Losses from business email compromise (BEC) attacks targeting title companies, real estate firms and others are up 136% in just 18 months. Here’s what you need to know to avoid becoming the next victim

Real estate industry marketers seeking to grow revenues and boost market share are increasingly facing a threat that can decimate their competitive position: Business Email Compromise (BEC).

That’s right, email scams. Not the ridiculously bad spam of yesteryear, mind you.

We’re talking about sophisticated wire fraud schemes in which cybercriminals use advanced phishing attacks aimed at taking over your email accounts and then fooling your customers into forking over their down payments and more, destroying their finances—and your brand reputation—in the process.

BEC Real Estate Scam

In truth, BEC rackets are hitting every industry these days, with losses expected to top $9 billion this year. But according to the FBI, BEC attacks against companies involved with real estate transactions have soared by more than 1,100% in just the last three years. Losses? They’re up 2,200%.

Just in the last few weeks, reports surfaced about a BEC operation in which an email fraud ring succeeded in taking over the email accounts of an attorney involved with real estate closings before fooling a homebuyer into transferring $531,981 to an account secretly controlled by the thieves.

As galling as that sounds, it’s more common than you may think. Just ask Erin Wrona.

Money Pit

Wrona and her fiancé were recently defrauded out of $1.57 million they had set aside to pay for their five-bedroom, 2,300-square-foot dream house in full.

According to reports, they’d already put down a $200,000 deposit, so when they received an email asking them to proceed with wiring the remaining funds to their title company, it seemed legit. It wasn’t.

As it turns out, a cyber-thief had hacked into the title company’s servers and sent the couple an email asking them for the payment. By the time the heist was discovered, the money was long gone.

But what makes real estate so tempting?

Think large dollar amounts and parties who primarily transact through digital channels, sometimes having never met in person. It’s no wonder stories like these seem to crop up on a weekly basis.

Distressed Properties

The losses don’t stop with victimized homebuyers, either.

The business involved misses out on fees, and the resulting reputational damage can destroy a firm’s competitive standing in the marketplace.

Then there’s costly and embarrassing litigation to drag out the pain even longer. That couple who lost $1.57 million? They filed a lawsuit against the title company whose email was hacked—a sign of many such suits to come.

In an alert to the industry last May, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) advised firms throughout the transaction ecosystem to keep operating systems up to date; use complex passwords and change them on a regular basis; and avoid sending sensitive information via email when possible, among other measures.

Which let’s face it, is good digital hygiene and well worth the effort. But from all signs, it’s not enough to protect against this threat—or the repercussions it can have on affected brands.

Getting Your House in Order

The fact is, BEC and other advanced forms of email fraud may require a different approach.

After all, none of the tell-tale signs of phishing are present in these malicious emails—there’s no malware hidden in attachments, nothing in the email code to raise suspicion.

Instead, cyber-criminals exploit the relationship between contacts, pulling off their crimes simply by making the recipient believe they’re responding to someone they know and trust.

To short-circuit that kind of fraud and remain on track to execute on their business plans, many savvier brands are looking to AI-based technologies capable of detecting and disrupting BEC attacks before they can ever reach their target.

Among the solutions most likely to prove compelling: those with powerful data modeling and analytics capabilities and massive data sets sourced globally from billions of emails sent daily.

Organizations from all industries, sizes and geographies have plenty of incentive to take a close look. Losses from BEC swindles targeting real estate transactions alone could top $1 billion this year, up from just $19 million in 2016.

Which means more than a few marketers in this industry are about to learn that building the brand and closing more sales now means securing the email channel from advanced attacks that evade most existing email security controls.

To learn more about BEC and how advanced email security solutions can help protect your business from fraudsters, download an exclusive solution brief: How to Stop Identity-Based Email Attacks