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Urgent Alert: Sophisticated Email Scams Targeting the Real Estate Industry16 Dec

Criminals are hacking into the email accounts of real estate agents or other persons involved in a real estate transaction and using information gained from the hack to dupe a party into a fraudulent wire transfer. The hackers often send an email that appears to be from an individual legitimately involved in the transaction, informing the recipient, often the buyer, that there has been a last minute change to the wiring instructions.  Following the new instructions, the recipient will wire funds directly to the hacker’s account, which will be cleared out in a matter of minutes. The money is almost always lost forever.

In the next two weeks, real estate professionals will be contending with high transactional volumes during year-end closings. This is a busy and hectic time for real estate professionals, and many millions of dollars will be sent and received via wire before the end of the year. This is exactly the environment in which online criminals seek to operate.

The National Association of REALTORS® urges its members and state and local REALTOR® associations to be on high alert for email and online fraud.

In May 2015, NAR issued an alert regarding a sophisticated email wire fraud hitting the real estate industry.  Since then, the incidents of online scams targeting practitioners have continued to rise but the advice is the same.

Bottom line: Do not let your guard down.  Start from the assumption that any email in your in-box could be a targeted attack from a criminal.

Prevention

Follow this guidance to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Immediately contact all parties to all of your upcoming transactions and inform them of the possibility of this fraud.  Attorneys, escrow agents, buyers, sellers, real estate agents, and title agents have all been targeted in these scams.  You can also download and distribute NAR’s online fraud prevention handout, accessible here.
  • If possible, do not send sensitive information via email.  If you must use email to send sensitive information, use encrypted email.
  • Immediately prior to wiring any money, the person sending the money must call the intended recipient to verify the wiring instructions.  Only use a verified telephone number to make this call.
  • Do not trust contact information in unverified emails.  The hackers will recreate legitimate-looking signature blocks with their own telephone number.   In addition, fraudsters will include links to fake websites to further convince victims of their legitimacy.
  • Never click on any links in an unverified email.  In addition to leading you to fake websites, these links can contain viruses and other malicious spyware that can make your computer – and your transactions – vulnerable to attack.
  • Never conduct business over unsecured wifi.
  • Trust your instincts.  Tell clients that if an e-mail or a telephone call ever seems suspicious or “off,” that they should refrain from taking any action until the communication has been independently verified as legitimate.
  • Clean out your e-mail account on a regular basis. Your e-mails may establish patterns in your business practice over time that hackers can use against you. In addition, a longstanding backlog of e-mails may contain sensitive information from months or years past. You can always save important e-mails in a secure location on your internal system or hard drive.
  • Change your usernames and passwords on a regular basis, and make sure your employees and licensees do the same.
  • Never use usernames or passwords that are easy to guess. Never, ever use the password “password.”
  • Make sure to implement the most up-to-date firewall and anti-virus technologies in your business.

Damage Control

If you believe your e-mail or any other account has been hacked, or that you or a client has otherwise been a victim of online fraud, you should take the following steps:

  • If money has been wired via false wiring instructions, immediately call all banks and financial institutions that could possibly put a stop to the wire.
  • Contact your local police.
  • Contact any clients or other parties who may have been exposed during the attack so that they take appropriate action. Remind them not to comply with any requests from an unverified source.
  • Change all usernames and passwords associated with any account that you believe may have been compromised or otherwise made vulnerable by the attack.
  • Report any fraudulent activity to the Federal Bureau of Investigations via their Internet Crime Complaint Center. More information can be found by clicking here.
  • Brokers should report any fraudulent activity to their state or local REALTOR® association so that the associations can send out alerts or take other appropriate action, including contacting NAR.

This advice is not all-inclusive, and real estate practitioners should work with Information Technology and cybersecurity professionals to ensure that their e-mail accounts, online systems, and business practices are as secure and up-to-date as possible.

Be aware that these emails are extremely convincing.  Many sophisticated parties have been duped. No one should assume that they are “too savvy” to recognize the fraud.  In addition, no one should assume that they are “too small a target” to be on these criminals’ radars. This fraud is pervasive, convincing, and constantly evolving.

For more information on this and other cyberscams, as well as further information on cybersecurity best practices, visit these resources:

http://speakingofrealestate.blogs.realtor.org/2015/05/19/alert-wire-fraudsters-targeting-real-estate-transactions/
http://www.realtor.org/law-and-ethics/protecting-your-business-and-your-clients-from-cyberfraud
http://www.realtor.org/articles/request-to-redirect-funds-should-trigger-caution
http://www.realtor.org/topics/data-privacy-and-security
http://www.realtor.org/topics/risk-management
http://www.realtor.org/articles/internet-security-best-practices
http://www.realtor.org/topics/realtor-safety/articles

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2017 NAR Committee Recommendations

Are you or someone you know interested in serving on an NAR committee in 2017?   

The online Committee Recommendation Form on REALTOR.org will be accepting recommendations beginning on March 7th!  (Instruction documents will be available on March 1st.)  Please read the following important information regarding the Committee Recommendation Process:

Re-appointment to Committees & Continuing Terms

Committee members are NOT automatically considered for reappointmentA member currently serving on a committee, whose term expires in 2016 MUST submit a recommendation via the Online Committee Recommendation Form if he/she would like to be considered for service in 2017. 

Members who have a continuing term that expires in 2017 or 2018 do not need to submit a recommendation to remain on the committee; they will remain until the term expires.

Process for 2017 Committee Recommendation Process

The deadline for submitting committee recommendations is May 23, 2016.  All recommendations must be submitted via the online form.

Using the form, you can recommend yourself or another suitable candidate.   When submitting a recommendation you are required to include relevant comments that highlight the candidate’s skills and qualifications for the position.  All comments are confidential.

We encourage you to seek recommendations from colleagues with whom you have worked closely, in particular members of state and national leadership.

Follow these steps to access the Committee Recommendation Home Page:

1. Log-on to REALTOR.org
2. Click the “About NAR” tab at the top of the page
3. Click “Governance” in the right hand side of the page
4. Click “Committees” in the right hand side of the page
5. Click “Committee Selection Process” in the right hand side of the page
6. Click “Enter and view your committee recommendations” in the center of the page

The link below may also be used to access the recommendation form directly on REALTOR.org. http://gms.realtor.org/comrecords.nsf/comselMbrhome?readform

Things to Consider when Submitting Recommendations

Please review the committee structure, which lists each committee’s purpose statement, composition (how many members), length of term, and specific qualifications for consideration to see what committee you would best serve.  Please note that if appointed to a committee you will be expected to attend all of its meetings and serve the full length of the term.  Furthermore, please note that forums are open to all members; so recommendations need not be submitted for forums unless you are seeking the position of chair or vice chair.

The committee structure* can be found by clicking “View Committee Information” on the committee recommendation homepage (link provided above).

*Note: The content is from the current (2016) committee structure.  The 2017 committee structure will be approved at the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in May, 2016.

Expertise Profiles

NAR’s Expertise Profile Database was designed to provide all levels of the REALTOR® family (including the Local, State and National Associations) with key information about you and your professional experience. The information that you will provide in this profile will be used as a resource in a variety of ways, including identification of members with certain expertise to serve on committees, working groups, presidential advisory groups; also, to respond to surveys about association issues, products, services etc.  

Individuals interested in serving on NAR’s committees are encouraged to create and/or update their expertise profiles.  However, they are not required. Please note:  Completing an expertise profile is NOT the same as submitting a recommendation for yourself!  If you wish to serve on a committee you still must submit a recommendation via the online Committee Recommendation Form on REALTOR.org.

To access the Expertise Profile page*:
Click “Enter Your Expertise Profile” on the committee recommendations homepage (http://gms.realtor.org/comrecords.nsf/comselMbrhome?readform)

Turn to REALTOR.org for the Latest Information

Use of electronic mail and the NAR Governance page on REALTOR.org serves as the vehicle for promoting and publicizing information related to the Committee Recommendation/Selection process.  Therefore it is imperative that you adjust your email spam filter settings so that you receive important emails from NAR.

NAR Governance Home Page*:

http://www.realtor.org/user/login?destination=/governance

Committees Home Page*:

http://www.realtor.org/governance/committees

*Members need to have a REALTOR.org login and password to access these pages.  Contact Information Central at (800) 874-6500; InfoCentral@realtors.org for login and password assistance.

Contact Information

Alaska Association of REALTORS®
4205 Minnesota Drive
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

Phone (907) 563-7133
FAX (907) 561-1779
Toll-Free (800) 478-3763

joinus@alaskarealtors.com