Open a Case with Tech Helpline

* Indicates fields required Tech Helpline does not share, sell, rent, or trade personally identifiable information with third parties for promotional reasons.

Knowing What These Tech Buzzwords Mean Could Save Your Real Estate Business

Malware. Phishing. Vishing. Smishing. Pharming. Spoofing. Ransomware. Spyware. Virus. You probably recognize some of these cyber security terms, perhaps even most of them. But understanding what these words mean and how these scams work could help you prevent serious damage to your computer, your smartphone and even your real estate business.

Let’s understand this tech terminology, and what you can do to protect yourself and your technology from being exploited.



With this technique, criminals pretend to be someone else; they send you an email that looks like it’s from a legitimate source. The email is designed to trick you into giving them your personal information: your credit card or social security number, or your login and password details. They could also direct you to a counterfeit website (that looks like the real deal) where they can “pharm” your login credentials. Their goal is to assume control of your personal accounts: bank, credit cards or other financial accounts. Amazingly, 70 percent of people choose the same password (or a slight derivative of the same password) for almost every online service they use. So once someone gets one password, they can gain access to multiple private accounts.


How to avoid: This can be a really tricky one to identify because cyber criminals are getting better at faking emails to look like they are coming from your bank or credit card or brokerage or some other reputable company. Try looking at the “header” – the full email address – and see if it shows the real email address. Remember, your bank is never going to email you to ask you for your password or other sensitive details. If they send you a link to their website, hover over the link and look carefully at the website address to see if you find any errors. If you find either the email or the link suspicious, instead of clicking on a link in the email, type in the legitimate website address directly into your web browser, or click on a bookmark you’ve created; you could also call them directly to determine whether the email you received is legit or whether a hacker is going after you. Also, try to keep your passwords significantly different, especially to access your online financial accounts: keep those unique.



Cyber criminals often use pharming with phishing. Pharming is the fraudulent practice of directing Internet users to a fake website that looks just like a legitimate one, with the purpose of capturing, or “pharming,” your login and password information needed to enter into the real website. Many major banks and other financial websites have been impersonated by hackers using this technique.


How to avoid: Today, hackers are masters at creating pretty convincing websites – at first glance. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find those websites are mostly just skin deep, meaning the links are either not working or are broken, and all that really “works” is the home page and the login page, which is designed to steal your information. Also, look carefully at the website’s address at the top of your browser and search for any typos or name differences. Easiest solution: go to the company’s website directly by typing in the URL yourself.



This is the phone call version of Phishing. The scammer calls you or leaves you a voicemail stating that they represent a reputable company and attempts to get you to provide your personal information: again, your credit card or social security number, or your login and password details so they can assume control of your personal accounts.


How to avoid: Remember, your bank or credit card company is not going to call you and ask you to verify your password. They are not going to ask you to provide your entire social security number. Best bet: tell them you will call them back, hang up and dial the phone number on the back of your credit card or bank statement instead of using the phone number they used to call you.



What is being done online with phishing and by phone with vishing is also being done through text or SMS with smishing. Criminals send you a text message trying to trick you into downloading a Trojan horse, malware or other virus onto your cellular phone.


How to avoid: Unless you have specifically requested that your bank or credit card company notify you by text, they won’t be contacting you this way in the first place. When in doubt, just ignore and don’t click on any links. Simply sending a text reply that says, “STOP” will typically discontinue almost every legitimate texting service, and you should receive an instant reply confirming that all future texts will be stopped. If not, that’s probably a good indication that someone is trying to smish you!



Similarly to phishing, cyber criminals send you an email that looks like it’s coming from a legitimate source, and then directs you to a fake website (that looks like the real deal). While both “spoofing” and “phishing” use email to mislead you, “spoofing” is trying to trick you into taking an ill-advised action: clicking on a link to download a piece of malicious software that you think is going to protect your accounts, while “phishing” is used most often to try to obtain your credentials.


How to avoid: You still have to be careful with emails. The best rule is if it just doesn’t feel “right” it is probably wrong. Don’t click on the links in the email because they may be sending you malware. Instead, go directly to the company’s website or contact them directly to check out any potential concerns. It’s better to stay safe than sorry, so it’s safest not to click if it doesn’t feel legit.



This is an abbreviation of “malicious software” and is a broad term that includes any kind of malicious program that can cause damage or hack a target, including computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, adware, and any other malicious software.


How to avoid: Keep your antivirus software and operating system updated and never download unknown attachments. Even image files and PDFs from unknown sources can wreak havoc with your computer or laptop these days, if they carry malware. Think before you click. Avoid unknown websites by hovering over the link or copying the link to a text file to see where it is trying to take you.



This is a form of malware that deliberately prevents you from accessing files on your computer by encrypting your files and then requesting a ransom be paid before providing you with the decryption. Cyber criminals using ransomware have plagued companies across the globe and throughout the U.S., including major firms such as FedEx.


How to avoid: Ransomware was created by taking advantage of security flaws in older Windows XP operating systems on PCs. Generally, criminals send you an email with an attachment to open. The malware is encoded into the attachment, which, when opened, installs itself on your PC and, sometimes, affects your entire network. This is why updating your device’s operating system and keeping it current is vital for maximum protection. It’s also another reason why backing up daily to an external hard drive can save the day in the future should the worst ever happen. But the best protection: don’t open suspicious attachments and make sure your antivirus program is also up-to-date and scans any email downloads you make.



This software enables someone to spy on your computer activities and transmits to them your data from your hard drive. For example, someone can monitor your entire Internet browsing activities, the emails that you wrote, and even the user names and passwords you entered into your online accounts. A less intrusive type of spyware, which is sometimes called adware, also “tracks” your browsing activities. Some are designed to provide ads that match your interests, while others are more malicious and attempt to redirect you to their website or deliver pop-up ads.


How to avoid: Your antivirus software can often spot spyware programs and even remove them from your computer. Never click on links in ads within pop-up windows, as that will often result in an attempt to install spyware on your computer. These ads will sometimes even try and trick you with an extra “X” that you think will close the pop-up window, but actually will open more windows, pop-up ads or download a malware program. Avoid offers of “free” software or the “Virus warning: your computer is infected” notification that seems like a warning from your antivirus program but is unidentifiable. It’s not; it’s just a malicious software program that will add spyware to your computer. If you are getting a lot of pop-up windows, it’s best to run a full scan of your computer and remove those programs causing the problem.



This is one of the worst forms of malware. It is a piece of software code that is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect, such as corrupting a computer’s operating system or destroying data.


How to avoid: To avoid computer viruses, make sure you have antivirus software installed, keep it updated, and have it set to scan your system regularly. Also, be sure your operating system is up to date. If you “think before you click” on every email attachment – and take a second look at the email heading to make certain that the email is really coming from who you think it is coming from – you’ll avoid the majority of all viruses. Most viruses are downloaded when people are just a little lax; if you stay alert, your computer is less likely to get hurt.


A final thought

Tech Helpline from Florida Realtors® helps more than 500,000 real estate professionals – via their MLS, brokerage or local association – deal with issues like these every day. Problems from computer related viruses and malware are so common that their number one piece of advice is don’t wait to fix an issue, as it will only get worse.

When you suspect something has gone wrong, take action. And remember: an ounce of prevention – keeping your operating system and antivirus program always up to date – is worth a pound of cure.