The real estate industry has entered unchartered territory in recent weeks. Consumers, employees, and referral partners are being encouraged by the U.S. Center for Disease Control to implement social distancing measures to limit the potential exposure to the coronavirus.
This comes at a historically busy time for the title and settlement industry that has seen a spike in transaction volume due to low-interest rates. As if that was not enough, an entirely new challenge developed almost overnight – the need to work from home to help flatten the curve so that hospitals and med centers are not overwhelmed with people in need of treatment.
Faced with an unprecedented combination of these issues, the industry must find ways to accommodate employees while meeting the needs of its employees and clients without compromising human safety or exposing transactional parties to unnecessary risk. Directionally, this means safely and securely closing real estate transactions while limiting in-person interactions.
Unfortunately, fraudsters see these times of change as an opportunity to wreak havoc. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has already reported a rise in fraudulent activity that is likely to continue on a global scale in the coming weeks. While employees work from home under the stress of this crisis, they are at their most vulnerable.
We have previously provided recommendations before for how to safeguard your company from fraud but here is an abbreviated action plan to meet the needs of today’s environment.
Before sending an employee home with a company device or allowing them to connect remotely from a home computer, here are the top things we suggest you do to stay connected in a secure way:
- Use two-factor authentication. Usernames and passwords aren’t enough, especially in a more risky work from home situation. Accounts that use two-factor authentication (2FA) require an extra piece of information on top of a username and password to log in. Types of 2FA include:
- A code sent to an app on the user’s phone.
- Virtual private networks that are tethered to each company device.
- An SMS message with a code sent to your phone whenever you try to log on.
- Use strong spam filters. Preventing phishing emails from being seen is the best way to stop employees from falling for them. In a work from home environment, this is more important than ever. A strong email filter is one of the best ways to do this. Products like Mimecast and Spam Bully provide solutions that block and filter phishing emails.
- Empower your employees. Remind your employees that it’s better to take things slow and to get them right than to make a mistake that puts everyone at risk. Double-check that emails are coming from trusted parties and take a deep breath when things get hectic. I’d also recommend having a daily or weekly huddle with your team over video conferencing to keep employees engaged. Spend some time discussing the importance of good digital hygiene and how to stay safe from potential attacks.
- Always verify the person you’re doing business with. Wire fraud can only occur when there is a lack of proper identity verification at critical points in a transaction. The success rate of wire fraud scams increases when attackers can interfere and manipulate the trusted relationship between two parties. This risk becomes even worse during a time of “social distancing,” where more communication is happening digitally. If identities are properly confirmed, that trust can never be breached. Some things you can do to help verify information include:
- Gather and share contact information early in the transaction cycle.
- Have a secure process for sending and receiving wire transfers.
- Educate customers and staff about what a scam looks like.
- Authenticate wiring details and identities through solutions like CertifID.
No matter what your role or responsibility, it’s our collective duty to do whatever we can to help protect the safe transfer of our customer’s funds. Humans are the weakest link in every transaction, so please take the appropriate steps to help strengthen your security.
We understand that these are unprecedented times, and we want to help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or would like to discuss what we can do together to protect and prosper in 2020.
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