You’ve Got Mail (But Who Really Sent It?): The Risks Of Online Financial Transactions

Still running your brokerage or property management business on an AOL email account? Law blog JDSupra Business Advisor has something to say about that decision. In an April 27th post “AOL, Dropbox, And The Big Uh-Oh,” a story is told by data security-focused attorney Drew Sorrell concerning the purchase of a New York apartment, and how it went wrong during a trip down the intertubes. (Despite the headline, Dropbox is not involved in the story.)

A New York couple brought suit against their former law firm because it used an America Onlineaccount to transact firm business.  If you are my age you probably remember that AOL and “You’ve got mail!” were the future—back in 1990.  Well, now AOL is culturally a relic of the past and occasionally I still run across someone who is using an AOL account for their email.  Usually, I silently judge them as technological dinosaurs (don’t tell me you don’t do the same thing).

Well, it turns out that this law firm and its AOL account were being used to help a couple purchase a $19.4 million cooperative apartment in Manhattan. Hackers had breached the firm’s AOL account and were monitoring its email traffic.  The hackers then used the account to pose as the attorney working on the deal to direct the clients/couple to deposit $1.9 million by wire transfer into a hacker-controlled account. The hackers were kind enough to send the buyers/clients a receipt for the funds. 

Once the fraud was detected the couple was able to recover all but $196,200 (plenty enough to still ruin my day).  While this is a brand new suit, it should be warning enough. So, what are the lessons learned here?

As a business technology observer, I’d offer that there’s nothing very special about AOL email addresses when it comes to risk of data security – committing millions of dollars of transactions over insecure email can go badly wrong no matter what service you use.

While you can read the entirety of the post and the lessons learned, let me interject with the usual disclaimer: Take nothing you read at The Source blog or really, at any blog, as legal advice.  Always, always, always get advice from qualified real estate counsel.

Source: AOL, Dropbox and the Big “uh-oh” | Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A. – JDSupra

Photo credit: BusinessInsider

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