Over the past few weeks, female agents across North America have reported a problem with a similar trajectory: a person with a male-sounding voice called female agents on their specified phone number, asked for a property, and then escalated to threats, sexual insults and texts Versions of the agent’s photo.
A similar scenario has been reported so far in Georgia, British Columbia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Several reports prompted the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors Association to send an alert to more than 2,500 of its members last week warning female agents of a “suspect asking for vacant homes.”
“Various brokers have identified the person as ‘Jesse’,” the warning said. “This person made some disturbing comments, including asking to meet at an agent’s home, and saying he wanted to buy a house – any house will – as long as the specific agent he is speaking to gives him the house etc. shows. “
Tracey Hawkins, a real estate security expert and founder of Safety and Security Source, said what initially appear to be isolated incidents is a problem that affects almost every agent at one point or another – harassing calls are often viewed as part of the territory , that comes with agents’ need to be highly visible online.
“I often hear agents say, ‘You know, they’re just looking for pretty girls, or blonde girls, or whatever,’ and then anyone who doesn’t fit that description relaxes,” Hawkins said. “What I am saying here is that there are no specific types and everyone needs to be careful and implement safe practices because that may be what they are looking for today, but in the future they may be looking for something else.”
While it may be easy to dismiss some harassing text as “no big deal,” it can often be dangerous. (In one case, an unidentified copywriter sent a 64-year-old agent a message saying he had plans to “kill / murder” her.) Hawkins gives us six tips to minimize the number of harassing phone calls and how to deal with them when they do occur.
1. Watch out for unfamiliar calls
Every call is a prospective customer of an agent, and as a result, many simply cannot turn away unknown numbers or anonymous calls in the way that people in the industry cannot. At the very least, agents should be careful when calling numbers that are disguised, outside the area code, or otherwise unknown. However, Hawkins recommends banning anonymous calls with a phone setting blanket.
“An additional step agents can take is to set up a default setting, either with their carrier or with a phone setting that won’t take unknown calls,” said Hawkins. “That way, the caller ID can tell who they are. If it’s likely to be spam or a risky caller, it’ll be identified before the agent answers.”
2. Consider an anonymous phone number
An anonymous number through Google or some other cloud system can be an option for agents who have dealt with inappropriate messages in the past. Such a number would be redirected to the main phone and could still be on the individual’s signature, but would not be tied to the name if someone entered it into Google – a common method many criminals use to find agents to target.
“I’ve had agents say, ‘Wait, I need to be found, I don’t want an anonymous number’ and I need to remind them that this simply means your information is not tied to it,” Hawkins said. “The only difference is that the public cannot access your personal cell phone number, but that phone number can still enter your normal phone.”
3. Block phone numbers
The first step in dealing with threatening, awkward, or otherwise suspicious messages is to block the number. While many of the people targeting agents use software to generate new numbers all the time, a simple block will weed out a certain portion of unwanted calls.
“Blocking the number is the first step, just in case it’s just a normal person who hasn’t invested in spoofing software and isn’t as committed to it,” said Hawkins.
4. Recognize trends
As anyone who has dealt with bot-generated calls knows, scammers and harassers often find ways to bypass blocks and generate thousands of new numbers. An app called Robokiller can detect and block similar types of calls or voice patterns before they get on your phone. I
In general, however, agents should record the various types of unwanted calls they receive in order to report them as described below.
“When you receive these automatic spam and scam calls, the reply bot responds with a recording,” said Hawkins. “It drives anyone crazy who calls you.”
5. Report calls to law enforcement officers
If blockers don’t work and you are still getting dozens of unwanted calls or texts, please contact your local authorities. Hawkins said agents often feel that a strange call or two isn’t worth the trouble of reporting. As a result, the behavior is allowed to continue until a tragic or otherwise high-profile incident leads to a renewed discussion about agent safety.
“That’s not the agent’s call, you shouldn’t be the ones making that decision,” Hawkins said. “You have to report it to law enforcement officers and then allow them to determine whether it is a reportable crime. Even if it doesn’t, enough agents reporting the same type of crime will allow it [authorities] recognize a trend. “
6. Don’t blame yourself
The number of bot, spam and harassment calls has been increasing for several years. While instinct is often to believe that you made your phone number too visible online or picked the wrong type of bio image, the truth is that criminals are deliberately looking for agents.
Instead of shame, scary phone calls can be an opportunity to compromise agent safety on both a personal and industrial level.
“Don’t think this is a crime that we can’t do anything about because we can,” said Hawkins. “These are criminals targeting real estate agents, but it can also happen with real estate agents. The door is open to define what harassment is and to start the conversation. “
Email Veronika Bondarenko