Alliant National’s Regional Counsel Jeff Stein was a featured contributor in PropLogix’s Title Industry Insights for 2019.
For the article, title insurance leaders share perspectives on topics that should be top of mind for settlement agents in 2019.
The story explores strategies and practices for title agents, including wire fraud prevention, marketing, e-closings and blockchain.
Jeff advises, “Blockchain, used appropriately appears to have the potential for robust security through the use of security keys and authentications. As we move forward with applications of Blockchain, we will have to be vigilant in vetting the security in each application.”
Read the full story here: Download
ALTA TitleNews Online Archive
November 29, 2018
The Internal Revenue Service and Security Summit partners recently issued a warning about the surge of fraudulent emails impersonating the IRS and using tax transcripts as bait to entice users to open documents containing malware.
The scam is especially problematic for businesses whose employees might open the malware because the software can spread throughout the network and potentially take months to successfully remove.
Known as Emotet, this malware generally poses as specific banks and financial institutions in its effort to trick people into opening infected documents.
In the past few weeks, the scam masqueraded as the IRS, pretending to be from “IRS Online.” The scam email carries an attachment labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar, and the subject line uses some variation of the phrase “tax transcript.”
These clues can change with each version of the malware. Scores of these malicious Emotet emails were forwarded to email@example.com.
The IRS reminds taxpayers it does not send unsolicited emails to the public, nor would it email a sensitive document such as a tax transcript, which is a summary of a tax return. The IRS urges taxpayers not to open the email or the attachment.
If using a personal computer, delete or forward the scam email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you see these using an employer’s computer, notify the company’s technology professionals.
Reprinted with permission from the American Land Title Association.
Wire fraud is a HUGE problem that only keeps getting bigger and bigger.
In fact, U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren (R-III) wrote a letter to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on June 29th urging the Fed to be more proactive in regard to wire fraud and real estate transactions. The letter referenced the United Kingdom’s system of matching payees’ names as a possible solution to the problem of wire fraud.
However, we don’t have to wait until a federal law is passed that orders banks to match the payee name on the wire transfer payment to name on the payee’s destination bank account (“Beneficiary Bank”).
As title and escrow agents, we can be proactive and in partnership with the banks with which we do business.
So, what can we do right now?
First, we can know what our Agreement with our Escrow Account Bank says.
Does your Bank Agreement say that your bank will check the payee’s name with the name on the destination account when a wire fund transfer is initiated?
Or, does it say your bank need only rely upon the account number it was provided in the wiring instructions order? The answers to these questions might lead to an opportunity to have a discussion with your partnering Receiving Bank.
We can also send the wire instructions on the payment order, with explicit directions that acceptance be restricted to match the designated payee’s name on the Beneficiary Bank account. If it doesn’t match, then do not send the funds.
Lastly, if something does go wrong despite our best efforts and precautions, then notify both the Beneficiary Bank and the Receiving Bank as soon as possible. Typically, banks require notification of an unauthorized transfer or error within a defined time period such as, for example, thirty or sixty days.
Aside from any contractual or legal requirement for early notification, the sooner the problem is communicated, the greater the odds of the bank being able to halt or pull back the wire funds transfer.
For a great explanation of how a wire fund transfer works behind the scenes, view “Funds Transfer Law and Unauthorized Payment Liability.”
According to the IRS, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams.
These days, when we consider fraud schemes targeting title agents, we usually think about email scams where criminals attempt to interject themselves into specific transactions for the purpose of diverting a wire.
Such scams can be devastating for agents and consumers, and we must guard against this type of email fraud.
However, scams involving real estate transactions are just one small piece of the larger fraud puzzle; and with tax season upon us, it’s important to remember that our industry is not immune to the types of email and other schemes that are common to other businesses.
According to the IRS, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams.
Scammers use the regular mail, telephone, or email to set up individuals, businesses, payroll and tax professionals.
The agency recently released a flurry of alerts warning of various schemes. You can find a full summary on the IRS webpage, but here are just a few highlights.
The IRS warned that fraudsters are increasingly targeting payroll and human resource departments in an attempt to obtain their Forms W-2, which the criminals then use to file fraudulent tax returns.
To work the scam, the fraudster writes emails that look like they’re from an organization executive. The emails are directed to an internal employee with access to wage and tax information, and they often begin with an innocent greeting, such as: “hi, are you working today.”
Soon, the fraudster asks for all Form W-2 information.
The W-2 phishing scam has victimized hundreds of organizations and thousands of employees in recent years, the IRS said. Employers of all sizes have been affected including public schools, universities, hospitals, tribal governments and charities.
The IRS has established a process allowing businesses and payroll service providers to quickly report any data losses related to the W-2 scam.
Learn more about the process here.
In a recent blog post,”Think Email Fraud is the Only Hack Tactic? Think Again.” , we noted that scammers are increasingly using phone calls to attempt to trick title agents into wiring money to fraudulent accounts.
Some simple technologies even allow fraudsters to spoof phone numbers. So, a criminal could call you, but make it look like the call was coming from someone legitimately involved in the transaction.
As it turns out, tax fraudsters are using this same technology.
The IRS warned that criminals claiming to be IRS employees — using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers — are trying to bully victims into sending them money.
Sometimes the fraudsters claim that the victim has a tax refund coming, and the money can be deposited if the victim provides his or her banking information.
The tax phone scam seems to be targeted toward individuals as opposed to businesses, but it underscores at least two important points: 1.) treat threats and high pressure language as a red flag; and 2.) the telephone isn’t always a “safe” method of communication.
Malware scams certainly aren’t new. Basically, the fraudster sends an email that looks like it’s from a trusted source, such as a business contact, a reputable company or a government agency.
The email directs the receiver to click a hyperlink or open an attachment.
When clicked, malicious software loads onto the victim’s computer, and the scammer uses that software to gain access to sensitive systems and information.
Fraudsters often attempt to trick title agents and others involved in real estate transactions into clicking malicious links by sending emails purporting to contain “important closing documents.”
By now many agents have seen the “closing documents” scheme, and they know how to avoid it. However, companies need to remain vigilant for other types of malware emails.
In recent weeks, the IRS has seen a surge in malware emails targeting the employees of all types of businesses. The emails, which appear to come from the IRS, carry malicious attachments labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar. The words “tax transcript” often appear in the subject line.
The IRS reminded taxpayers that it does not send unsolicited emails to the public and would never email a sensitive document such as a tax transcript, which is a summary of a tax return.
If using a personal computer, such emails should be deleted or forwarded to email@example.com, the agency said. Those who receive such emails at work should notify their company’s technology team.
Criminals today have broadened their tools and tactics in their quest to divert escrow funds by tricking us and others in the real estate transaction into accepting falsified wiring instructions.
Remember when wire fraud was just about bogus emails?
Email is no longer their only weapon. We’re hearing about two non-email tactics fraudsters are using.
Many view faxing as more secure than email because “you can’t hack a fax.” (Actually, hackers have apparently figured out how to compromise networks using the fax machine as an entry point ). But criminals don’t need to hack a fax line or a fax machine to interject themselves into the communications chain.
So, how do they do it?
Some businesses use third-party services that allow faxes to be sent and received from an email account. Just like email, these services have login credentials that must be protected. If criminals can obtain the account credentials, then they can monitor, intercept and alter fax transmissions that may contain wiring instructions.
Of course, criminals don’t even need account credentials to send you a bogus fax. They only need the tools and time to create a convincing looking document (as Dwight from NBC’s The Office found when Jim, his arch nemesis, started sending him faxes from himself … from the future ).
There’s nothing magical about thwarting fax scams. We simply need to apply the good information-security principles that we apply to other communications channels.
Just like an email account, a third-party fax account should have a strong password. Of course, it’s harder for the criminals to figure out account passwords if they’re changed regularly and if the same password isn’t used for multiple accounts.
As with emails, it’s best to look over faxes with a critical eye just to make sure everything appears as it should. If a fax has wiring instructions, the safest course is to follow up by telephone using a known number — not a number that appears on the fax.
Relatedly, scammers are figuring out that our industry has become very good at using the telephone to verify wiring instructions, and they have added telephone scamming to their repertoire of fraud tactics.
The phone is definitely a potential attack vector; we know of one instance where a criminal called a title agent and faked a consumer’s accent in an attempt to divert a wire.
Some simple technologies even allow fraudsters to spoof phone numbers. So a criminal could call you, but make it look like the call was coming from someone legitimately involved in the transaction. The American Land Title Association (ALTA) and Thomas Cronkright, chief executive officer of CertifID, discussed this technology and its potential implications in a recent ALTA blog post .
As with the fax, it’s important to remember that the phone is not always a safe communication channel. Anyone can call a title agent pretending to be someone else; and if that scammer happens to have already compromised an email account — for instance, the consumer’s account — they may have sufficient transactional and personal information to spin a very believable tale.
But just like with fax scams, policies and procedures can be a big help to thwart potential phone scams. A best practice is to establish challenge questions or PIN numbers with consumers up front, and let consumers know you’ll be using these and other methods to verify the identities of those involved in the transaction when speaking by phone.
Of course, PIN numbers and challenge question answers should never be sent via email.
The threat from fraudsters is great, and no one policy or technology solution will ensure the safety of escrow funds in all cases. Alliant National has produced a white paper on escrow fraud as part of our ongoing effort to inform agents about the threats we all face.
We’ve also produced a number of infographics with escrow security tips that you can share with your staff, consumers and others.
Click here to view the report.