Portrait of house for rent

Protect yourself, your listings and your clients from scammers

Due to your public visibility as a Realtor and the large financial transactions of your clients, your personal and business information is a magnet to scam artists, who can use you as a key to unlock the door to their victims.

Spear phishing is such a scam — emails that appear to be from a company or individual that a person knows or does business with, such as their Realtor.

Here’s how it works.

A hacker breaks into the Realtor’s computer or email account to gain access. The hackers then browse your data to identify who has or will likely make payments on real estate deals. Next, they compose a fake email using the Realtor’s name and email address, with a message that says the client needs to make a deposit — or a redeposit, due to an “error” of some kind. The unsuspecting client clicks on the enclosed hyper link that takes them directly — to the scammer’s own account!

Not until the trick has been uncovered, which could take days or weeks, does the Realtor and the clients fathom they’ve been duped. The client will likely never get their money back and the Realtor is left feeling like an accessory to the crime. Can you protect yourself?  Check the password security tips in last week’s NewsReal article: Gone Phishing.

Another scam that targets Realtors uses MLS® listings to lure their marks. The severe lack of rental housing in Metro Vancouver has created desperation for housing, and more opportunities for criminals like this one: a scam artist scours MLS® for property listings, and then uses photos and descriptions of the property for a fake rental ad on a classified site, such as Craigslist or Kijiji.

Home seekers respond to the ad which offers interested parties a monthly discount if they agree to pay several months rent prior to moving in. The scam artist brazenly demands deposits and rental payments from hopeful renters, before disappearing without a trace. By the time the would-be renters discover the dirty scheme, the scammer posing as an owner-landlord or manager has skinned them out of their hard-earned money and made you and your client mere pawns in their game.

In some instances these fake landlords break into the premises of listed properties to “show” the home to potential renters before they wrap up their rip-off and disappear.  (Imagine showing up at your seller’s home to find a dozen people lined up at the house, convinced they have a chance to secure a rental.)

Scams that involve your listing information are difficult to prevent.  As long as the competition for housing remains intense, there will continue to be fraud artists hovering in the shadows, ready to pounce on an opportunity to make some money.

Ensuring that a listing is securely locked and alarmed, and asking trusted neighbours to keep an eye out for suspicious activity are two ways to curb the physical invasions of a client’s property. Another measure worth taking is to regularly check classified sites that may contain your listing. Open up your browser and enter some of the listing information, such as neighbourhood, street address, or property description — to see if it appears anywhere that it shouldn’t be.  If you discover it, notify the website administrators and flag it for removal.  For Craigslist ads go here and for Kijiji go here.

Another scam that targets Realtors is a form of money laundering and tax evasion. The FVREB recently received a warning aboutoverseas clients” who ask Realtors to allow money deposits into their personal bank accounts so that the Realtor can arrange bank drafts to pay real estate sellers/developers for their property purchase. This is a way to skirt our region’s tax laws. Of course the problem is that the Realtor has aided and abetted in illegal transactions. Hiding funds and their source for large transactions violates federal income tax laws, FINTRAC laws and the Real Estate Services Act. The risks of participating in these kinds of schemes can be very high and costly (RECBC fines up to $250,000 or more; no Errors and Omissions coverage would apply.)

So it is absolutely vital that any exchange of funds you are involved in is legitimate, legal and ethical.  Realtors are advised to discuss such unusual deposit requests with their broker managers before taking any action.