Making a charge ripped from the pages of a thriller spy novel, residential and commercial brokerage A.C. Lawrence & Co. accused competing firm Bond New York and seven of its principals or agents of hacking into its proprietary listing system to steal valuable listings.
The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court Sept. 20, claims that beginning in February, Bond, its agents and others broke into the listing system and stole the information, later contacting the owners of properties in an effort to poach the business.
A.C. Lawrence claims in the suit that it lost at least $100,000 in commissions “which would have been earned by plaintiff but, instead, were converted and wrongfully received by defendants,” and is seeking $5 million in punitive damages.
“Bond vehemently denies all allegations in this frivolous and desperate suit by a competitor. Bond will aggressively defend the complaint,” said Bruno Ricciotti, Bond’s principal broker in a statement to The Real Deal.
Insiders said there was tension between the two companies. A.C. Lawrence took over the office of a now-defunct residential brokerage that had about 35 agents, Century 21 NY Metro, and the head of that firm Marc Lewis, became chairman of A.C. Lawrence. Many of the agents went to A.C. Lawrence, but many have gone to Bond since then, one source said, causing friction.
Some scoffed at the charges, noting that many of A.C. Lawrence’s clients are well known and many listings are public, so stealing phone numbers and contact information would have little value. But others saw it differently.
Lawrence Longua, a clinical associate professor at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate, said every bit of information can be valuable, whether it is pre-listing or notes on potential future deals. He was not familiar with this case.
“If I know someone has captured an assignment that has not been put out in the public and I steal that information, that is pretty grim,” he said, noting that the pilfering agent can try and take the business using the private data.
While there have not been other reports of this kind, it may not be the last, said Nasir Memon, director at the Information Systems and Internet Security lab at NYU’s Polytechnic Institute (note: correction appended).
“I don’t know how common it is, but it is entirely feasible and I expect it will increasingly get common,” Memon said.
By hacking into the A.C. Lawrence system, the alleged attackers committed offenses such as computer tampering, computer trespass and unlawful duplication of computer related material.
The listing system, covering both residential and commercial sales and leasing, took five years as well as a significant investment of time and money, the complaint says.
A.C. Lawrence’s attorney, Philip Greenberg, accused Bond and its agents of breaking into the listing system “in order to pluck information about rental and sales listings of A.C. Lawrence,” in a statement to The Real Deal . “That information was used to unfairly compete with A.C. Lawrence.”