graphic of FBI BEC and Real Estate Wire Fraud 2022 Report

FBI Pivots Investigative Energy To Real Estate Wire Fraud

In a November report to Congress on business email compromise (BEC) and real estate wire fraud (REWF), the FBI announced enhanced efforts to put the brakes on what has become one of the most financially damaging crimes in the United States.

According to the FBI report, BEC has been the largest dollar loss by victim crime typology reported to IC3 in the past several years, with over $2.4 billion of losses in 2021.

“For comparison, the second highest dollar loss category reported to IC3 was investment fraud, with losses of approximately $1.45 billion,” the FBI reported. “In other words, dollar losses associated with BEC were over 65% more than dollar losses associated with investment fraud.”

The FBI noted in its report that criminals have been refining their exploitation of technology, especially the internet, to carry out financial crimes, logging substantial increases in internet-enabled financial frauds such as bank account takeovers, synthetic identity related frauds, money laundering through virtual currency, and BEC.

“The FBI has pivoted its approach to address this issue through gathering intelligence, utilizing advanced investigative techniques in conjunction with traditional financial crimes investigative techniques, using proactive public and private partnerships, and education and awareness campaigns,” the agency noted in the report.

Real estate wire fraud in the crosshairs

REWF is a sub-category of BEC, in which criminal actors target individuals or companies executing large wires related to real estate transactions. As our agents are aware, the criminals pose as parties to the transaction and directly communicate with the other parties to steal funds intended to pay for the real estate.

According to IC3 complaint data, victims participating at all levels of a real estate transaction have reported such activity, including title companies, law firms, real estate agents, buyers, and sellers. The FBI has specifically focused on addressing REWF due to its prevalence in the U. S. and the effect it can have on the individual victims of the REWF schemes, who may be home buyers wiring their life savings.

These schemes and the preventative measures that title agents can take have been detailed in Alliant National’s 2022 Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering White Paper.

In its report to Congress, the FBI updated its preventative measures to include the following recommendations:

  • Use secondary channels or two-factor authentication to verify requests for changes in account information.
  • Ensure the URL in emails is associated with the business/individual it claims to be from.
  • Be alert to hyperlinks that may contain misspellings of the actual domain name.
  • Refrain from supplying login credentials or PII of any sort via email.
  • Verify the email address used to send emails, especially when using a mobile or handheld device, by ensuring the sender’s address appears to match who it is coming from.
  • Ensure the settings in employees’ computers are enabled to allow full email extensions to be viewed.
Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering cover

First published in 2017 and fully updated by Alliant National’s Compliance, Risk and Education teams, the paper provides information, tips and suggestions to help you better understand the current threat environment and create a comprehensive plan that addresses the realities we face in our industry.

Filling in the Gaps

The FBI has had considerable success in reclaiming lost funds through the IC3’s Recovery Asset Team (RAT) program, since its inception in 2018.

The RAT is designed to assist FBI field offices with the rapid recovery of funds for victims who made transfers to domestic accounts. In 2021, the RAT reported just over 1,700 incidents, with losses approaching $445 million. According to the FBI, the RAT was able to recover more than $328 million of the $445 million.

But there is more work to be done and the FBI has identified vulnerabilities which, if addressed, would bolster the ability of U.S. law enforcement to effectively address a wide range of threats, including BEC.

The first is getting access to beneficial ownership information to track funds that end up in accounts controlled by shell companies.

“The Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) provides for the creation of a national, non-public database of underlying beneficial ownership information for U.S.-registered businesses that meet specific criteria,” the FBI noted. “The data collected will be made available to U.S. law enforcement, subject to certain guardrails, offering a critical resource for identifying participants in a BEC scheme.”

On Sept.  29, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued the first of three rulemakings to implement the CTA, governing who must report and what information they must report to FinCEN. The final rule will take effect on January 1, 2024.

The effectiveness of this reporting requirement is as yet unknown, and there is some concern that the CTA exempts from its reporting requirements various types of entities, including trusts, which may affect efforts to identify the beneficial owners of trusts or other entities engaged in REWF.

The FBI is also recommending that UCC 4A-207 be redrafted to require banks to properly identify the name and number of the beneficiary and to determine they are in fact the same individual or entity. Currently, a bank may simply rely on the number as the identifier, without requiring a check to see if it is actually connected to the named beneficiary.

Cyber security #1 priority in 2023

As the threat from cyber criminals continues to escalate, it is imperative that our agents review their procedures for protecting client funds.

You can begin today to assess your systems and educate your staff to make sure every possible precaution has been put into place. We hope our Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering White Paper will be helpful in this work. Alliant National is committed to updating our agents to help you understand and respond to the current threat environment. Feel free to reach out to your agency representative, or any member of the Alliant National team if you have any concerns.

Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization logo

Are You “e” Ready? Broadcast Your Capability Through the New MISMO® Exchange

After years of incrementally slow progress on the e-mortgage front, the pandemic succeeded in catapulting the mortgage and settlement services industry into the digital mortgage and closing age in short order. As state legislatures quickly rushed through a variety of pending remote online notarization (RON) laws, more agents jumped at the chance to add this capability to their tool belt.

In an April 12 release, ALTA reported that the number of title professionals offering digital closings more than tripled over the past two years, from 14% participation prior to 2019, to more than 46% in its most recent survey.

The question for agents is, do your partners and potential customers know about your new digital closing capability? And how can you get the word out?

MISMO has provided a national solution that you can capitalize on immediately to ensure potential customers who are looking for a service provider with RON capability can check on your status.

The MISMO e-Eligibility Exchange was created to accelerate industry-wide adoption of digital closings. According to a recent release from MISMO, the e-Eligibility Exchange provides centralized access to acceptance criteria that enables lenders and other industry participants to easily determine the right type of digital mortgage closing for each loan, including the use of electronic promissory notes (eNotes) or RON.

How Can Agents Get Into the e-Eligibility Exchange?

The only way to get into the exchange is by first getting registered in the ALTA Title and Settlement Agency Registry. ALTA announced that it will be the sole provider of title and settlement data to MISMO through the registry, which currently includes more than 9,000 locations, with more than 2,000 of them indicating they have RON capability.

The registry is free and ALTA membership is not required. After you register, your underwriter will confirm your information. According to MISMO, this verification, along with the uniqueness of the ALTA ID, ensures the accuracy of the data in the e-Eligibility Exchange for users.

If you are not yet signed up with the ALTA registry, here’s what you need to know:

  • Visit alta.org/registry to learn more about the ALTA Title & Settlement Agency Registry.
  • Download materials to register on the ALTA resources site to begin the registration process.
  • ALTA will provide you with a unique 7-digit identifier, called the ALTA ID, which is automatically assigned to each new database record as a permanent ID number.
  • ALTA ID numbers are available for free to title agents and to real estate attorneys.
  • Once you are registered, your underwriters will be contacted to confirm your status.

Recent legislation has helped grow adoption of e-recording and e-notarization, but the lack of uniformity still makes it difficult for lenders to universally adopt electronic practices, forcing lenders to make a loan-by-loan decision about what documents can be electronically signed.

MISMO’s e-Eligibility Exchange helps address this challenge by allowing lenders to quickly assess requirements for individual loans.

More importantly for you, it allows lenders to identify the availability of title and settlement agents with electronic capabilities. Hop on the digital train in 2022. With the advent of the e-Eligibility Exchange, you now have the perfect opportunity to put yourself front and center for digital closing opportunities in the coming years.

FBI internet crime report 2021 with dark blue ALERT next to it

FBI IC3 Report, Russian Cyberattacks Put Companies on High Alert

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) 2021 report released in March highlighted an “unprecedented increase in cyberattacks and malicious cyber activity” resulting in a dramatic escalation in financial losses.

In 2021, IC3 received 847,376 complaints from consumers and businesses – a 7% increase from 2020 – with potential losses exceeding $6.9 billion. Most significantly for the title insurance industry, business email compromise (BEC) schemes resulted in losses of nearly $2.4 billion, up 33% from 2020.

In its report, the IC3 identified Russia as a hot spot for cyberattack actors in 2021. In recent weeks, the risk of those cyberattacks has grown exponentially in retaliation for the many sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

On March 21, President Biden released a statement highlighting the imminent threat to our nation’s cybersecurity. That same day, Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger said in a press briefing, “We’ve previously warned about the potential for Russia to conduct cyberattacks against the United States, including as a response to the unprecedented economic costs that the U.S. and allies and partners imposed in response to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine. Today, we are reiterating those warnings, and we’re doing so based on evolving threat intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks on critical infrastructure in the United States.”

These imminent threats are a reminder of how important it is to take the necessary steps to protect your agency and your customers.

Alliant National has just released a white paper titled Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering: Recent Schemes and Prevention Tips to provide our agents with information, risk factors and protocols that will help you partner with consumers, real estate agents and lenders to defend against the fraudsters.

In addition, the Biden Administration released a Fact Sheet, urging companies to take immediate steps to protect their systems, including:

  • Mandate the use of multi-factor authentication on your systems to make it harder for attackers to get onto your system
  • Deploy modern security tools on your computers and devices to continuously look for and mitigate threats
  • Check with your cybersecurity professionals to make sure that your systems are patched and protected against all known vulnerabilities
  • Change passwords across your networks so that previously stolen credentials are useless to malicious actors
  • Back up your data and ensure you have offline backups beyond the reach of malicious actors
  • Run exercises and drill your emergency plans so that you are prepared to respond quickly to minimize the impact of any attack
  • Encrypt your data so it cannot be used if it is stolen
  • Educate your employees on common tactics that attackers will use over email or through websites
  • Encourage employees to report if their computers or phones have shown unusual behavior, such as unusual crashes or operating very slowly
  • Engage proactively with your local FBI field office or CISA Regional Office to establish relationships in advance of any cyber incidents

The Biden Administration also encourages IT and security leaders at all companies to visit the websites of CISA and the FBI to access technical information and other useful resources. These heightened threats represent a clear and present danger for all of us. We encourage all of our agents to download the Alliant National Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering today and share this information with your staff and customers.

Escrow_Fraud_2022-cover

Download the Alliant National Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering

Tabletop with a pair of glasses next to a newspaper headline reading: cyber attack in all capital letters

Fraud Surge: Understanding the threat. Protecting your business

Cyber fraud, social engineering and wire fraud attempts are on the rise again. We’re sharing in-depth information to help you protect your business.

Escrow_Fraud_2022-cover


Today, we are releasing the 2022 version of our
Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering White Paper.

First published in 2017 and fully updated by Alliant National’s Compliance, Risk and Education teams, the paper provides information, tips and suggestions to help you better understand the current threat environment and create a comprehensive plan that addresses the realities we face in our industry.

Time to assess cyberattack risk in light of Ukraine invasion

The paper’s release comes at a critical time as U.S. businesses brace for potential cyber warfare corresponding with recent violence in Europe. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a bulletin in January warning of the increased risk of cyberattacks in the U.S. as Russia was poised to invade Ukraine.

“We assess that Russia would consider initiating a cyberattack against the Homeland if it perceived a U.S. or NATO response to a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine threatened its long-term national security,” the agency said in the bulletin released to law enforcement partners and obtained by The Hill.

In response, the American Land Title Association warned in a recent blog that the risk of spillover cyberattacks against non-primary targets could become much more widespread.

2022: Growth of BEC/EAC

Against this backdrop of international tension, Alliant National agents continue to report an increase in attempted wire fraud schemes. These attacks are part of a growing fraud threat targeting businesses of all sizes and the general public.

The FBI refers to this threat as Business Email Compromise/Email Account Compromise (BEC/EAC). BEC/EAC fraudsters focus on organizations that perform wire transfers, making real estate especially vulnerable.

According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) most recent report, the center received a record number of complaints from the American public in 2020: 791,790, with reported losses exceeding $4.1 billion. This represents a 69% increase in total complaints from 2019. Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes continued to be the costliest: 19,369 complaints with an adjusted loss of approximately $1.8 billion. Phishing scams were also prominent: 241,342 complaints, with adjusted losses of over $54 million.

Protect Your Agency

Given the increased incidence of BEC/EAC scams and ransomware attacks over the past several years, it is imperative that prevention be addressed at every level. State and federal entities, as well as most of the top tech companies are creating alliances and workgroups to stem the tide.

Title insurance companies and agents also have a role to play. Given the current nationwide threat, we encourage all agents and their staff to remain on high alert for attempted fraud, particularly when it comes to seller proceeds. We also urge agencies to remain vigilant regarding possible attempts to obtain consumer or employee PII.

Here are some immediate steps to consider:

  • Identify the risks your agency faces and make sure your systems are protected
  • Maintain strict policies and procedures for verification of wire instructions
  • Educate your staff and consumers about what to do when they suspect fraud
  • Establish protocols to quickly detect fraud and recover diverted funds
  • Obtain appropriate insurance, including Cyber Liability coverage

Cyber Security is Mission Critical

There is nothing more important than protecting our clients’ funds and personal information. It is mission critical for a title company to make security its highest priority in 2022. You can begin today to assess your systems and educate your staff to make sure every possible precaution has been put into place. We hope our Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering White Paper will be helpful in this work.

In addition to the release of the White Paper, Alliant National will provide updated materials throughout the year to help agents understand and respond to the threat environment we face. Of course, we’re always ready to discuss the threats we are seeing, and steps you might consider for your business. Feel free to reach out to your agency representative, or any member of the Alliant National team.

Blue cloud behind a yellow file folder with white papers coming out and with a red arrow and a green arrow following each other creating a circle on the front of the folder.

Electronic Document Recording: 2021 Update

Wow! It has been an overwhelming past year-and-a-half, particularly with the pandemic and everything that came with it. I’m thankful to work in an essential business area – namely, the real estate field.

Prior to joining Alliant National, I worked at eRecording Partners Network (ePN) for eight years. They’re one of the main electronic document recording service providers. The other main vendors are CSC, Indecomm and Simplifile.

Document recording is one of the final steps in the real estate transaction process. Getting real estate documents officially on record with counties is essential to the successful completion of a transaction. This process includes traditional recording of paper documents, as well as electronic document recording (eRecording for short).

eRecording started back in 1999 and it uses technology that’s now over 20 years old; some people are surprised by this. The eRecording process offers numerous benefits for title agents, other business submitters and counties. Turnaround times are reduced. Final policies are issued more quickly and the gap time is lessened. Some other benefits include: faster rejection resolution; streamlined electronic payments; the elimination of rejections for incorrect recording fee payments; compliance with industry best practices; and lender requirements and eco-friendliness. Plus, eRecording is more streamlined, secure, and cost-effective. As one title agent said to me a couple years ago, “It’s like going from the Flintstones to the Jetsons!”

But how does the process work exactly? Well, first it’s important to understand that eRecording is an “e-delivery” business service option for title companies, law firms, banks and other businesses that record land record documents frequently. It is not a service for one-time document recording. Once you have your documents executed and ready to record, eRecording is another option for document delivery, recording and return. County business customers can choose to pay postage, UPS, FedEx, a courier or an employee to deliver and return their paper documents. Or they can pay to eRecord them. Most eRecording vendors charge a few dollars per document. Some have other fees as well. Explore your options to ensure you are selecting an eRecording provider that best fits your unique business needs.

Getting started with eRecording is easy. Requirements are basic. You need a computer, a scanner, internet access and a web browser. You’ll also need to choose and sign up for a service with an eRecording vendor approved by counties where you record documents. Once your eRecording vendor sets up your login and account, you should be able to start eRecording immediately. Most counties typically have multiple approved eRecording vendor options. Most have approved ePN, CSC and Simplifile as eRecording vendor options. Sometimes Indecomm is included as well.

When you eRecord, the fees remain the same. eRecording vendors typically charge a fee per document; usually, this amounts to a few dollars. Some have adopted a “variable rate” approach based on volume and other factors. Some also charge additional sign-up, monthly or annual fees. Ask each vendor for their pricing options to gain a clear picture.

Today, eRecording is legal and available in 49 states, plus Washington, D.C. Vermont is the only state where eRecording isn’t yet legal. As of August 2021, almost 2,300 jurisdictions are eRecording nationwide. That’s about 88 percent by population. In about 15 states, 100 percent of the counties allow eRecording. Alliant National’s home state of Colorado is one of the states with eRecording available in 100 percent of its counties. The Property Records Industry Association (PRIA) is a great resource for state and county status for eRecording. Many state and/or county recording associations also provide information on eRecording availability, as well as contact info for each county recording office.

Due in big part to the COVID-19 pandemic, use of eRecording sky-rocketed in 2020. Shortly after the pandemic hit in March of 2020, things changed for everyone. At the county level, offices closed or had limited access. Some Recorder offices closed completely for a time or tried to continue operations by working remotely. It was a challenging period, and for a time, there seemed to be a lull in eRecording activity in county offices. In some cases, operations still aren’t back to where they were pre-pandemic. But thankfully, as we got toward the latter part of last year, we started to see a rise in county adoption of eRecording once again.

Now you may be asking, what about recording turnaround times? Pre-pandemic, it was pretty safe to estimate same day or next day eRecording by counties. And in many cases, it wasn’t uncommon for counties to turn documents around within a couple hours or less. However, during the pandemic, turnaround times increased in many counties, and at times dramatically. Situations, of course, varied. Sometimes, both traditional recording and eRecording were affected. In others, traditional recording was affected, but eRecording wasn’t affected as much. Over the course of the past year-and-a-half, we’ve seen improvements. I’m sure that those of you “in the trenches” and involved with getting documents recorded have seen and experienced fluctuations and changes in recording turnaround times. But I can say with confidence that eRecording certainly helps with recording turnaround overall.

Over the past decade, eRecording has received more attention due to regulatory changes (CFPB and TRID), more stringent requirements on lenders and, in turn, on their service providers – including those that record documents with counties. ALTA released its best practices in early 2013, which included a call for faster delivery, tracking and timely response to rejections. PRIA also released their TRID Informational Paper and their eRecording Best Practices for Recorders in 2015. These documents cover items like accepting all document types, allowing multiple eRecording vendors, imaging and making eRecording easy for their business customers, among others.

While there are now almost 15 states with 100 percent eRecording, there are others that are close to the 100 percent mark. To gain a complete picture of each state’s status, PRIA put together a helpful map.  Some states are working on legislation that would mandate that all counties make eRecording available by a certain date. My home state of Ohio is one of them. I know that Indiana, Kentucky and others are working on legislation as well.

As of July 2021, about 88 percent of the U.S. population lives in eRecording jurisdictions. Counties continue to come online with eRecording or expand their services by adding more eRecording document types. Counties, eRecording submitter vendors, underwriters, and industry associations like ALTA, PRIA and state associations, continue to raise awareness and promote eRecording. If eRecording is not yet available in counties where you conduct business, please ask your county recording office how soon they will offer eRecording or when they’ll start eRecording deeds and let them know that you are interested to explore the benefits of this technology.

For more information on eRecording, here are the websites for eRecording vendors that service counties across the U.S.:

Bob Grohol is AVP & State Manager Ohio, Penn. & Mich., with Alliant National Title Insurance Company. He can be reached at 440-228-0826 or BGrohol@AlliantNational.com.

Let's Connect

Discover more stories and conversations on our social media networks,
or drop us a line on our contact page.


The Independent Underwriter for
the Independent AgentSM