When your mouse is not your friend.
(Well, not this kind of mouse.)
Do not “click”, do not respond, do not trust…be paranoid. Seriously. Cyber fraud is big news these days. Unfortunately, it’s everywhere and we’re direct targets. Now that most transactions of any sort are taking place on the internet and through email, it’s crucial to be able to protect yourself against fraud and scams. You don’t necessarily have to be paranoid, but maintaining a skepticism on the back burner of your brain is a good thing. And now is a good time to train your finger to restrain your mouse.
Though there are a number of ways a scammer can scam, email tends to be one of the easiest targets because we get so many emails and because so many of us use email. It was an article in RISMedia e-news, “Transacting Business in the Age of Wire Fraud”, that sparked this post’s topic. Recently and increasingly, real estate and other business transactions are at risk of fraud through business email compromise, BEC, or “phishing”. As we watch news articles unfold about hackers getting into political campaigns, credit companies’ databases, and even social sites like Facebook, we might overlook that BEC is the fastest growing international crime, as sited by the FBI. Getting caught by an email scammer is as simple as the click of a mouse or finger on the touchpad and can happen to even the most savvy computer whizzes.
So how can we minimize the danger? There are a few really solid things a person can implement to boost protection and one of the most important of these– and perhaps most difficult –is mental. Simply don’t automatically trust anything that comes into your email. An email that might look so innocent could actually be the worst nightmare you can face. Unfortunately this is counter to the way people function. We don’t want to be rude or be distrustful. We want to be helpful and want to follow the directions. That’s exactly what the cyberthief is preying on. So you have train yourself to be suspicious of all emails, even one that looks like it’s from a friend. Below are links to specific actions you can take, but the baselines you must follow is: DO NOT EVER provide personal and financial information through email. Legitimate companies won’t ask you to. The IRS won’t ask you to. Your bank won’t ask you to. So just don’t. If it looks strange, don’t open it. If it comes from what looks to be an institution you deal with but the grammar is off or the address just doesn’t look right, then go with your gut. If you don’t really feel comfortable clicking a link, then don’t. For example, I got an email from a former client that looked something like this:
From: James Client RE: http://do.notclickthis.fake.link.com
My suspicion was raised for a few reasons. The supposed sender was a former client that I hadn’t talked with in a long while; the text began with “RE:” as if it was responding to something I’d sent; also it didn’t makes sense that he didn’t begin with something like, Got A Real Estate Question, which fits his and my relationship. It just didn’t look right and I didn’t click it. “Not clicking” is another mental challenge like the like the desire to be trusting. Those of us who really gotta know what something says have to just get over it!
To make sure you don’t feel like a jerk to the person who sent the email, call them or write them a separate email and ask if they sent it. Very easy. Not only will you not offend them, but you might have saved them some headache if they find out their account has been hacked. If it’s business and you’re worried that you should respond, again just call. Do you think that’s a strange note from your doctor? Don’t click the link, just call. As a real estate professional, I can state unequivocally that you should never follow wiring instructions through an email without confirming the email’s legitimacy. People have lost 100’s of thousands of dollars wiring the cash to purchase their new home to what they thought was the right location but actually was a cyberthief. When that happens, 100’s of thousands of dollars are gone and cannot be retrieved. Gone. No new house. The possibility of this happening far outweighs the possibility that you’ve offended someone.
Take a look at the sites below and get to know the things you should look out for. And at the very least, Do not “click”, do not respond, do not trust…be paranoid. DO NOT OPEN!
Phishing: the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.
Link: the underlined usually bolded and colored data string that when clicked takes you to another location on the web, the two links below are examples.
Site security: different programs that can boost protection against phishing
Cyber: relating to or characteristic of the culture of computers and information technology and virtual reality. Otherwise known as “all that stuff out there in space” (my personal definition).
Hacker: one who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data.