The CantonRep
Real Estate
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Zillow sued over hacked listing of California mansion

Kenneth HARNEY - Washington Post Writers Group

 

WASHINGTON

 

What may be the first-ever hijacking of an active real-estate listing online — a palatial mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Bel Air, California — has led to a lawsuit seeking $60 million in damages against home-sale marketing company Zillow.

 

One or more hackers seized control of the mansion’s listing page on Zillow’s popular Zestimates site in February, causing it to display a series of bogus sales that were tens of millions of dollars below the $150 million asking price, according to the complaint filed in federal district court in Los Angeles. The net effect was to inflict financial damage on the seller by “corrupt[ing] the listing price dramatically,” according to the complaint, making it more difficult to obtain anywhere near the price the seller is seeking.

 

The newly constructed hilltop house is a knockout, even by Hollywood standards: 12 bedrooms, 21 baths, 38,000 square feet of interior space, 17,000 square feet of “entertainment decks,” three kitchens, five bars, fitness spa, four-lane bowling alley, basketball and tennis courts, wine cellars and an 85-foot “glass-tile infinity pool,” to cite just some of the amenities. It is owned by a limited liability company controlled by Los Angeles luxury builder Bruce Makowsky.

 

The hijacking occurred when someone using a Chinese IP address and a made-up U.S. phone number managed to successfully claim “ownership” of the mansion on Zillow’s Zestimates page. Zillow, which displays pages on 110 million American homes — properties listed for sale and off the market — offers a feature that allows owners to amend descriptions of their homes on the site. The feature is heavily used by legitimate owners to modify information posted about their house — numbers of bedrooms and baths, for example, or a recent remodeling that affects the property’s market value. To successfully make such a claim, owners must answer questions designed to verify their identity.

 

In this case, according to the suit, hackers figured out how to get past Zillow’s security questions and began manipulating information on the site. They erroneously reported that the house sold for $110 million on Feb. 4, then for $90.5 million on Feb. 9 and $94.3 million Feb. 10. They

 

SEE HARNEY, D8