Working with people we meet on the internet has never been safe. It isn’t safe to be on the internet either, but that is where business comes from these days.
For years, my social media accounts and my blog has been attracting all sorts. Some of them have been wonderful and amazing people, and others have been totally crazy and maybe even dangerous.
There are occasional harassing phone calls and text messages and a few threats here and there. Sometimes, people, have bad experiences buying or selling houses and are looking for someone to swear at. There is a steady stream of people who send unwanted private messages.
People who seem normal can become seriously unstable when something goes wrong. It is easy for someone to pose as a homebuyer or seller.
Most of the safety systems in place for real estate agents work after the fact. They can be used to make someone aware that we have been murdered or abducted.
The internet is full of fraud and scams, too. I supposed we just get used to it. I get text messages with inquiries about houses we have on the market. They have links in them and are strangely worded.
I have had people call me and ask questions about clients. Once, a reporter called looking for some information about the owners of a house we had listed. He said he couldn’t find any contact information for the owners, but he found mine easily.
Most of the phone calls that come in on the business line are spam or scams. I have blocked so many numbers it’s hard to imagine that anyone can get through. Most of the calls to my direct line are from “scam likely” and “suspected spam.”
There are invoices addressed to my company from companies that I never heard of asking for payment for items I never ordered or received. The attached “invoices” spread malware.
For a time, I was getting fake notices from Amazon about orders I had placed. Most have a phone number to call if there is something wrong with the order. I think they want me to call it and give them a credit card number. Fat chance. The first time I received such an email I signed into my Amazon account, and there wasn’t any order.
Sometimes I just copy and paste the subject line of scam email into Google, and I can learn all about the scam. Occasionally, I get a legitimate email that I delete because it looks like a fake.
I stopped getting those blackmail-type emails with threats and deadlines for sending payment in bitcoin to avoid scandal. During tax season the offers of help were supposedly working with the IRS. Calls from fake government agencies are frequent.
I have also been getting a few fake closing notices every week. They are sent to the general email account. They even have warnings on them about wire fraud. The email addresses do not match those of any title company.
Data breaches are frequent these days. Email passwords need to be passphrases and changed often. One company that had a data breach also makes money providing identity theft protection.
Blogs generate a lot of spam too. Every day I get email proposals from people who have content they want me to publish. They circle back and follow up demanding an answer and expecting a response before I block them.
Spam blockers on my blog catch the spam comments with links to properties for sale in foreign countries and advertisements for drugs, gambling and porn.
Unwanted messages come through Facebook and, of course, friend requests from people who are impersonating other people.
There are frequent text messages from persons or companies with leads. I don’t think any of them are legitimate, but I will never know because I usually block the number and delete the message.
The internet is on 24 hours a day, which means we can be harassed around the clock. I go offline into “do not disturb mode” in the evening.
I interrogate the legitimate callers. I ask question after question before I will give anyone information about anything. I am not at all helpful. I wouldn’t want to call me.
Meeting people that found us on the internet isn’t always safe. People don’t just shop for houses on the internet, they shop for opportunities to exploit people financially and commit crimes.
There is very little that is safe about working with the general public online or off. The FTC Consumer website lists common email, phone and text scams.
It can be hard to keep up with the scams. I have found that it is easier if I don’t answer the phone, text messages or email. I miss junk mail.
Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.