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.


Download the Alliant National Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering

Chatbots for Small- to Medium-sized Businesses

Customer service has never been more important to your business’s competitive advantage. Use every tool in your toolbox.

High-quality customer service is essential to a successful business. No matter where you go, 96 percent of consumers say customer service is important to whether they will be loyal to a brand.[i] 52 percent of consumers have made an additional purchase from a brand after being satisfied with the quality of customer service they received.[ii] Best of all, even a 5 percent uplift in customer retention has been shown to produce a 25 percent increase in profits.[iii]

It can sometimes be difficult, however, for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) or agencies to improve service delivery. But chatbots can help. Chatbots are programs within websites and apps that can simulate real conversation and carry out functions like answering customer questions or helping visitors navigate websites. They can help you stretch finite resources to improve customer experience (CX). Here’s everything you need to know about deploying this technology.

Chatbots to the Rescue

If your business operates online, then you can likely employ a chatbot. Whether you have a website or social media presence, it isn’t exceptionally challenging to install one of these programs and begin offering your customers 24/7 support.

Start with Your Strategy

Don’t put the cart before the horse. Start with your strategy; ask yourself why you need a chatbot in the first place. There is certainly no shortage of use cases for chatbots within the insurance industry, such as:

  • Educate customers on the process
  • Cultivate and organize leads
  • Improve CX
  • Reduce employee workload

Next, determine your priorities for your future chatbot. Think about previous experiences. Chances are, you’ve interacted with chatbots in the past. What worked? What didn’t? What did you like? Dislike? Write these down to help inform your search.    

Plan Your Approach and Execute

You must decide how you will develop your bot. Should you build from scratch? Use a plugin? Deploy a software service? Let’s look closer at each option:

  • Building from scratch is time-intensive and requires significant in-house knowledge. However, it gives you total control and flexibility.
  • You can use a chatbot plugin with your content management system (CMS). Each of the leading CMS platforms have respective plugins and installation instructions, including WordPress, Drupal or Wix. Widgets are functional blocks that, upon installation, provide your website with additional functionality. These blocks are also often customizable, free and easy to install.
  • Finally, there are now low-code and no-code applications capable of creating chatbots; but you’ll want to be sure to read independent reviews before purchasing!

Following installation, you cannot just assume your bot will operate seamlessly. Don’t forget to do a trial run and test its basic functions before it goes live.

The Rise of the Robots  

We’ve long heard how artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually make human labor obsolete. While that has not come to pass, AI is increasingly working alongside humans to drive greater efficiencies, productivity and profitability. Chatbots are one of the latest examples of this trend. And when approached strategically, they can help small agencies deliver world-class customer experiences.

[i] Daniela Puzzo, Fonolo, 4 January 2022, 150+ Customer Service Statistics for 2022 | Fonolo

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

illustration of 2 hands exchanging a 5 dollar bill

Effective Invoicing

You can’t keep the lights on without revenue, and you can’t bring in revenue without effective invoicing

Every business needs to charge for their goods or services, but effectively invoicing or billing is not as easy as you might think. Let’s face it, nobody really wants another pricey software subscription, but routinely creating something manually can eat up time that is already in short supply. So, what to do? Here are a few critical things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about optimizing your invoicing process.

The Value of the Invoice

First things first: Did you know that businesses lacking an effective invoicing system can experience a real blow to their bottom line? According to 2016 data, the value of small business unpaid invoices was $825 billion – roughly equivalent to 5% of U.S. GDP at the time.[i] Additionally, the average small business has $84,000 in unpaid invoices.[ii]

DIY Route

Of course, collection problems can result in unpaid invoices, but there is no way to begin trying to collect on your invoices if you can’t create and process them efficiently.

There are basically two different options for how to approach your invoices: going DIY or finding an affordable software subscription. If you go the DIY route, the best approach is to create a template that can be easily updated for each client. This may sound intimidating; but don’t worry, it’s easier than you think. And the good news is that you likely already have a program that can largely take care of this for you.

Creating a template is easy with Microsoft Word, and the software includes a variety of templates that you can download. To do this, simply go through the following steps:

  1. Open Microsoft Word;
  2. Hit “File,” and then “New,” and then on the right-hand side of the window you can search for templates or optionally select a category;
  3. Type “invoice” into the search bar;
  4. Once you’ve settled on a template, download it and prepare to customize it for your business.

Before you can begin customizing, you’ll need to gather some business information. Be as comprehensive as possible here; you want your invoice to look as professional as possible. Some elements you’ll want to include are:

  1. Your agency logo (if you have one)
  2. Company contact details: name, address, phone number, website and email
  3. An invoice number – for referencing purposes
  4. An itemized list of products or services that you have provided for your clients
  5. The invoice date
  6. The date the invoice needs to be paid
  7. A subtotal for all charges
  8. Details for how your clients can remit payment
  9. A total amount owed, including all applicable taxes
  10. Your payment terms and conditions
  11. A small message thanking your client for choosing to work with you

Once you have added all the above elements, save your invoice in a handy location for future reference.

Software Subscription

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of creating your own invoice in a program like Microsoft Word, there are many options for anyone looking for a more automated approach to invoices – both free and low-cost.

When considering between a DIY approach and a software subscription, there are a number of factors to weigh. Invoicing software can offer benefits such as:

  1. Tracking invoice delivery and payment status
  2. Reducing missed payments
  3. Simplifying the accounting process
  4. Protecting key customer information from cyberattacks

Think through your business needs ahead of purchasing a subscription. If your agency could benefit from some of this added functionality, that may create enough positive ROI to justify the monthly expense.

Additionally, keep in mind that today’s modern solutions can frequently be integrated with other services – which can save you additional time. For instance, many invoicing software subscriptions integrate with payment gateways – meaning that customers can make their payments digitally rather than bothering with paper checks.

Boost Your Profitability Invoicing is the bread and butter of your business, meaning that you need a process in place that is clear, easy and standardized. Whether you pursue a DIY template or make a small investment in invoicing software, streamlining your billing process is never a bad idea and will — no pun intended — almost invariability pay off.

[i] [Infographic] The Economic Impact of Unpaid Invoices | Fundbox Blog

[ii] Ibid

digital solutions graphic

Selecting the Right Software Solution for Better Collaboration

Collaboration is the lifeblood of a well-functioning company; the right solution can make all the difference.

Even before the pandemic hit, collaboration challenged businesses of all sizes and industries. When offices emptied nearly 20 months ago and people retreated to their homes, these difficulties increased. In-person communication became impossible with collaboration confined to digital tools like email and Zoom. 

Thankfully, we live in a time of limitless digital innovation, where you can find dozens of solutions to streamline collaboration and boost productivity. Let’s look at a few best practices for selecting software to support your unique collaboration goals. 

What Are Digital Collaboration Tools?

Why do you need a specialized collaboration solution? If you have an internet connection, an email address and a cell phone, isn’t that enough? For some, it may be. Yet many organizations have complex processes and must manage projects with remote or hybrid teams. Modern software solutions can offer these organizations additional functionality that is badly needed. From cloud storage and scheduling to instant messaging, file sharing and alerts, today’s collaboration software keeps these teams on track and optimizes workflows for maximum productivity. 

How Do You Pick a Collaboration Platform?

Just as you would with any other solution, choosing the right collaboration software means following a strategic process. First, focus on identifying problems or pain points that you hope your solution will mitigate. Next, make a list of features that you need to have and that you want to have. Because of the sheer variety of available solutions, it is wise to do your research upfront to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Luckily, there are plenty of reviews and commentaries that can help you begin to zero in on the ideal collaboration tool.  

One way to think about it is to determine your core workflows. For example, if you deal with a high number of digital documents, you will want your collaboration software to include a secure mechanism for transferring files between users. If you have projects that must go through several levels of approval and sign-off, then you’ll want robust scheduling features for you to layout clear, step-by-step processes. 

Other considerations are whether the tools you select are secure and flexible. Cybersecurity is a major problem for businesses across the economy, so you’ll want to inquire about built-in protections. A couple of examples of this would be end-to-end encryption for any chat features and multifactor authentication deployed during sign-on. 

Pay special attention as well to how receptive or malleable your solution is to integrations. Chances are, you already have a few programs or services you are using to conduct business. You’ll want the option to integrate new tools with pre-existing IT infrastructure. 

Finally, inquire about the pricing for any solutions you find yourself considering. Many IT products now function through an “as-a-service” model, meaning that you will pay a monthly fee for the service. Don’t forget to ask if this applies to your platform or if you will be primarily paying an up-front fee. Additionally, there can be other associated costs – such as network bandwidth, supportive infrastructure, deployment costs and user training expenses. Take the time to calculate what’s known as total cost of ownership (TCO) ahead of making any final decisions. 

Strengthen Your Collaboration for Better Operations

Without effective communication and collaboration throughout your company, it’s extraordinarily difficult to operate efficiently and scale your business. In our fast-paced digital world, keeping a close eye on your projects and optimizing your workflows is even more important. Thankfully, many solutions can keep employees connected and productive whether your team operates via headquarters or home offices. 

Network cyber security technology concept and global line in white with white graphic secure lock icon and white 2022 both in foreground

Cybersecurity in the New Year

Cybersecurity was a major topic during the past 12 months. Here are a few of the top trends.

2021 was another whirlwind year – full of both difficult challenges and encouraging developments. Naturally, this extends to the cybersecurity field as well. Let’s look forward to some of the biggest cybersecurity developments and what they mean for the workplace.

Malware in the News

Most people these days have a basic understanding of malware. At the very least, they’ve heard the term before, as well as its many variations like computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware or adware. However, 2021 was definitely the moment where cybersecurity awareness went fully mainstream. Whether it be the Colonial Pipeline and SolarWinds attacks to the explosion in phishing related to COVID-19, cybersecurity issues dominated the headlines this year like never before.

Business Responses

Unsurprisingly, this explosion in malware activity has brought a wide range of responses – many of which are quite good and include elements I’ve previously advocated for on this blog. For example, during 2021 it became abundantly clear that cybersecurity should not solely fall under the purview of IT. A secure organization requires everyone to practice safe online behavior, but to do that, employees need guidance on identifying potential threats and acting accordingly when they encounter one. Additionally, end-users often require instruction and training on proper password management.

Remote Work Security

Of course, this is only one piece of the puzzle, particularly as remote work has skyrocketed over the past year. IT professionals have had to push themselves to their limits to support their organizations through such a profound paradigm shift. They have had to contend with employees potentially using unsecured personal devices and networks; the prospect of corporate devices being stolen, lost or misused; and cybersecurity knowledge gaps amongst dispersed workforces. To compensate, businesses have adopted a wide range of approaches, including advocating for multi-factor authentication, conducting extensive WFH (work from home) security training or deploying new solutions such as virtual desktops or DaaS.

Here’s to a Successful 2022

As one year ends and another begins, it’s important to look back in addition to looking ahead. 2021 has been a difficult period for cybersecurity, affecting both IT professionals and end-users. However, by practicing due diligence, ensuring that staff is trained on best practices and making investments where necessary, firms can face the new year with a sense of optimism, knowing that they’re well-positioned to operate safely and effectively in our digital-first economy.

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