An agent has expressed his anger and frustration at being the subject of an apparent cyber-attack which involved his office telephone number being sent to hundreds of other agencies disguised as buyers’ enquiries through Rightmove.
The incident happened at the start of last week and resulted in a large number of telephone calls coming to the agent’s office from other agencies across the country which were innocently responding to leads which had come through the portal in the usual way.
However, instead they were seemingly deliberately orchestrated - either by a computer program or by a persistent individual - with the agent concerned the target of the attack.
The victim, who wishes to remain anonymous, has contacted Estate Agent Today and the incident has been confirmed by Rightmove, and highlights a potential abuse of almost any online form of contact if it is maliciously exploited on a huge numbers of occasions.
The agent first discovered the problem when he started receiving numerous calls from other firms, apparently responding to online enquiries received via Rightmove.
The agent says the volume of calls became so great that he feared genuine clients may not have been able to get through and deals were at risk of collapsing; he believes the multiple enquiries may have been automatically generated although Rightmove maintains the enquiries were from a ‘human’ user of the portal.
The subject is a sensitive one for all portals, which on the one hand want to handle the maximum number of leads and reassure agents of the robustness of their systems while on the other hand do not want to encourage further spam leads by ‘talking up’ the problem.
An independent technical expert spoken to by Estate Agent Today says the issue is common throughout digital technology and is by no means unique to portals. He says it is likely the major portals already successfully identify and filter out many false enquiries - committed accidentially or maliciously - on an ongoing basis, but some inevitably succeed.
He likened the problem to a malicious email attack in which a recipient’s inbox could in some circumstances be blocked by the repeated sending of large files: many email systems will identify this activity and ‘repel’ it or divert the emails to spam, but some such attacks will inevitably get through. “It’s a fact of digital life” he says.
A Rightmove spokesman has responded by saying: “Last week a user manually sent out email enquiries to some agents using the email enquiry form on our website, directing them to call one agent’s phone number.
“As soon as we were alerted to this misuse of an agent’s number we immediately let all of the agents know not to follow up on the enquiry, changed the phone number displayed on the agent’s listings and blocked the email address used within the enquiry.
“We’ve since monitored all phone numbers associated with the agent and can confirm this was an isolated incident. We take incidents like this extremely seriously and have systems in place that monitor for and block attempts to misuse sending email enquiries.”
Estate Agent Today also contacted Zoopla and OnTheMarket.
A spokesperson for OTM says: “OnTheMarket has a set of robust procedures in place to detect any unusual activity" while Lawrence Hall of Zoopla Property Group says: “We have both automated and manual processes in place to monitor and identify any suspicious use of our platforms as we are focused on providing the highest quality service to our users and partners.”