Spammers who managed to insert language advertising abortion pills into descriptions accompanying thousands of for-sale listings got even better exposure when the listings were distributed to real estate websites including Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com.

The affected listings apparently originated from a multiple listing service platform, Systems Engineering Inc.’s Navica Revolution MLS, used by about 160 MLSs representing 40,000 subscribers nationwide, according to a recent Clareity survey.

It’s unclear at which point in the process of entering or distributing the listings that security was breached, but the problem appeared to be widespread. Inman News found affected listings from Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

The motivation behind the spam attack is unknown. Sometimes listing descriptions merely contained the words “abortion pill” and in other cases a URL also pointed viewers to a nearly blank Web page with the word “HEALTHY” appearing on the left-hand side.

SEI President Paula Payne declined comment, other than to say that the company was still gathering information.

Trulia told Inman News it had identified and removed 2,653 listings that contained the “abortion pill” spam this morning.

“Trulia has several tools that help us identify and address data issues in listing feeds, including tight filters that block spam and fraudulent activity. We work together with our partners to ensure the best-quality listings are available on Trulia,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The company said it would reinstate the affected listings once the the spam content was removed at the source, and in the meantime, unaffected listings would be processed normally.

Trulia screen shot earlier today. This listing page has been now been pulled down.

Trulia screen shot earlier today. This listing page has been now been pulled down.

Zillow said SEI was aware of the issue and taking steps to correct it. In the meantime, Zillow has taken down at least one affected listing, though others remain.

Zillow screen shot on July 14, 2014

Zillow screen shot on July 14, 2014

Realtor.com operator Move Inc. said it was looking into the issue, but did not offer further comment before publication time.

At about 7 a.m. today, Rocktown Realty agent Lisa Hensley received an email from a client noting that his property was being advertised on Zillow with a listing description promoting abortion pills.

“It’s so ridiculous. I don’t even understand what the purpose of doing something like that would be,” Hensley said. “You would think they would put something … with a little more punch rather than about abortion pills.”

She said her client was “very good-natured” about it. “He understood that someone had hacked into the system,” she said.

Five of her 13 listings have been affected on Zillow and Trulia, she said, but she hopes that none of her other clients notice before the problem is fixed. She said she had not checked whether her listings on realtor.com had been affected, but that her Internet Data Exchange (IDX) website was fine.

Hensley belongs to the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Association of Realtors’ MLS, which has about 350 members.

Bob Hill, the association’s CEO, said the problem had been fixed within the Navica MLS platform where listing agents can see their own remarks, but that the syndication feeds that SEI sends out for the Harrisonburg MLS are refreshed every 24 hours and would be refreshed tonight.

He was not aware of how many listings were affected, but said that as far as he could tell it was “just random” listings that were hit. He said that when he called SEI this morning, the company was unaware of the issue.

He said he did not know whether the platform had anti-spam software installed, but that “since we’ve been with Navica for 19 years and this is the first time it’s happened, my assumption is that they have pretty good systems in place for preventing it.”

Show Comments Hide Comments

Comments

Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Success!
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Prepare for this fall with top agents & brokers at Connect Now this Tuesday.GET YOUR TICKET×
Limited time: Get 30 days of Inman Select for $5.SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription