Commentary: Real Estate Scams Are on the Rise as the Housing Market Remains Hot

When Jeff, a retired marketing consultant from Chicago, was closing on his home sale, he received a new set of instructions at the last minute on where to send several thousand dollars in closing expenses. At first blush, the email looked legit with an official-looking logo and professional language specifying the amount owed and itemized expenses. But one thing caught his eye: The email address looked strange. Just to be safe, he called his mortgage broker.

“Don’t do that!” his broker told him in an alarmed voice. It was a scam. If he hit “send,” his closing fees would go to a thief who had been monitoring his emails. “I was a keystroke away from losing thousands of dollars,” Jeff recalled.

As the housing market sizzles across the country – with nearly 6 million homes bought last year – scammers have been finding new ways to tap into this once-secure market. Real estate transactions still demand reams of paperwork and regulations involving lawyers, brokers, title insurance companies and banks, but the fact that much of this work now takes place online gives thieves countless opportunities to exploit vulnerable buyers. Last year, more than 11,000 homeowners were scammed out of more than $220 million in closing funds alone, according to the American Land and Title Association, a trade group that represents professionals who perform property transactions.

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Upscale Department Store Neiman Marcus Hacked, Exposing Personal Data of up to 4.6 Million Customers

exterior of Neiman Marcus

Department store chain Neiman Marcus is sending notifications to millions of its customers telling them their personal data may be exposed.

Neiman Marcus announced in a press release late Thursday that personal information, including names, contact information, payment card numbers, usernames, passwords and security questions, may have been accessed by a hacker during a May 2020 security breach. The company said it was notifying 4.6 million online customers, and said that 3.1 million payment and virtual gift cards were affected, though the vast majority were expired.

“We are working hard to support our customers and answer questions about their online accounts,” Neiman Marcus Chief Executive Officer Geoffroy van Raemdonck said in a statement. “We will continue to take actions to enhance our system security and safeguard information.”

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Microsoft VP Says It’s ‘Shocking’ How Routinely the Government Secretly Demands Private Customer Data

Microsoft building

Federal law enforcement agencies covertly request thousands of Microsoft users’ information every year, a company executive told a congressional committee Wednesday.

Vice President for Customer Security and Trust Tom Burt told the House Judiciary Committee at a hearing on “Secrecy Orders and Prosecuting Leaks: Potential Legislative Responses to
Deter Prosecutorial Abuse of Power” that Microsoft receives between 2,400 and 3,500 secrecy orders a year, or about 7 to 10 a day, from federal law enforcement agencies.

“Most shocking is just how routine secrecy orders have become when law enforcement targets an American’s email, text messages or other sensitive data stored in the cloud,” Burt told the committee.

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