As the country’s leading independent title insurance underwriter for the independent title agent, Alliant National has a responsibility to help confront the growing threat of fraud in our industry. One way we do this is through our Crime Watch program, which incentivizes agencies to report instances of fraud that they encounter. As part of the program, firms that prevent a fraudulent transaction that was to be insured by Alliant National may be eligible to receive a reward of $1,000.
Coffelt Title – An Active Partner In Fraud Detection
Coffelt Land Title, Inc., a title insurance agency that does business throughout Missouri and Kansas, recently detected three instances of fraud, and submitted them to Alliant National for award consideration.
Jessica Wackerman, who works at Coffelt as a title searcher and examiner, noticed a potentially fraudulent transaction while examining a series of files on three properties involving one buyer. “Looking at all of them together, I noticed some issues with the deeds as far as the same formatting, the spelling of grantor and grantee names, as well as notary names,” she said. “I then did some digging and found lots of issues – such as finding death information on one individual.” After noticing this and collecting the requisite information, she quickly notified her contact at Alliant National and sent in copies of the deeds and commitments.
Taken together, these various properties represented a potential fraud amount of nearly $20,000, pointing to the importance of vigilance when it comes to detecting and reporting fraud. As Jessica explains: “Alliant National’s Crime Watch program is a great thing for the agents and underwriter. It protects everyone, but it also ensures that the agents are looking into anything that might seem a little suspicious. The incentive is a nice reward for doing the research to produce all the information.”
Of course, no single program can entirely prevent or mitigate a problem as endemic as real estate fraud, which is why agencies must take other steps to protect themselves and the customers they serve. Coffelt Title itself has taken that idea to heart, investing in staff training and education to help employees catch fraud before it is too late.
Alliant National Is Making A Difference In Fraud Prevention
“I think all title companies need to be more aware of the fraud that is happening in their markets. They should not act under the assumption that it won’t happen to them or their customers,” said Jessica when asked about fraud in the title industry.
We couldn’t agree more, which is why Alliant National launched the Crime Watch program in the first place. Over the past year, we have seen the program pay off in spades. In 2022, Alliant National agents, through this program, collectively reported to us 12 instances of attempted fraud, totaling a potential liability amount of $1.8 million. In recognition of these agent sleuths, we have issued $12,000 in awards. We’re proud of our agents’ efforts to combat this systemic problem in the industry and, as this year draws to a close, would like to thank the following Crime Watch award recipients for making title insurance a safer and more sustainable field:
- Siesta Title Escrow and Services LLC | FL | Amanda Pertuch
- Title Professionals of Florida (TPF) | FL | David D. Lanaux
- Alliance Nationwide Title Agency, LLC | MO | Daniel Onwiler
- Alliance Nationwide Title Agency, LLC | KS | Ben Chapman
- Siesta Title Escrow and Services LLC | FL | Claire Hooper
- Coastal Title Services | FL | Brianna Steel
- Legacy Title & Escrow, LLC | FL | Kathy Morgan
- Caldwell County Abstract and Title Company, LLC | MO | Megan Eitel and Amanda McGinley
- Sunrise Title Services | FL | Adaliz Alvarez
- Coffelt Land Title, Inc. | MO | Jessica Wackerman
- Coffelt Land Title, Inc. | MO | Jessica Wackerman
- Coffelt Land Title, Inc. | MO | Jessica Wackerman
- First International Title | FL | Natia Johnson
Learn more about Alliant National’s Crime Watch program
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has labeled business email compromise (BEC)/email account compromise (EAC) as “one of the most financially damaging online crimes” as it is “the top cyber threat.” BEC/EAC is a scam in which fraudsters trick an unsuspecting party, typically by using a variety of social engineering and phishing tactics, into making payments to fraudulent accounts.
Since 2016, over $43 billion has been lost through BEC/EAC attacks. In 2021, U.S. losses attributed to BEC/EAC cybercrimes were reported to be almost $2.4 Billion. This is more than one-third of the total cost of all cybercrimes reported to the IC3 in 2021. In a recent article from Security Magazine, the author noted that email cyberattacks have increased by 48% in just the first half of 2022. It is no surprise that the title insurance industry has been the target of fraud schemes for many years, especially with wire transfers being utilized more often.
Some common schemes we continue to see include:
- Seller Spoof – fraudsters impersonate the seller (using an email address that may only be slightly different from the original, or using the actual seller’s email), and provide alternate bank account information for the seller proceeds.
- Lender Spoof – in a transaction involving the payoff of a prior lender, fraudsters impersonate the prior lender. They often modify the original payoff provided by the prior lender (or create one) with wiring instructions for a fraudulent account.
- Buyer Beware – fraudsters pose as the settlement or real estate agent using a similar email address, and instruct the buyer to wire their down payment funds to a fraudulent bank account.
There are many ways to protect a person or a business from becoming a victim of these costly schemes. A few tips include:
- Meticulously examine the email address, URL, and spelling used in any correspondence. Fraudsters use only slight differences hoping you do not critically analyze the spelling.
- Be suspicious about opening any email attachments from someone you don’t know and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you as they may include malware or other malicious software.
- View all changes to wire instruction with extreme caution.
- Always independently verify with the company any payments or wires being sent to a third-party by contacting them at a legitimate number, and be leery of any last-minute changes to account numbers or payment procedures.
- Confirm with the intended recipient that the wire was received.
- Be extremely suspicious if the requestor is pressuring you to act quickly.
If you do become a victim, do not wait to take the next steps since time is critical in this process. Have a plan in place and be prepared to:
- Notify your office management.
- Notify your financial institution and the recipient’s financial institution.
- Contact local law enforcement.
- Contact your local FBI field office.
- Contact your cyber-insurance, escrow security bond, and error and omissions provider.
- File a complaint with Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- Contact your title underwriter.
With our increased dependency on technology and the pace of our industry, we cannot let down our guard – we must stay vigilant! Heed the warning that fraudsters are not slowing down or giving up on these fraudulent schemes. If you are presented with any of these situations, the key is to be able to recognize the scam and then shut it down before it can infiltrate your transaction and create a web of issues.
You can learn more about identifying and preventing fraud by downloading Alliant National’s white paper – Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering: Recent Schemes and Prevention Tips.
Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering: Recent Schemes and Prevention Tips, Alliant National Title Insurance Company
Email cyberattacks increased 48% in first half of 2022, Security Magazine: https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/98145-email-cyberattacks-increased-48-in-first-half-of-2022
FBI – Business Email Compromise: https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/safety-resources/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/business-email-compromise
FBI – Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): https://www.ic3.gov/
October evokes many things: skeletons, ghosts, pumpkins and, of course, Halloween. Yet for anyone wanting their workplace to operate efficiently and safely, October should be known for something else:
This 31-day period is a perfect reminder for businesses to review and, if needed, revise their cybersecurity strategy for the year ahead. Let’s learn more about this awareness month and how you can seize the moment to fortify your company’s cyber approach.
Where it All Began
Cybersecurity Awareness Month started in 2004 when the U.S. Congress gave October that official designation. Today, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA) lead a collaborative, public-private effort to raise cybersecurity awareness nationally and internationally.
Each year, Cybersecurity Awareness Month initiatives are organized under a different theme, with 2022’s being “See Yourself in Cyber” – an urgently important message. It advocates for people to stop seeing cybersecurity as an inaccessible topic for the select few and instead view it as something in which everyone can play a role.
Four Main Pillars
According to CISA, beginning to “See Yourself in Cyber” involves acting on four key priorities, some of which we’ve already discussed on this blog:
By taking these basic steps to protect your information and privacy, everyone can gain more ownership over their online life and prevent costly incidents.
Become a Cybersecurity Paragon
The silver lining when talking about cybercrime is that more attention is being paid to cybersecurity these days. A trickledown benefit of this enhanced awareness is that more resources are now available that can help even those unfamiliar with cybersecurity improve their firm’s digital defenses.
One such example are the efforts of the CISA. Each year during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, CISA invites interested parties to join them as “cybersecurity partners.” Those that do receive a toolkit with everything they need to audit their own security posture and raise awareness within their company and industry. Elements of the toolkit include cybersecurity 101 presentations, tip sheets, content assets and much more.
Visit CISA’s website for more information and to sign up as a cybersecurity partner.
You Can Prevent Cybercrime
Do you remember seeing those U.S. Forest Service ads where the iconic Smokey the Bear would proclaim, “Only you can prevent forest fires”? You don’t have to be a marketing whiz to see the beauty of that campaign. Simple, direct and powerful, it outlines the essential role we all play in preventing a widespread problem that can carry a terrible cost if it goes unchecked.
The same message holds true for cybercrime. A ubiquitous problem that can lay waste to individuals, businesses and even entire communities, cybercrime is nothing to joke about. If you’re a small business owner, for example, one bad attack can threaten your longevity as an enterprise.
But instead of becoming intimidated and reactive, events like Cybersecurity Awareness Month can inspire us to become empowered and proactive. We can all choose to “See Ourselves in Cyber” and take action to create a safer digital community.
What does it mean to get hacked? And how might we mitigate cybercrime?
Hacking is unfortunately far from uncommon. By some counts, more than 2,200 cyberattacks occur per day, which means that one cyberattack occurs every 39 seconds.[i] These hacks carry a tremendous financial cost, with some estimates putting them as high as $6 trillion per year or $500 billion per month, $115.4 billion per week, $16.4 billion per day, $684.9 million per hour, $11.4 million per minute and $190,000 every, single, second.[ii]
The figures are mind-boggling and scary, which is why it is more important than ever to understand what can occur when a business network is hacked. Without grasping the basics, it becomes more difficult to assess your risk and start proactively protecting your company.
What is the origin of the term “hacking”?
The use of the term “hacking” in a computer science context began all the way back in the 1950s at MIT. In those days, hacking simply meant dealing “with a technical problem in a creative way.”[iii] It wasn’t until the late 1970s that hacking started to refer to illicit activity, a definition it retains to this day.
These days, hacking primarily revolves around the compromising of digital devices and networks. While there is “ethical hacking,” which focuses on improving security systems and keeping data safe, most is “black hat,” which means that it is often motivated by money, such as:
- Wanting to sell private network information on the black market.
- Obtaining access to sensitive information and then attempting to coerce victims into paying money.
- Desiring to obtain confidential data and use it for financial benefit.
- Holding data hostage until a payment is made.
How do hacks occur?
Typically, business networks are targeted through the multiple endpoints that are vulnerable to criminal activity. Just think about it. Every day, employees access business networks with numerous devices that may or may not be secure. But that’s not all businesses need to be concerned about. Similarly vulnerable areas include:
- Any cloud-related services
- Unsecured WiFi
- Malicious websites
- Email accounts
Hacks come in every shape and style
There is no “one way” that hacking occurs, which makes it important to cover the different variations of hacking to gain a more complete understanding of the threat landscape. Here are seven distressingly common strategies that cybercriminals routinely employ:
- Phishing: By far, phishing is one of the most popular forms of hacking today – in part because it is so effective. To better understand the prevalence of phishing, look no further than to recent data that shows 1 in 99 emails is a phishing email.[iv] There are several different types of phishing emails, such as:
- Malware delivery emails, where malware is unleashed if the email recipient clicks on a malicious link.
- There are also credential harvesting emails, where the sender will impersonate someone the recipient knows to get them to hand over sensitive information.
- Denial of Service (DoS): DoScyberattacks occur when cybercriminals make an online property or service unavailable by inundating it with requests. This attack will frequently result in your website crashing or becoming unusable.
- Spyware: Spyware involves malicious code being embedded to monitor email correspondence or worse. Keying (key-logging) to obtain passwords is just one example.
- Malware: You’ve likely heard of malware before – and for good reason. Referring to any computer virus, worm, trojan horse, spyware, ransomware, adware or other malicious software, malware has been sneaking into user devices and business networks since the beginning of the computer age.
- Brute Force Password Decoding: In this type of hack, finesse or secrecy go out the window. The cybercriminal simply attempts to force his or her way inside your devices or network through automated tools that seek to decode your network passwords.
- DNS Attacks: With Domain Name Server (DNS) attacks, cybercriminals utilize an elaborate strategy where they take domain names and transform them into IP addresses, which often results in the domain name server redirecting web traffic to fake websites controlled by the criminal.
- Social Engineering: Social engineering cyberattacks are exceptionally difficult to guard against because they focus on manipulating human attributes like empathy, fear and urgency to gain access to personal information or a corporate network. Phishing is one example of such an attack, but there are many others that fall into this bucket.
Are we powerless against hacking?
With such a wide range of illicit cyber activity, it can feel almost impossible to keep up. However, there are numerous things business owners and employees can do to protect themselves and reduce the possibility of harm or financial loss. From following password best practices, to keeping your systems updated, to deploying new techniques like security awareness training (SAT), even the smallest firm can dramatically increase its security posture. The situation is not hopeless. In fact, by following expert advice and remaining vigilant, we all have the power to reduce our risk profile and stay safe online in both our personal and professional lives.
Keep learning! Read more about 2022 cybersecurity trends, the rise of ransomware and how to streamline your password use.
We also encourage agents to continue to explore and implement best practices to combat cyber fraud. Download Alliant National’s white paper – Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering: Recent Schemes and Prevention Tips to begin your own internal assessment.
[i] Clare Stouffer, Norton, “115 cybersecurity statistics and trends you need to know in 2021,” 9 Aug. 2021, 115 cybersecurity statistics and trends you need to know in 2021 | Norton
[iii] ECPI University, “What is Hacking and Cracking in Cybersecurity?”, What is Hacking and Cracking in Cybersecurity? (ecpi.edu)
[iv] Michael Guta, SmallBiz Trends, “1 in 99 Emails is a Phishing Attack, What Can Your Business Do?,” 4 May 2021, Phishing Statistics: What an Attack Costs Your Business [INFOGRAPHIC] – Small Business Trends (smallbiztrends.com)
Alliant National’s Crime Watch Program creates a formidable partnership to fight fraud.
There is no other way to say it: Real estate fraud is a major problem in the United States. According to the National Association of Realtors, nearly 14,000 people were victimized by real estate fraud in 2020 alone.[i] Combatting this growing threat requires strong partnerships, and Alliant National’s Crime Watch Program seeks to foster such partnerships by rewarding Alliant National agents who prevent fraudulent closings.
The program has produced real results over the years. In this blog, we will look at a recent detection and prevention of a fraudulent transaction by Siesta Title and Escrow Services LLC.
Alliant National Agents on Crime Watch
Alliant National offers a $1,000 reward to Alliant National agents who help prevent a fraudulent transaction from closing. The company created the program to help raise agents’ awareness of potential fraudulent transactions and to reduce the overall cost of claims.
To qualify for consideration to receive a reward under the Crime Watch Program, an agent must satisfy a few requirements:
- The reporting agent must be an active Alliant National agent in good standing.
- The agents must prevent a fraudulent transaction or forgery involving a real estate transaction that was intended to be insured by Alliant National.
- In the case of forgery, the intended forgery must include the falsification of a signature with an intent to defraud.
- The Crime Watch Nomination form must be executed by an owner/manager.
- All available and relevant documentation – including evidence showing that the transaction was to have been insured by Alliant National – must be submitted to the appropriate Alliant National State or Regional Agency Manager along with the Award Nomination form.
The submission form and all relevant documentation will be reviewed by the company and a final determination will be made.
Siesta Title Spots Suspicious Activity
Siesta Title and Escrow Services LLC, a title agency headquartered in Port Charlotte, Fla., recently submitted a suspected fraud to Alliant National. Their story underscores the importance of Alliant National’s Crime Watch Program and how collaboration between agents and underwriters can help stop fraud.
The property in question was a vacant lot in Port Charlotte that had been owned by a Canadian man for 30 years. Quite quickly there were communication problems and other warning signs that something about the transaction was amiss.
“The seller was hard to reach from the beginning, did not respond to emails and only called once, but it was a horrible connection,” said Amanda Pertuch, the submitting agent.
Some of the other indicators that tipped Amanda off to the questionable nature of the transaction included:
- The purported seller having suspicious-looking ID
- The purported seller’s wiring instructions going to a foreign bank
- The purported seller’s letterhead having an address associated with a vacant lot
- The purported seller not having a bank account in the same country where he holds citizenship
- The notary on the closing documents was already on Siesta’s fraud alert list
- The purported seller not showing up in any Google searches
Following verification by Amanda’s manager and Alliant National, the suspected fraud was confirmed, and the transaction was cancelled. The proposed liability amount for the transaction was $160,000.
“I’m glad and relieved that we were able to catch this fraud attempt,” said Pertuch. “Anti-fraud programs are important for our industry to keep claim costs under control. I’m happy Alliant National and Siesta Title were able to take care of this quickly and efficiently.”
If you suspect fraud, notify your manager immediately. Your manager may investigate further and will determine next steps. Under no circumstance should suspicions be communicated to outside parties without prior approval from your manager.
Fraudsters will often attempt to speed the transaction along; do not let them succeed. If you suspect fraud or forgery, conduct a full investigation before proceeding to close the transaction and issuing the policy.
Managers should contact Alliant National underwriting or claims for further assistance.
Working Together, We Can Limit Fraud
Alliant National is committed to limiting fraud and lowering claim costs. However, we can’t do it alone. Just as our ability to deliver high-quality title insurance hinges on our partnerships with agents, so too does our capability to detect and thwart fraud. And as Siesta Title and Escrow Services’ work shows, when those partnerships work, real results that reward agents and protect transactions are indeed possible.
[i] Wire Fraud (nar.realtor)