FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Sohn warns about a growing threat to real estate pros.
Real estate transactions are an easy mark for cyber thieves, and cyber crimes emerged as a recurring theme at the 5th annual Real Estate REvive Conference & Expo last week at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center in Rancho Cucamonga.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Sohn, a leader with the Los Angeles task force on cyber crimes, agreed to speak at the conference to get the word out to real estate professionals, a favorite target of cyber criminals.
“My purpose here today is to help educate the real estate agent and the real estate industry on the growing cyber crime that’s affecting the home buyer, the escrow companies and the real estate agents,” said Sohn before taking the stage.
The REvive conference, a sell-out for the third year in a row, opened with a packed house at the vendor expo in Celebration Hall. The informative morning sessions in the state-of-the-art Lewis Family Playhouse included an encouraging economic forecast for a “bullish” Inland Empire market from Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Association of REALTORS®. Following that was a hilarious take on better technology practices for REALTORS® by broker and seasoned motivational speaker Terry Watson.
Watson offered tips such as the three things every agent should have on their web site or social media page–photos, articles and video. In most editions of CVAR At A Glance, you will find articles to share, two in this issue are specifically labeled “Client Tips.”
The afternoon kicked off with nationally-known political analyst Donna Brazile, who experienced the impact of cyber crimes first-hand, as a strategist with the Democratic National Committee. The hacked emails “caused a lot of controversy,” she said, and are still the subject of a federal investigation about “foreign meddling into our elections.”
Next came the FBI’s Michael Sohn, whose LA task force is working diligently to stop the theft of funds involved in routine real estate transactions.
“Most of all the crimes that we’re seeing is when the real estate agent or the escrow company will receive phishing email. They will click on a link, which gives the hackers access into their email. At that point, once they have access into the email, [the hacker] can see when they are closing the home or when they are selling the home, and they trick the home buyer into wiring the money into a fraudulent bank account.”
Sohn offered some optimism, stating that “our task force recovered $32 million in 2016 back to the home buyers.”
“This is why we’re doing this outreach, this is why we’re doing the training,” he added, “because the best protection is to do prevention vs. reaction.”
The finale to REvive included an all-star legal panel that included June Barlow, senior counsel for the California Association of REALTORS®; Ed Zorn, chief counsel for California Multiple Listing Service, and Kelly Neavel, an experienced litigator for the Giardinelli Law Group, along with moderator Ed Estes, an attorney, real estate broker and professor.
“Cyber security is a really big deal,” says June Barlow. “It becomes a legal issue, and we want to make sure it doesn’t.”
But the panel also talked about issues raised by audience questions. Barlow reminded C.A.R. members that the Legal Hotline is a free member benefit.
“We do about 96,000 calls a year, with about 30,000 unique users,” she says. “We would love to see anybody who has a transactional problem, call us and make sure they prevent a problem. It’s so much better than litigating it afterward.”
The 5th annual Real Estate REvive Conference & Expo was presented by 11 Southern California real estate associations, including Aradia, Beverly Hills/LA, Citrus Valley, Downey, East Valley, High Desert, Inland Valleys, Inland Gateways, Orange County, Southwest Riverside County, and West San Gabriel Valley.
The conference, which attracts some of the top names in the California real estate industry, offers exceptional networking opportunities and access to dozens of local resources, will return to Victoria Gardens next year on March 29, 2018.
—Laurie K. Schenden, CVAR Communications & Marketing Manager