The World Is Not Only Flat, It Hasn't Got A Ripple

Our offices are in Shalimar and Destin. I live in Niceville. I feel like I know small towns. People know each other. More than not, you like the people you know. If we did not, I suppose we’d all live elsewhere. The purpose of this article is to share my opinion that your computer may sit in a small town office, but it is anything but a small town. Like a bad dog, it will be your friend- most of the time. But you have, sitting right there in your office, the instrument of your own destruction. Here’s an example:

My neighbor in Shalimar, within the last few days, has been bitten by the very instrument that she thought was her friend. Like many of you, she runs a real estate office, and does much of her financial monitoring and money movement by computer. A week or so ago, an employee with computer access to the bank opened an email that appeared to come from the IRS. Without any hint of trouble to her, a savvy thief in Ubekestan, or Afganistan, or somewhere totally unknown, put a worm, or cookie, or something equally un-understandable by most of us, into her computer. When the connection to the bank was next opened, the thief dumped the contents of her local bank account into accounts all over the world controlled by the thief.

Try sleeping at night wondering whether as you sleep, your computer might be sitting in your office robbing you of everything you’ve worked to build over a long successful career.

Because you are reading this you live in a small, mostly safe, place. If you forget to lock the patio door you probably won’t get your throat cut during the night. But the people lurking in your computer have only one purpose. They have no conscience, and theywill cut your throat. There is a web site that will help you avoid this result. But none of us will have a full time computer security person whose job is to understand this computer link or to guard against this type of theft. Even if we did, that person would be successful only most of the time.

I will never understand computer security, and I can’t even tell you what this website really means. But there are a few things we all should know before these accounts are set up.

  1. These people will use a sender name that you will find compelling. This one was the IRS. It could as well have been UPS, BofA, the Republican Party, or any other icon that will get your attention. Don’t open an email you didn’t invite, or don’t need or want. Nothing is that intriguing.
  1. Don’t communicate to the bank with a computer that is connected to email. The cost of a separate computer is insignificant compared to the balance in your escrow account.
  1. Check your bank contracts and take seriously which party takes responsibility for cyber theft. I tell clients constantly to refuse to indemnify anyone in a contract. If you must indemnify or hold someone harmless, restrict your indemnification of others to things you can really control.
  1. Negotiate the terms of your funds transfer contracts.
  1. Realtors, Lawyers, and closing agents: Watch closely the contents of your bank deposit contracts. The printed forms do not distinguish between accounts you hold in trust for others, and your own personal deposit accounts. Therefore, unless you change the form provided by the bank your trust accounts could be held to secure your personal debts. Do not let that happen. The bank knows it really can’t do that with a trust account, but if you agree to that, and the bank does it, even if unintentionally, you, not the bank, will have violated your legal responsibility to your client.
This article may seem to wander from the subject of real estate, and maybe it does. I have tried hard for my comments in this space to be helpful to the business and profession of real estate, and again I hope this is. Thank you for listening. Please share this with everyone you can. The message matters.