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Friday Oct 23, 2020

Chas Everitt tackling cybercrime in real estate

According to Interpol, there has been a really alarming increase in cybercrime* since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, with criminals taking advantage of the weaknesses in corporate and government security protocols that have arisen due to the rapid and massive increases in the numbers of employees suddenly having to work remotely on less-secure home computers and wi-fi networks.
And the real estate industry has not escaped unscathed, says Berry Everitt, CEO of the Chas Everitt International property group, which has recently spent more than R300 000 to implement new digital signature security measures to help protect its customers and business partners from online fraud.
The first of these measures is a WhatsApp link that enables the person receiving an email from a Chas Everitt agent to immediately check the legitimacy of the email, and its digital signature, via a separate, encrypted digital platform. "This means, for example, that if you receive an email from us regarding your transaction, you can immediately WhatsApp the agent with a request for them to call you and confirm that the email did indeed come from them, and that the contents are correct. We will of course also never send you an email asking for payment or requesting you to pay money into someone else's bank account, and will also never ask you for any passwords, PINs or OTP numbers.
"Meanwhile, Interpol also expects cybercrime to continue to increase in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we want to all our stakeholders and customers to become more cautious of the dangers, so our second new feature is a scrolling ‘flag' beneath the digital signature that continuously presents useful reminders of what recipients can do to avoid becoming victims of cybercrime.”  
He says the real estate value chain is unfortunately an obvious target for cybercriminals all over the world, due to the fact that it always has multiple parties interacting with each other to complete a transaction, and thus offers a much greater possibility of there being a weak point that is easily exploited than a process controlled by one company on one digital network.

"Real estate transactions also often involve the transfer of relatively large sums of money – from buyers to attorneys, for example, or from banks to attorneys, and attorneys to estate agencies. Being able to siphon this cash off to a dummy account at any stage of the transaction is thus likely to prove quite lucrative for cybercriminals – and we are aware that there have already been a few cases of this happening in South Africa.”
Chas Everitt International is recognized as the most technologically advanced of SA's large real estate groups, and it already had a complete digital business eco-system in place and many of its agents and managers working remotely prior to lockdown. The rest of its staff and agents were then rapidly transitioned to the new model, and this was a major factor in enabling them to continue to interact with customers and achieve sales even when everyone was confined to their homes.
"Fortunately” says Everitt, "in building our eco-system we have always been aware that a dispersed network which our staff, agents and managers can plug into via any number of computers, laptops and smartphones is potentially more vulnerable to cybercrime than a closed corporate system, and we had already also built in very robust security protocols.
"However, lockdown presented us with a new challenge; the fact that many of the other people and companies we need to interact with to facilitate a property sale were suddenly also having to work remotely – without having had the chance to really think about their cybersecurity. This magnified the risk of a breach somewhere along the value chain – and of financial loss to our customers – which we are now mitigating with the new security features on our digital signatures.
"We are also working closely with all our business associates including banks, bond originators and attorneys, to ensure that we all co-ordinate our cybersecurity efforts and make the value chain as watertight as possible.”
22 October 2020
Issued by Chas Everitt International
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