take cybersecurity very seriously visit: Bank of America Security Center to learn more.

1 "Top Five Cybersecurity Threats to Real Estate Businesses," National Real Estate Investor®, Gregory Stein, September 15, 2017.

2 "Real — Estate Cyber Security Threats and Strategy for Risk Management," Medium, Soniya Das, September, 23 2019.

3 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Scams and Safety, Business Email Compromise, December 2020.

4 "The Top Cyber Security Threats to Real Estate Companies," Finextra, Robert Siciliano, February 12, 2019.

5 "Cybersecurity Checklist: Best Practices for Real Estate Professionals," National Association of Realtors®, 2020.

6 Wire Fraud Email Notice Template, National Association of Realtors®, 2020.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Never trust wiring instructions sent via email. Cybercriminals are hacking email accounts and sending emails with fake wiring instructions. These emails are convincing and sophisticated. Always independently confirm wiring instructions in person or via a telephone call to a trusted and verified phone number. Never wire money without double-checking that the wiring instructions are correct.

MAP3439797 | 02/2021

More from this month's issue