The National Association of Realtors is offering a special message to homeowners about phishing, hacking, and wire fraud. These are all ways people attempt to steal from others online. As real-estate searches and transactions move more online, the chances of being caught up in a cyber-scam has become even greater.

By now, most people have heard of the Nigerian prince scams or phishing emails asking for social security or banking information, but many people don’t know that they need to watch out for possible scams when buying or selling their homes. Cybercrimes have become increasingly sophisticated over the years and the people perpetrating them focus on situations where a lot of money is changing hands, making real-estate transactions an ideal target.

The National Association of Realtors recently warned its members and consumers about one example, a wiring scam during the closing stage of the home buying and selling process. Hackers will break into the email accounts of consumers and real-estate professionals to get details about real-estate transactions. The hacker will then send an email pretending to be the buyer, seller, real-estate agent, or someone else involved in the closing process and say there has been a last-minute change and provide new wiring instructions; the instructions send the closing costs funds directly into the hacker’s bank account.

While it may seem like there are hundreds of ways for a criminal to take advantage of a consumer online, there are just as many ways consumers can protect themselves. Here are a few tips to help home buyers and sellers recognize and avoid real estate scams:

Don’t send sensitive information via email. Do not send banking information, your social security number, or anything else that could be used to comprise your identity over email. If you absolutely must send personal or sensitive information via email, only use encrypted email.

Don’t click on unverified email. If you do not recognize the name or email address of the sender, do not open the email. Beware of any attachments or downloadable files from unknown email addresses as they can contain viruses or provide a way for a hacker to access your computer.

Don’t use unsecured wi-fi. It may seem harmless to check banking information using the free wi-fi at your local coffee shop, but using an open connection can leave you vulnerable to hackers and scammers. Only access sensitive information on your home computer or on a secured network.

If you suspect fraud, tell someone. If you suspect that fraud has or is in the process of occurring, contact all parties to the transaction immediately.

Unfortunately, often there is nothing that can be done to retrieve money stolen in a scam. However, you should still report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/on-the-internet) or the Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams).

Please follow these suggestions when buying and selling your home and work with an experienced Realtor to help protect you during any real-estate transaction.

Paco Arguello is chief executive of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors. Contact him at 982-8385 or paco@sfar.com.



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