Graphic of falling yellow, blue, green and red envelopes with question marks.

4 Tips For Spotting Email Scams

As technology advances, so does the deception

The pandemic has amplified the number of scams and email attacks on individuals, companies and organizations. People are already in vulnerable places emotionally, socially, physically and mentally; Covid has only intensified fright and flight instincts. We are constantly interrupted by additional stressors.

What might have easily caught your attention on an invoice, bill or receipt, can now slip by when the mind is overwhelmed with the stress of daily life. The way people receive goods, bills, invoices and confirmations has changed during the pandemic.

Be proactive and take one worry off the list by preparing yourself and educating your clients, friends and family about current email scams. Here are four ways to identify obvious scams when shopping for company or personal resources.

The Sender

When opening an email, especially one that is unexpected make sure to check the sender address. This can be the first and last stop when identifying a scam. Do you order from Amazon or Office Depot often for your business? Typically, large companies have a very streamlined and identifiable confirmation process. It might have a logo, a reprint of your order, package tracking information, etc.

Most companies have emails such as a “confirmation@” or “receipt@”, and then the company. If your typical confirmation is now coming from a different sender or source, this is a red flag. Most purchases are automated; therefore, an email about a package and confirmation that is not expected or sent at strange times is also a red flag.

Grammar

The schoolteachers’ philosophy holds true: If it isn’t written correctly, it’s not correct. Many scams originate from outside of the United States and come from people who have never spoken English, or who might have only slight knowledge of English grammar and mechanics. This lack of familiarity with the language or even cultural communication can be extremely evident from the outset of the email. Unusual forms of personal address or improper labels are a signal of deceit.

Legitimate order confirmation emails should be free of spelling and punctuation errors, or words swapped for one another such as “their” and “there.” If you find such an error, take it as a signal that this email is likely a scam.

Strange Link     

Many people are already well versed on email scams that direct you to a link. Most know not to click the link. Use this same strategy when reviewing your confirmation and order. You are usually able to scan over the item or photo and it should direct you back to the home site, whether you were shopping on Home Depot, Office Depot or Amazon. If it directs you to another site, and you can confirm this by hovering your mouse over the link, then it’s a scam. Contact your original purchaser immediately.

Format

Most online retailers have the shopping, shipping and receipt process dialed in. Communications are auto-formatted and the email confirmation arrives in a clear, itemized order. Often items – the exact photo of the item and its link – can be found on an email confirmation.

Order receipts or requests for further action that are formatted in a strange manner should raise your suspicion. Are they asking you for additional shipping payments? Did they add your taxes incorrectly and are trying to collect? Do not fall victim to these scams. Your receipt of purchase should be clean, neat and easy to read and reference. If something is strange, then this is an identifier of a scam. In the end, trust your instincts. If something looks off, it likely is. Don’t be afraid to back out of an email or a link that feels like it might be fake. You know when something looks and behaves unlike the norm. Trust that and help yourself and your business stay safe.

Different colored silhouettes with talking bubbles.

Three Cs of Communication during COVID

How to appropriately address clients amid the pandemic

The pandemic has changed almost every nuance of our lives; however, it shouldn’t change your communication with customers. Now — more than ever — is a critical time to reach out to your clients, family and friends, and effectively show compassion and interest in them. Many individuals have more time than ever before to reflect and communicate.

Be authentic in your approach and seek creative ways to safely stay in touch with your clients. People appreciate the reassurance of being connected to familiar networks. Just because many aspects of life have stopped, do not let your connection to customers falter.

There are three key components of empathetic and appropriate communication during Covid. A genuine approach that is on target for your intended demographic is a thoughtful and ideal bridging of the lack of in-person communication. This effort also helps to maintain existing online and virtual relationships.

Classic Communication

Now is the time to engage and reaffirm relationships with customers. What worked in the past with you and your clients? Was it a phone call, in-person, a facetime call, email, text, or even snail mail? Whatever was working, never abandon that line of communication. Don’t suddenly start texting a client who up till now only communicated with you in person. Rather, educate your clients on the many options they have for engaging with you.

If your client base is on a newsletter system, this is an excellent source to reiterate ways to get in touch with you. Create a menu of options for clients and let them pick the communication method that is best for them.

Consistent Communication

Don’t recreate the wheel. Use the same information on all the types of communication that you have available, and make sure it is up to date on your website. If you have a physical address, you can always check in with Google address, Yelp, Yahoo, etc., to make sure all of your information is up to date.

You need not wait for a website to fail or a phone line to go down for a client to become extra stressed. Create multiple means of communication to ease your clients’ potential stress. This way, there is a consistency to your relationship and they will have numerous ways to get ahold of you in emergency and non-emergency scenarios.

Clairvoyant Communication

Customers have been inundated with robotic communications, automated messages, spam phone calls, excess emails, random texts, etc. Make your communication channels honest and simple. A customer in crisis does not want to wait on hold for 20 minutes only to be connected to another operator for assistance. Be extremely up-front and honest about how you want people to communicate with you during business and non-business hours.

Society is stressed. Individuals are stressed. Now is not the time to add to your customers’ agendas. When you reach out to communicate needs, wants or even future plans, be clear about timelines and expectations.

Communication is how we maintain human relationships. While in-person meetings and group sessions are not possible, clients still want to communicate. Use your existing resources like eblasts, newsletters, phone calls, and social media to reiterate the numerous ways you want to engage with your audience. The result will be that when the pandemic passes — and it will — you and your company will have maintained a seamless and helpful communication line with your clients. They will be happy and you will too.

Graphic of a simply drawn blue house with a whit pad lock on front of it

In the Age of COVID 19 – Be Safe and Secure While Working Remotely

Best practices to help keep your remote environment secure

While working remotely at home provides flexibility and social distancing in this time of COVID-19, it may also open the door to unexpected and unwanted security issues and breaches. By taking a few simple and important steps, you can securely work and have peace of mind that your business is continuing to operate without introducing added risks.

Risks that present themselves range from nuisances and disruption, such as with “Zoombombing” [a disruptive intrusion by hackers into a video conference call], to device and network compromise with viruses, spyware or ransomware.

Here are some best practices to keep your remote environment secured:

Teleconferences

When using Zoom or other remote meeting sites that provide audio and video connectivity, be sure that the security settings are activated to only allow screen sharing by the host, or designated others who have a need. Also be sure to use access passwords or codes available only to the invited participants that are provided in the invite prior to the meeting.

Equipment, Software and Hardware

Often the organization does not provide all equipment or supplies necessary to ensure remote access. The proper protection of information to which the user has access involves connection to the Internet, local office security, and the protection of physical information assets. Below are some of the additional items that may be required:

  • Broadband connection;
  • Paper shredder;
  • Secured office space or work area; and
  • A lockable file cabinet to secure documents when unattended.

Remote users using personal equipment are often responsible for:

  • access to the internet;
  • the purchase, setup, maintenance or support of any equipment or devices not owned by the company; and
  • ensuring current and active antivirus, firewall and malware protection is installed, functioning and updated regularly.

Security and Privacy

Organizations often have policies regarding user logical security responsibilities. Here are a few such responsibilities, which should translate to the work-from-home environment:

  • Log off and disconnect from the company’s network when access is no longer required, at least daily;
  • Enable automatic screen lock (if available) after a reasonable period of inactivity;
  • Do not provide (share) their user name or password, configure their remote access device to “remember me,” or automatically enter their username and password;
  • Enable a firewall at all times;
  • Ensure virus protection is active and current; and
  • Perform regular backups of critical information using a secure storage solution.

Additionally, companies often implement additional logical security procedures for remote users. These may include:

  • Disconnect remote user sessions after 60 minutes of inactivity;
  • Access to company owned technology applications to use commercially available encryption technologies, such as multi-factor authentication, or use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN);
  • Update the virus pattern on a regular and frequent basis;
  • Provide a reasonable backup solution; and
  • Perform regular audits of the company supplied equipment to ensure license and configuration compliance.

Company policies regarding physical security should also carry over into the remote-office. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Maintain reasonable physical security of your remote office environment. This includes access to both company and personal technology equipment and documents;
  • Limit the use or printing of paper documents that contain sensitive, confidential or non-public private information (NPI), and restrict requests for and handling of NPI to only what is essential to perform your job; and
  • Ensure documents containing sensitive, confidential or NPI are shredded and rendered unreadable and unable to be reconstructed.

It is entirely possible to work remotely. A home office can be made secure by adhering to the steps above. Bear in mind that working at a hotel or a cabin or anywhere internet service allows for access presents security issues that may compromise privacy.

For further information, reach out to Tom Weyant, Director, Risk Management & Continuous Improvement, CQA, CFE, directly at tweyant@alliantnational.com or visit www.alliantnational.com/newsroom for additional information and articles related to cyber security and internet privacy. 

Computer is the winner an online award

It’s a New Day: Digital Marketing Moves to First Place

Recently, a lot of marketers have found themselves playing in a different sandbox than the one that they may have been used to in the past. The old sandbox consisted of a hybrid kind of marketing, one that relied on both digital and physical platforms. As our world continues to shift for the foreseeable future, more and more of that physical marketing becomes irrelevant and marketing teams find themselves competing in a digital landscape.

There are a lot of benefits to shifting focus to digital. While there are still costs involved in online marketing, they’re often less. However, it also means competing with literally everything else on the internet at any given time. What we present to our target audience has to be put forward in an interesting enough manner that their attention can be pulled from the thousands of other options calling for them at any given time. That’s a tall order!

Shifting your marketing behaviors can be a difficult pill to swallow, but remember that it doesn’t all have to happen overnight. It’s also important to remember that this might not be forever. Right now, we’re in a constant state of adapting. Here are some tips for taking the plunge into this new landscape.

Focus on Engagement

We’re not just talking clicks here. Right now, one of the best things you can do for your marketing is to keep yourself accessible. Schedule live chats or seminars, or even create an online forum. These things may not have been considered to be standard marketing in the past, but right now it’s all about getting that attention. Accessibility will go a long way to set you apart from the rest of the pack.

Keep Your E-Blasts Interesting

You know what’s exhausting? Endless mailers. You know what’s even worse? Endless cookie-cutter mailers. Cutting and pasting information into the same email format you’ve sent forever might be the easy route, but it’s not going to get you the engagement you want – especially not right now. Give your audience a reason to click on your newsletter! You can utilize anything from small giveaways to something as simple as a snappier intro. Make your readers feel like you’re making an effort to connect.

Avoid Platitudes and Watch Your Frequency

We’re all getting inundated with marketing from across industries telling us that everything’s going to be okay and that our best interests are being looked out for. You don’t need to be that person. No one wants to hear platitudes all day long. We’re far enough into our current global situation that we’ve all pretty much figured out what we need on an individual basis. Focus on what you’re bringing to the table, and don’t overwhelm your email list with correspondence.

If you find yourself constantly digging for information to include in your marketing or other digital correspondences, lower the frequency of your newsletter. The people you’re reaching will appreciate that a lot more than a halfhearted information aggregate.

Keep on your Toes

As things change, change with them. There’s no sense in wasting your money on ad space or physical marketing that isn’t working for you. The future’s more uncertain than it has been in several generations. While it can be hard to accomplish, do your best to just go with the flow. Keep with the digital marketing while it makes sense, but be prepared to incorporate the physical back into rotation if the marketing landscape calls for it.

Focus on What Works Best You can read all the advice columns out of Forbes you want, but no one knows better than you do about what you and your audience are looking for. Use the advice of the experts as a spring board, and then do your best to make something unique out of your marketing. Not only will this set you apart from the crowd, it will also give your audience more of a reason to engage.

Cindy Koebele, CEO TitleSmart

Making Everyone Feel Valued is Paramount

Alliant National Agent finds work-arounds amid COVID-19

It feels almost impossible to stay connected right now. Though we’re starting to see stay-at-home orders lift across the country, social distancing protocols remain. As we continue to be separated from each other, title agents are finding innovative ways to make sure their clients and employees are safe and feel valued. Cindy Koebele, owner of Minnesota-based TitleSmart Inc., recently joined us on a webinar about doing just that.

When her home state started to close in response to COVID-19, Cindy’s first focus was to see who could work from home and make sure those team members had the tools to do so. Cindy and company also started scheduling smaller appointments to ensure client safety.

Cindy’s team also faced the same roadblocks everyone has experienced over the past several months – a shortage of everything. The offices needed to be stocked with essentials like disinfectant wipes and masks for staff and clientele, but there was a long period where nothing could be found. Thankfully the team at TitleSmart is just that – a team. A joint effort to equip company offices was quickly underway. Staff members would even text Cindy late at night if they managed to score a hard-to-find item.  

Nearly everything about day-to-day work had to change. The team was issued clipboards so they could hand papers to consumers who sat in their cars for “no contact” signings. Meanwhile, the “little things” Cindy’s team does to help clients feel welcome had to change a great deal. In the past, they’d bake fresh cookies and have an assortment of other goodies for clients taking the next big step in their lives. It was an important way the TitleSmart team connected with customers.

Thankfully, having to change the way you connect doesn’t mean giving it up entirely. Though the homemade touch of fresh baked cookies has to be put on pause, Cindy and team are still making yummy goodie bags for their closers. The focus of ensuring everyone feels welcome is more important than ever, and it’s something everyone at TitleSmart is taking very seriously.

Cindy notes that she refuses to lock her doors. She has no intention of making anyone do something they don’t want to do during these difficult times. Accommodations are being made both for those who want as little human interaction throughout the process as possible, and for those who still want that in-person experience.

The most critical takeaway from the discussion with Cindy is that connection isn’t impossible right now. It simply requires a little bit of innovation. Our situation may be a complicated one, but it’s one that we’re all in together. Making your team feel valued and showing your clients that you’re still willing to go the extra mile no matter what it may look like is the smartest business move that you can make right now. 

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