Writing Tips

Do you consider yourself a good writer? Do your coworkers frequently need to help you with polishing emails, letters and other critical business communications? Do you cringe when you think about writing any business communications pieces?

Writing is a crucial communications skill and so important to any businessperson. Here we offer three articles with tips for writing inspiration. Ready, set, write!

Real Estate Corner:

Increasing the supply of housing stock is the key to making housing affordable to a larger population of homebuyers, according to the lenders who responded to Fannie Mae’s Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey for the fourth quarter of 2018.

Think Email Fraud is the Only Hack Tactic? Think Again.

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.

Fax Scams

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.

Phone Scams

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.

Energize Your PR This Year

To say we live in a “communication environment” is an understatement! We have so many communications options that it’s often challenging for businesses to know the most effective and efficient tools to use to reach their target audiences.

Investing in public relations and content marketing is an essential aspect of brand success. Here we offer three articles to get you thinking about ways to energize PR for your business.

Real Estate Corner:

Less than half of homebuyers and sellers between the ages of 35 and 44 believe real estate is a better long-term investment than the stock market, according to a survey from Redfin and detailed in the article from The Title Report:

3 technology solutions helping to fight back against wire fraud

The success of wire fraud has reached unbelievable loss statistics.

Numerous articles, videos, newsletters, television broadcasts and other forms of media are constantly publicizing successful scams with the goal of spreading awareness so that we escrow officers and customers know how to recognize attempted fraud and can take the necessary precautions to avoid becoming a victim.

Fraudsters are fluid, ever-creative and extremely clever in their efforts to breach computer systems with false pretenses and technology tools to interject themselves into the electronic communications channels.

For those unsuspecting and vulnerable persons, the consequences can be devastating. Lifetime savings can be lost within seconds. And, even the most wary of individuals have been scammed.

While purchasing a new home should be a wonderful and happy experience, a transaction beset by wire fraud can quickly become a nightmare.

Recognizing a problem that is spiraling out of control, some enterprising business folks have come up with new technology tools that purport to combat wire fraud by preventing the fraudsters from getting access to the wire information.

That’s not to say that industry and consumer awareness are not critical elements of an effective defense, but an integrated technology security system can provide extra safety measures in an environment fraught with danger.

Who are these technology wire-fraud defenders and what do they do? We’ll discuss three of these companies:

1. CertifID identifies itself as “a real-time identity platform for real estate, mortgage and title industry professionals to authenticate parties in a transaction and securely transfer bank account information.” See Certified FAQ webpage. Processes referenced in the FAQs, (also entitled “Help Center” at the top of the webpage) are:

  • Digital Verification
  • Knowledge Based Authentication
  • Two-Factor Authentication
  • Bank Account Certification
  • CertifID offers a free trial for interested parties.

2. Vialok (powered by Keypasco) markets itself as a “secure alternative to email that provides real estate and title professionals with a cost-effective, easy-to-use solution that stope wire fraud before it happens.” See Vialock Interactive flyer. Features referenced in the flyer include:

  • Multichannel Authentication
  • Device-backed Security
  • From its homepage, Vialok invites interested parties to schedule a demonstration.

3. Safechain’s Safewire states that it “uses a combination of identity verification and bank authentication technology to help Title Agents eliminate the threat of wire fraud and keep their customer’s funds safe.” Safewire references the following safety feature implementations:

  • Verified ownership of bank accounts (“verify bank account ownership”)
  • Secure wire transactions (“secure wire instruction protocols”)
  • Client identity verification
  • From its homepage, Safewire offers viewers the opportunity to request a demonstration.

While Alliant National is not endorsing any particular vendor (discussed above), we are bringing the information about this type of new product to you.

You have the ability to do your own research to determine if any of the offered security products might be good options for you and your customers.

Ask for a demonstration or free trial, if you wish; you can ask for pricing, whether the product is backed by an insurance policy and any other information that is useful and important to your business.

Tallgrass Title’s Evolution

What began as a law office that also did a bit of title work in rural Kansas has transformed into Tallgrass Title, a thriving title insurance agency serving three counties in Northeast Kansas.

Jake Pugh, owner of Tallgrass Title, is happy to share the long history of this successful family business. Jake’s grandfather started the law office in the 1940’s, Jake’s father joined the business in the 1980’s and Jake joined “a few years later,” in 2006. “Title insurance wasn’t even a thing back in the 1940’s,” recalls Jake. “But the law office did dabble in probate, title work and routine real estate items.”

Jake’s father saw an emerging market in title insurance in the 1980’s and opened a title business, Wamego Title, in the back office of the law firm. It became a successful business among the locals, but outside of the town of Wamego, no one knew about it. Fast forward to 2017 and Wamego Title wanted to grow and serve clients in the Northeast Kansas region.

Through a successful relationship as an independent agent with Alliant National Title Insurance Company, Wamego Title rebranded as Tallgrass Title. Jake began the process by collaborating with Alliant National’s Director of Marketing Nikki Smith in conjunction with Alliant National’s partner David Hafleigh from Future Works.

Nikki and David worked closely with Jake, sharing knowledge based on market research and experience with helping other independent agents grow their title insurance businesses. Together, they chose a regional-based name for the business: Tallgrass Title, a name that’s inspired by the area’s rolling prairie hills, valleys and rivers. Nikki and David were extremely insightful, helping Jake with a new website, advertising and other branding material, as well as event planning for a grand re-opening under the Tallgrass Title name.

While Jake loved the rebranding efforts, one marketing practice he felt adamantly against was blogging. He didn’t need to do such a thing, and nobody in the area would know about or seek out his blogs, and if by chance they did read his blogs, they’d be bored with the content. Or, so he thought. Nikki was insistent that Jake needed to blog.

Jake wrote a few blogs and posted to Tallgrass Title’s website. And then, he cross-posted those blogs to the company’s social media sites and shared them via email newsletters. They also used details from the blog to put into educational presentations. Then, he went about his business, attending networking events and being active in his community. But, something was different. Realtors would approach him and talk about his blog. They’d ask follow-up questions, and also request topics for him to write about in future blogs. They appreciated his knowledge and wanted more blogs!

Business opportunities are growing for Tallgrass Title in the Northeast Kansas region and every day, Jake is grateful that he found Alliant National Title Insurance Company.

This blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on this blog.

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