spam

Local REALTOR® Leader Has Been Dealing With a Nightmare Email Scam for a Year

 

Photo credit: Morguefile/Yoel

Photo credit: Morguefile/Yoel

Wire fraud schemes have been a hot topic in the real estate industry lately. But one real estate pro says she’s been caught up in a different kind of nightmarish scam — one that victims can do virtually nothing to prevent.

Sue Dietz, CRS, a sales associate with RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Dubuque, Iowa, who also served as president of the East Central Iowa Association of REALTORS® in 2016, says scammers have used her identity to create fake email addresses in her name and then sent fraudulent emails offering referrals to other real estate agents. The emails also contained fake contact information for Dietz. Recipients who responded to the email were sent a Google Drive link that they were told contained listings the referred client wanted to see. However, the link, once opened, installs computer viruses that allow scammers to scrape passwords and other personal information.

The initial fraudulent email typically reads:

“Hi,

My name is Sue Dietz a realtor with RE/MAX ADVANTAGE REALTY in Dubuque IA, I have a client who is interested in buying a property in your area of expert, Please let me know if you’re available to help them out and I will send their contact details and the listings they are interested in.

Best

Sue”

People who receive this email are encouraged to report it as spam or a phishing attempt. The hope is that if enough people take such action, the IP address of the sender will be blocked.

Since February 2016, when the scam apparently started, nearly 4,000 practitioners nationwide — from all 50 states and Canada — who received the emails have contacted Dietz to either confirm the referral or warn her of the scam. “I’ve gotten calls at the office, on my cell phone, texts, and emails at all hours of the day and night,” she says. “There was one day I had over 100 pieces of correspondence just about these emails.”

Last year, Dietz received a threatening email from an anonymous sender accusing her of trying to steal their money, she says. She has tried to get the word out about the scam by asking every agent who contacts her about the emails to alert their local associations. She has also included a warning in her personal and business voicemail messages and on her website bio.

Dietz also recently received a fraudulent email in the name of another real estate agent, so she’s not the only one whose identity is being used in this way.

“Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible on the front end to prevent a fraudster from using your name in a scam,” says Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel for the National Association of REALTORS®. “If you are the victim of any kind of identity theft, the best course of action is to immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, and your local authorities.” She cautions that recipients of suspicious emails appearing to come from another real estate professional should search that practitioner’s name on Google to compare their business email address and contact information to that of the sender.

“I think most people respond to the emails and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll take your referral,’” Dietz says. “All they need to do is Google me — my website is the number one result when you search my name — and they’d see I wasn’t the one who sent the email.”

If you want to keep your email more secure, Edgerton offers the following tips:

  • Check your sent mail, junk mail, and email account settings regularly for anomalies. Hackers often break into an email account and modify the “email forwarding” settings to forward emails to their own account.
  • Regularly purge your email of unneeded or outdated information. Save any important emails securely.
  • Avoid email as a method for sending sensitive or confidential information. Instead, consider using a secure document sharing or transaction management platform.
  • Use strong passwords that incorporate a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Use two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication.
  • Avoid using unsecured or public Wi-Fi.

Graham Wood

Graham Wood is a senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at gwood@realtors.org.

More Posts - Twitter

Comments
  1. Although we like to think we live in a safe world, there are those set out to inflict harm to even the most kind people. As they say “knowledge is power”. Take the time to read up on how email and computer processes work and how to protect yourself against fraud.

  2. I regularly – if not daily – every other day – some times 2 x a day – get an e-mail inquiring about a listing. Typically it happens to be one that is 450 acres and listed for $8,750,000. They ask me to send them information. I respond with a PDF flyer about the property. Then I get an e-mail back with either a document attached or a link to click on to see their criteria to move forward. Due to suspicions I refuse to open their document or click on their link. One day I got the e-mail asking about that piece of land and later that day I got the same e-mail from same address asking about a $1,250 per month rental. Go figure. They can’t keep it straight. Sometimes I get the same e-mail 2 x from the same sender. The language in the e-mail is enough off kilter to suspect it is not from someone with reasonable intelligence here in the US. Got to be careful out there.

  3. Dan

    By what method do you recommend to “save email securely’?

    Thank you.

  4. Jessica Edgerton

    Hi Dan –
    In response to your question regarding the best way to save email securely: There are various options for secure email archiving – using a secure third-party cloud storage vendor, setting up a secure storage system within your current IT system, or even using a secured external hard drive back-up. Your best choice will depend on your particular business needs, budget, and risk profile. I would recommend consulting with an IT person to determine the best system for your needs.

ADD YOUR COMMENT