Are you familiar with the type of cyberattacks used by hackers? Do you have cybersecurity policies and procedures?
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) defines cybersecurity as the art of protecting networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access or criminal use and the practice of ensuring confidentiality and integrity, and availability of information.
Cybersecurity attacks are prevalent in brokerage transactions due to the nature of the business. There are various types of cybersecurity attacks; however, some of the most common cybersecurity attacks are:
Business Email Compromise
A Business Email Compromise scam in a real estate transaction may occur when the email account of an individual (e.g. broker, attorney, principal) in the transaction is hacked. After the email is compromised, the hacker monitors the communication to extract relevant details such as the property description and associated closing costs. Once they have this information, the hacker sends a spoofed email (e.g. an email similar to the original account holder) so that future electronic communication is diverted to the hacker. Business Email Compromises are usually used to get unauthorized funds, access personal, confidential information, and/or W-2 forms, according to the Internet Crime Compliant Center.
Cloud Storage Attacks
Cloud storage providers allow brokers and brokerage firms to secure their data, collaborate with others, and access information from a variety of locations. Due to the magnitude of information that is stored in the cloud, hackers may attack the cloud storage provider by retrieving the passwords of users or the security tokens of a computer.
Brokers routinely communicate with many different people using their cell phones and tablets. Therefore, they are susceptible to smishing scams. Smishing is similar to phishing. Phishing is defined as a scam that is sent via email to individuals. Similarly, smishing involves hackers sending links or attachments via text to gain access to confidential information. Brokers should be careful when receiving text messages, links, or attachments from unknown sources.
The National Association of Realtors® has created a resource entitled, Cybersecurity Checklist: Best Practices for Real Estate Professionals, to assist brokers with developing cybersecurity policies. Brokers may want to use some of the following best practices referenced in the checklist to proactively prevent a cybersecurity attack such as:
The Cybersecurity Checklist: Best Practices for Real Estate Professionals article can be accessed here if you would like additional information. Also, the Commission published some information about Cybersecurity in the 2020-2021 Update Course. This content can be retrieved here.
If you have any further questions, please contact the Education & Licensing Division at 919.875.3700.
Are you interested in joining the staff of the North Carolina Real Estate Commission? From time to time, employment opportunities become available. They are posted on the Commission’s website under the “About Us” tab.
We currently have available the following position:
Auditor – Audits and inspects real estate brokerage trust account records state-wide. Click here for more information.
Brian Heath, Consumer Protection Officer, spoke at the Albemarle Area Association of REALTORS meeting on October 12.
Janet Thoren, Director of Regulatory Affairs, and Len Elder, Director of Education & Licensing, spoke on The State of the Commission at the NC REALTORS Convention on October 17.
Len Elder, Director of Education & Licensing, Janet Thoren, Director of Regulatory Affairs, Michael Gray, Chief Auditor/Investigator, and Cindy Chandler, Commissioner, presented “Doobie Hemp Gets Audited” at the NC REALTORS Convention on October 18.
Brian Heath, Consumer Protection Officer, spoke at the High Country Association of REALTORS meeting on October 19.
Christy Evans, Consumer Protection Officer, spoke at the Realty Executives of Hickory.
The North Carolina Real Estate Commission is excited to welcome Tiffany Ross as the Commission’s first Consumer Resource Officer.
Ross holds a MS from Georgia Institute of Technology, and BS from Florida State University. She brings to the Commission a wealth of experience in real estate education, brokerage, writing, and compliance. In addition to her education and compliance background, she has been a real estate licensee for over 17 years.
In her new role, Ross will focus on evaluating the Commission’s current consumer resource initiatives and recommending strategies that align with the Commission’s consumer education goals. She will also be responsible for raising awareness about current real estate related issues among licensees and the public, as well as creating resources and implementing initiatives to meet the Commission’s consumer education objectives across the real estate brokerage profession.
On December 1, 2017, the legislature repealed Chapter 66, Article 14 and enacted Article 14A, the “Assumed Business Names Act.” This change modernized the assumed business name process to make it easier to register, find, and maintain assumed name information. The new Act altered the requirements for the assumed business name certificate and created the means by which a single registration in the office of one Register of Deeds can be made effective for multiple counties.
Certificates filed before December 1, 2017 remained valid for a five-year transitional period during which individuals and entities with pre-existing assumed business names could re-file a certificate to preserve the effectiveness of the name designation. That transitional period is ending and filers have until December 1, 2022 to re-file a certificate for a pre-existing assumed name. Remember also that filers of assumed business names must update the filings within 60 days of the information changing.
Compliant blank certificate forms are available from registers of deeds or may be downloaded from https://edpnc.com/start-or-grow-a-business/start-a-business/business-forms/.
For additional information about when, how and why to file an Assumed Business Name, go to: https://www.sosnc.gov/divisions/business_registration/assumed_business_names.
– By Stephen Fussell, Chief CPO
The Commission introduced the Working With Real Estate Agents Disclosure (“WWREAD”) in the spring of 2021 and its use became mandatory on July 1, 2021. Based upon consumer complaints investigated by this office, it appears that most agents are using the form properly. This article seeks to remind licensees regarding the key elements of the form.
The two primary purposes of the WWREAD are (1) to caution prospective buyers and sellers not to share confidential information with brokers who do not represent them and (2) to introduce prospective buyers and sellers to the types of agency relationships that are offered by the firm of the broker who is reviewing the WWREAD with them.
Commission Rule A .0104(c) requires licensees to review the WWREAD with prospective buyers and sellers at first substantial contact. Simply sending the form to a prospective buyer or seller and asking them to sign it or even to call you if they have questions does not comply with this rule. Including a link to the form in your email signature is not sufficient to comply with the rule. A broker must review the WWREAD with the prospective buyer or seller.
What is first substantial contact? First substantial contact occurs either (1) at the point that a prospective buyer or seller begins to volunteer confidential information regarding their interest in a sales transaction or (2) when a broker wants to ask a question to obtain confidential information regarding the buyer’s or seller’s interest in a sales transaction. In order to prevent a prospective buyer or seller from revealing confidential information before a broker reviews the WWREAD with them, every broker should develop an introductory statement for a first interaction, such as “Before you share any information that you do not want me to share with others, we need to review an agency disclosure together.”
Both sides of the WWREAD contain an instruction that reads, “Note to Agent: Check all relationship types below that may apply to this seller [or buyer].” A broker should mark each type of agency offered by his or her firm. Marking a type of agency does not mean that a buyer or seller is choosing that type of agency. It simply means that the firm offers that type of agency relationship. For example, if a broker’s firm only represents either sellers or buyers, but not both, then the broker should only mark one section of the WWREAD – the “Seller’s Agency” section or the “Buyer Agency” section, depending on which the firm represents. If a broker’s firm represents both sellers and buyers, and offers dual agency, then the broker should mark the first two types of agency on the form. If a broker’s firm offers designated dual agency, then the broker should mark the first three types of agency on the form. If a prospective buyer or seller refuses agency representation, a broker should still review the types of agency offered by the firm and mark the unrepresented buyer/seller type in addition to the other types of agency relationships offered.
After reviewing the WWREAD with a prospective buyer or seller, a broker should ask them to sign the form. Signing the form only demonstrates that they have received the form. It does not create an agency relationship. If a buyer or seller refuses to sign the form, give them a copy of it and make a note in your own records that the buyer or seller refused to sign. Keep in mind that, if the Commission performs a spot audit and finds a significant number of unsigned WWREADs, it may demonstrate a lack of compliance with Rule A .0104(c). Moreover, rule violations can lead to disciplinary action.
After reviewing the WWREAD with a prospective buyer or seller, be sure to ask them if they have any questions. It is important that they have a basic understanding of the types of agency relationships offered by your firm. You can also offer them the Commission’s brochure, “Questions and Answers on: Working With Real Estate Agents.” This publication will answer common questions that arise regarding agency relationships.
In order to assist brokers in reviewing the WWREAD with prospective buyers and sellers, the Commission now has two videos in the “Video Library” section of its website (ncrec.gov) under the “Resources” tab and the “Consumers” tab.
The Commission recently revised its Racial Equity statement, which has become the Commission’s Social Justice statement. Updates, beyond the title, reflect the diversity, equity, and inclusion work the Commission has done over the past two years and reinforces the Commission’s dedication to continue this work. You can review the revised statement here.
Additionally, as a part of the Commission’s commitment to furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion in real estate brokerage, the Commission has adopted a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) statement. The DEI statement can be found on the Commission’s homepage.
ANDREW RICHARD ALEXANDER (ASHEVILLE) – By Consent, the Commission reprimanded Alexander, effective October 1, 2022. The Commission found that in July, 2020, Alexander acted as buyer agent for a client in the purchase of residential property. Alexander was not present at the time of the home inspection during which the inspector noted multiple areas of dampness on the inner basement wall. The inspection report also noted that the inspector was unable to fully inspect the walls due to the seller’s personal property blocking the view and recommended further evaluation by a qualified professional. Alexander failed to advise his clients to further investigate or re-inspect the basement for water intrusion although the DDRA did include a requested repair of gutters. Following the close of the transaction, the buyers discovered that repair of the issues could cost between $9,000 and $22,000. The buyers sold the property for a profit without making the repairs, but disclosed the issue to the new buyer.
MELONY BANKS (MATTHEWS) – The Commission accepted the voluntary surrender of the broker license of Banks effective October 1, 2022. The Commission dismissed without prejudice allegations that Banks violated provisions of the Real Estate License Law and Commission rules. Banks neither admitted nor denied misconduct.
ROBERT B CANNER (GREENSBORO) – By Consent, the Commission suspended the broker license of Canner for a period of 6 months, effective February 16, 2022. The Commission found that in 2021, Canner entered into a buyer agency agreement in which he agreed to share half of his sales commission with his buyer-client. Canner failed to inform all interested parties of the agreement and failed to pay the commission as promised. Canner failed to review a Working with Real Estate Agents disclosure with the buyer-client.
JEFFERY L EDDINGER (THOMASVILLE) – By Consent, the Commission reprimanded Eddinger, effective October 1, 2022. The Commission found that in July 2021, Eddinger, as owner of a rental property, issued a letter to the tenant which required the tenant to vacate the property within 10 days, contrary to the required 30 days’ notice in the written lease. Thereafter in a civil complaint, Eddinger was ordered to pay the tenant $2,400. Eddinger refused to pay the judgment until after the tenant filed a complaint with the Commission.
CHRISTINA MARIE FIGUEROA (NEW BERN) – By Consent, the Commission reprimanded Figueroa, effective September 30, 2022. The Commission found in June 2021, Figueroa acted as a listing agent for a property containing a condominium and a boat slip in the adjacent marina. Figueroa is the manager for the two owners associations related to the property: one for condominiums and one for the marina. The subject property went under contract late June 2021. In early July 2021, the Board of the marina association was notified that the master insurance policy was scheduled to be cancelled prematurely, effective August 2021, after the scheduled closing date of the subject property. Figueroa, as manager of the association, learned this information. The Board challenged the cancellation with the insurance company or attempted to obtain replacement coverage, and the Board and its attorney instructed Figueroa not to immediately disclose the notice to slip owners or third parties, and Figueroa did not disclose the notice of cancellation of the insurance policy until she was specifically instructed by Board counsel.
ISABEL ELISA GONZALEZ (CHARLOTTE) – By Consent, the Commission reprimanded Gonzalez, effective October 1, 2022. The Commission found that Gonzalez failed to deliver a Working With Real Estate Agents (“WWREA”) disclosure to their buyer-client or enter into a written buyer agency agreement with the buyer-client prior to presenting an offer to purchase on their behalf. Gonzalez has provided evidence of signed WWREA and agency agreements with other buyer-clients both prior to and after this transaction. Gonzalez has instituted new procedures to ensure that disclosures and agency agreements are signed and submitted before an offer is made.
STEVEN N HEISELMAN (ASHEVILLE) – By Consent, the Commission reprimanded Heiselman, effective October 1, 2022. The Commission found that as broker-in-charge of a firm, in July 2020, Heiselman’s affiliated provisional broker acted as buyer agent for a client in the purchase of residential property. They were not present at the time of the home inspection during which the inspector noted multiple areas of dampness on the inner basement wall. The inspection report also noted that the inspector was unable to fully inspect the walls due to the seller’s personal property blocking the view and recommended further evaluation by a qualified professional. Heiselman failed to advise the provisional broker or the buyers to further investigate or re-inspect the basement for water intrusion. Following the close of the transaction, the buyers discovered that repair of the issues could cost between $9,000 and $22,000. The buyers sold the property for a profit without making the repairs, but disclosed the issue to the new buyer.
LINDA KAYE HOLLAND (NEW BERN) – By Consent, the Commission suspended the broker license of Holland for a period of 6 months, effective October 1, 2022. The Commission then stayed the suspension in its entirety. The Commission found that in 2019, Holland, acting as listing agent for a seller-client, failed to measure the property, and advertised the property as having 1,541 square feet as listed on the county tax records. This measurement included an attached garage that was formerly heated and cooled. The property actually had 1,261 square feet of heated and cooled living area, a 22% variance. The buyer was made aware of the discrepancy during the pendency of the transaction.
AARON MICHAEL SEELBINDER (WILMINGTON) – By Consent, the Commission suspended the broker license of Seelbinder for a period of 24 months, effective October 1, 2022. The Commission then stayed the suspension in its entirety. The Commission found that in January 2021, Seelbinder, through his unlicensed firm, took over property management for vacation rental property for which Seelbinder had acted as buyer’s agent. Seelbinder’s property management agreement did not include the required anti-discrimination language or the Seelbinder’s license number. Seelbinder collected rents and provided monthly payments and accountings for approximately 20 additional properties without being designated as a broker-in-charge. Seelbinder failed to maintain ledgers, a journal, reconciliations or a trial balance leading to an inability to determine a clear audit trail. Seelbinder applied for the broker-in-charge designation during the pendency of the investigation but did not have two years requisite experience until March 2022.
CHARLESTON SIMEON WALLACE (FAYETTEVILLE) – By Consent, the Commission reprimanded Wallace, effective October 1, 2022. The Commission found since August 2020, Wallace has purchased five properties subject to existing mortgages but failed to fully disclose in writing the potential effects of the due on sale clause to the sellers. At the request of the Commission, Wallace has revised their contract to fully describe sale obligations and to disclose in writing the existence of due on sale clauses.