The Prince of Nigeria Has a Bridge to Sell You
In the digital age, particularly amid a work-from-home boom, agent safety extends far beyond simply staying aware of your surroundings or even wearable safety technology. Today, real estate professionals must also be aware of digital dangers.
From sophisticated hack jobs to high-tech identity theft, understanding and utilizing a few simple online safety tips can mean the difference between work as usual and a devastating personal disaster.
Set Strong Passwords
While many professionals may know that ‘password123’ doesn’t quite cut it anymore, there are still some blind spots when it comes to creating strong, effective passwords.
Don’t believe us? As of September 2021, more than 23.5 million online users have been exposed for using the passcode ‘123456’, which takes less than a second to crack, to access everything from their email inbox to their bank accounts. And they’re in good company! The other most common weak passwords include:
Guilty of subscribing to any of the above? If so, high tail it to all of your usual websites and immediately make some changes.
To best protect yourself, you’ll want to refrain from using common, simple, or easy-to-guess passwords. That means no birth month or pet names! Aim for at least eight characters and a healthy mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and even symbols.
Once you’ve developed the perfect password, however, you’re not done. You should change your passwords at least once every two to three months and create a different one for each site you visit. While that may seem daunting, a quick password change a few times a year could save you substantial time, energy, and heartache down the road.
If you have trouble remembering your newest amalgamation of letters, numbers, and symbols, consider investing in a password management system. These sites function as “encrypted vaults,” storing and protecting all of your unique passwords. Much more effective than that old sticky note… You know the one!
Put Your PC on Defense
Once your passwords are up to par, you may also want to arm your devices. Start by ensuring all your software is up to date, and consider implementing automatic updates moving forward. The newest versions of operating systems, apps, and web browsers often include important security stop-keeps, which you certainly won’t want to miss.
You can also speak with a technology specialist about recommended security measures. They may prescribe various antivirus, antispam, or antispyware software brands depending on your machine and activity.
“The computers we use must always be kept up to date,” said Garry Marsoubian, director of Data Center Services at MRIS and a frequent safety speaker at NAR-sponsored events. “The operating system should be set to automatically update every month, installed malware protection software should be automatically updated daily, and all programs should be updated whenever we are alerted that there is such an update.”
Be Wary When Out and About
While your morning Starbucks might save the day, their public WiFi network probably won’t. In fact, public internet networks can actually invite hackers directly into your devices or allow them to distribute malware to your machine.
“Often it is tempting to take advantage of free wireless networks found in public places,” reads NAR’s Internet Security Best Practices. “However, when considering the use of an unsecured wireless network, you should always ask yourself, ‘Is a few minutes of free and unfettered fun worth the risk of losing control over my identity and computer/mobile devices?’”
When working in public, you’ll want to opt for the most secure WiFi network available, even if it comes with a charge. More secure networks offer password protection and encryption, so your browsing sessions will actually be protected. Trust us, that small payment will be well worth it.
If you want to take your security up a notch, you can also consider utilizing a virtual private network, or VPN. VPNs create private networks via public internet connections, providing you with complete anonymity. For safer public browsing sessions, speak with a technology professional to determine which VPN service might be right for you.
Leave Tech Under Lock and Key
If you leave your desk, whether for the weekend or a coffee break, be sure to secure your devices. Real estate agents are known to work remotely, on the road, and from office spaces alike. That’s a lot of opportunities to lose a laptop.
Make a habit of locking your devices in a drawer, sealing off your office as a whole, or otherwise safeguarding your technology whenever you leave the room. That goes double for coffee shop work sessions.
In addition to physically locking up your belongings, consider implementing two-factor authentication (2FA). This method of protection requires an additional step upon login, ensuring the user is who they say they are and cutting down on crime.
Strong 2FA should marry two of the following:
One thing you have (an automated code sent to your phone, a badge, etc.)
One thing you know (a password, a PIN, etc.)
One thing you are (a fingerprint, an iris scan, etc.)
While the third category might apply more to James Bond than the average real estate brokerage, the first two are safe bets for most users!
Go With Your Gut
Perhaps most importantly, remember to be mindful whenever working online. “We’ve all received at least one email from a Nigerian Prince, looking for assistance in a lucrative investment opportunity, or perhaps a ‘Look at this funny video of you’ message from a friend on a social media site,” said NAR. “Flattering as such messages may feel, by now we know they are scams.”
Some basic internet awareness tips that are often overlooked include:
- Never share any personal or sensitive information
- Never download attachments or open links from unfamiliar sources
- Confirm with the sender, even if you know them, that links and attachments are legitimate
- Double-check for an ‘HTTPS in all web addresses (the ‘s’ stands for secure) or a closed padlock in the address bar
- Avoid clicking links in pop-up ads
- Hover your mouse over all links to ensure that the URL you’re being directed to is correct
- Pay attention to urgent messages, grammatical and spelling mistakes, and suspicious offers or requests
When something feels amiss, it often is! It can never hurt to do your due diligence before clicking.
In today’s real estate landscape, agents must prioritize both their digital and physical safety. Technological advances in homebuying, the work-from-home boom, and the average agent’s variable schedule all open real estate professionals up to some serious digital dangers.
By setting strong passwords, implementing defensive measures, staying aware when out and about, locking up tech, and going with your gut, however, you can help best even the most high-tech hackers.
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