Are you unwittingly helping hackers scam your clients?

More and more real estate professionals are reporting that their clients are finding themselves victims of hacking and identity theft, thanks to real estate transactions. Hackers have discovered that breaking into a single real estate professional’s email account yields a treasure trove of contact information for people who are willing to divulge personal information and even wire money if it appears to be at the real estate professional’s request. As you can imagine, this wreaks havoc not only on the people who wire money, which is nearly impossible to recover in most cases, but also on real estate investors’, agents’ and other professionals’ reputations.

With the recent Yahoo security breach compromising more than 1 billion email accounts, real estate pros should be on alert more than ever before. Many are opting to include verbiage in their online email signatures warning clients to be careful of suspicious messages during transactions or requesting additional verification steps before money or personal information changes hands.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) associate counsel, Jessica Edgerton, took this a step further and recommended in a recent wire fraud alert announcement that practitioners adopt a two-step authentication process for accessing their accounts. Usually these processes require the entry of an additional, randomly generated code or password that is sent to a cell phone after the initial login.

Some professionals actually use an informal version of the two-step login for their business transactions as well, confirming that certain emails were sent via text message or phone call to verify to buyers and sellers that correspondence is legitimate. You can also use secure technology like DocuSign or ZipLogix to share and sign documents.

In general, however, email simply should not be used to convey sensitive information. Edgerton said, “We are dealing with international crime syndicates who are highly organized and highly professional.” She added, “It we aren’t careful, they are going to keep the upper hand.”

You can get more of Carole VanSickle Ellis’ coverage of this topic and others online at

About the Author

Carole VanSickle Ellis is the host of Real Estate Investing Today, a daily nine-minute investing podcast, and the editor of the Bryan Ellis Investing Letter. Contact her at

  • Carole VanSickle Ellis

    Carole VanSickle Ellis serves as the news editor and COO of Self-Directed Investor (SDI) Society, a membership organization dedicated to the needs of self-directed investors interested in alternative investment vehicles, including real estate. Learn more at or reach Carole directly by emailing

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