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Real Estate Companies A Top Target For Email Fraud

Real estate companies experienced a significant number of cybersecurity attacks this quarter, specifically email fraud attacks, according to new research by Proofpoint, a California-based cybersecurity specialist. More, in fact, than nearly any other industry.


Email fraud attacks are when employees receive messages attempting to steal information or install malware on their computers. Real estate companies averaged 54 attacks per company during Q3 2018, according to the report. 

Drugmakers were the most targeted industry in the quarter at 71 email fraud attacks per company on average. Construction companies were close behind at 61 attacks per company. 

"Cybercriminals continue to target the real estate industry because its high-value transactions occur frequently and take place digitally," Proofpoint Senior Product Marketing Manager Ryan Terry said. 

Looking back over cumulative email fraud attacks over the last five quarters, Proofpoint reports companies in the pharma sector encountered nearly 282 email fraud attacks on average, higher than any other industry. Real estate was close behind with 277 attacks per company.


There is also a great deal of publicly available information about real estate, which enables criminals to identify targets and insert themselves into digital transactions, Terry said. 

For instance, a majority of real estate-focused email fraud attacks are customized to target specific people with believable, and often expected, requests for personal information and payments.

"There are often multiple parties involved in real estate transactions, which gives fraudsters multiple opportunities to insert themselves," Terry said. "Also, they use a variety of email account types — webmail, registered vanity domain, broker domain and so on — to make it difficult for the average person to discern what's legitimate and what's fraudulent."

These characteristics are also common within industries that have more complex supply chains, such as construction and manufacturing. Industries with large supply chains or that rely on many business partners have historically been at the top of the list of companies targeted most frequently by email fraud. 

Various people within real estate companies are targeted by email fraud, Terry said, including chief financial officers of property management groups, executive assistants and facilities managers. 

"According to our research, in the last quarter, nearly 14% of attackers went after the real estate CFO, while nearly 9% went after procurement personnel and nearly 9% went after the human resources department," Terry said.

The damage can be considerable. According to the FBI, email fraud has cost organizations of all sizes roughly $12.5B in losses since the agency began tracking the scam at the end of 2013. 

Moreover, the real estate industry — both residential and commercial — experienced a 1,100% increase in the number of victims that reported attacks and a 2,200% rise in reported monetary losses between 2015 and 2017, the FBI reports.