Be mindful of the potential hazards with an increasingly online-only landscape
As news continues to break, it becomes more and more apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on our industry. While it’s critical that we learn to adapt amidst the crisis, it’s also imperative that we be mindful of the potential hazards that can come with shifting into an increasingly online-only landscape. Here are some of the things to watch out for as we navigate through this difficult time.
Increase in Wire Fraud and Phishing
There is no way to avoid electronic communications throughout this pandemic. Be vigilant against phishing emails, incorrect email addresses, slightly off signature blocks and dated lingo, and emails coming in at odd hours (implying the fraudster may be abroad). Always call a verified telephone number to confirm changes to wire instructions. Click on this link for more information on what to watch out for.
TIP: Have a plan in place – meet with your IT department, and talk to your insurance agent to see how you can protect yourself against these scams.
Fraud & Forgery
Unfortunately, tumultuous times often only embolden fraudsters further. That’s why it’s important now, more than ever, to treat remote closings with the same care and caution as mail-away closings. Here are some red flags common to fraud and forgery claims: (1) the property is a part of a “flip” transaction; (2) the property is vacant land; (3) the deed to the seller is a recently recorded quit claim deed. Click on this link for more red flags.
Powers of Attorney
Powers of Attorney (POA) are ripe for fraud. Carefully examine the powers that are granted in any POA, and confirm that the POA was given freely and purposefully for the intent for which it will be used. Require a fresh POA if the POA presented is more than six months old. If you have reason to question the capacity of the principal, or have questions about the validity of the POA, contact your local Alliant National underwriter for approval before proceeding.
TIP: If your state allows the use of remote online notarization (RON) technology and the county recorder will accept electronically signed instruments for recording, recommend using RON so the principal can sign the required documents instead of appointing an attorney-in-fact.
Undue Influence and Duress on the Elderly
With COVID-19 threatening the elderly more than any other demographic, we have a responsibility to ensure we’re mindful of any potential undue influence or duress from unscrupulous heirs or caregivers. If the person holding title is elderly or is sick, be sure to dig in further before agreeing to conduct the closing.
Hard Money Lenders
Hard money lenders aren’t regulated by state or federal law. Generally, hard money lenders do not collect loan applications or otherwise vet their borrowers. This practice creates a higher potential for fraud by third parties posing as legitimate borrowers. If something feels off, it probably is. For more information on what to look for with these transactions, click on this link.
Note: Seller-financed purchased money loans are not considered hard money lenders.
Crime Watch Program We take the safety of our clientele very seriously. Because of that, Alliant National offers a $1000 reward to any agent who helps identify and prevent a forgery or scam. Be sure to contact the hotline to report anything that may feel like fraudulent activity. To submit a claim for a reward, click here: https://alliantnational.com/title-claims/crime-watch-program/.
ALTA TitleNews Online Archive
November 29, 2018
The Internal Revenue Service and Security Summit partners recently issued a warning about the surge of fraudulent emails impersonating the IRS and using tax transcripts as bait to entice users to open documents containing malware.
The scam is especially problematic for businesses whose employees might open the malware because the software can spread throughout the network and potentially take months to successfully remove.
Known as Emotet, this malware generally poses as specific banks and financial institutions in its effort to trick people into opening infected documents.
In the past few weeks, the scam masqueraded as the IRS, pretending to be from “IRS Online.” The scam email carries an attachment labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar, and the subject line uses some variation of the phrase “tax transcript.”
These clues can change with each version of the malware. Scores of these malicious Emotet emails were forwarded to email@example.com.
The IRS reminds taxpayers it does not send unsolicited emails to the public, nor would it email a sensitive document such as a tax transcript, which is a summary of a tax return. The IRS urges taxpayers not to open the email or the attachment.
If using a personal computer, delete or forward the scam email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you see these using an employer’s computer, notify the company’s technology professionals.
Reprinted with permission from the American Land Title Association.
Wire fraud is a HUGE problem that only keeps getting bigger and bigger.
In fact, U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren (R-III) wrote a letter to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on June 29th urging the Fed to be more proactive in regard to wire fraud and real estate transactions. The letter referenced the United Kingdom’s system of matching payees’ names as a possible solution to the problem of wire fraud.
However, we don’t have to wait until a federal law is passed that orders banks to match the payee name on the wire transfer payment to name on the payee’s destination bank account (“Beneficiary Bank”).
As title and escrow agents, we can be proactive and in partnership with the banks with which we do business.
So, what can we do right now?
First, we can know what our Agreement with our Escrow Account Bank says.
Does your Bank Agreement say that your bank will check the payee’s name with the name on the destination account when a wire fund transfer is initiated?
Or, does it say your bank need only rely upon the account number it was provided in the wiring instructions order? The answers to these questions might lead to an opportunity to have a discussion with your partnering Receiving Bank.
We can also send the wire instructions on the payment order, with explicit directions that acceptance be restricted to match the designated payee’s name on the Beneficiary Bank account. If it doesn’t match, then do not send the funds.
Lastly, if something does go wrong despite our best efforts and precautions, then notify both the Beneficiary Bank and the Receiving Bank as soon as possible. Typically, banks require notification of an unauthorized transfer or error within a defined time period such as, for example, thirty or sixty days.
Aside from any contractual or legal requirement for early notification, the sooner the problem is communicated, the greater the odds of the bank being able to halt or pull back the wire funds transfer.
For a great explanation of how a wire fund transfer works behind the scenes, view “Funds Transfer Law and Unauthorized Payment Liability.”
According to the IRS, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams.
These days, when we consider fraud schemes targeting title agents, we usually think about email scams where criminals attempt to interject themselves into specific transactions for the purpose of diverting a wire.
Such scams can be devastating for agents and consumers, and we must guard against this type of email fraud.
However, scams involving real estate transactions are just one small piece of the larger fraud puzzle; and with tax season upon us, it’s important to remember that our industry is not immune to the types of email and other schemes that are common to other businesses.
According to the IRS, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams.
Scammers use the regular mail, telephone, or email to set up individuals, businesses, payroll and tax professionals.
The agency recently released a flurry of alerts warning of various schemes. You can find a full summary on the IRS webpage, but here are just a few highlights.
The IRS warned that fraudsters are increasingly targeting payroll and human resource departments in an attempt to obtain their Forms W-2, which the criminals then use to file fraudulent tax returns.
To work the scam, the fraudster writes emails that look like they’re from an organization executive. The emails are directed to an internal employee with access to wage and tax information, and they often begin with an innocent greeting, such as: “hi, are you working today.”
Soon, the fraudster asks for all Form W-2 information.
The W-2 phishing scam has victimized hundreds of organizations and thousands of employees in recent years, the IRS said. Employers of all sizes have been affected including public schools, universities, hospitals, tribal governments and charities.
The IRS has established a process allowing businesses and payroll service providers to quickly report any data losses related to the W-2 scam.
Learn more about the process here.
In a recent blog post,”Think Email Fraud is the Only Hack Tactic? Think Again.” , we noted that scammers are increasingly using phone calls to attempt to trick title agents into wiring money to fraudulent accounts.
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.
As it turns out, tax fraudsters are using this same technology.
The IRS warned that criminals claiming to be IRS employees — using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers — are trying to bully victims into sending them money.
Sometimes the fraudsters claim that the victim has a tax refund coming, and the money can be deposited if the victim provides his or her banking information.
The tax phone scam seems to be targeted toward individuals as opposed to businesses, but it underscores at least two important points: 1.) treat threats and high pressure language as a red flag; and 2.) the telephone isn’t always a “safe” method of communication.
Malware scams certainly aren’t new. Basically, the fraudster sends an email that looks like it’s from a trusted source, such as a business contact, a reputable company or a government agency.
The email directs the receiver to click a hyperlink or open an attachment.
When clicked, malicious software loads onto the victim’s computer, and the scammer uses that software to gain access to sensitive systems and information.
Fraudsters often attempt to trick title agents and others involved in real estate transactions into clicking malicious links by sending emails purporting to contain “important closing documents.”
By now many agents have seen the “closing documents” scheme, and they know how to avoid it. However, companies need to remain vigilant for other types of malware emails.
In recent weeks, the IRS has seen a surge in malware emails targeting the employees of all types of businesses. The emails, which appear to come from the IRS, carry malicious attachments labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar. The words “tax transcript” often appear in the subject line.
The IRS reminded taxpayers that it does not send unsolicited emails to the public and would never email a sensitive document such as a tax transcript, which is a summary of a tax return.
If using a personal computer, such emails should be deleted or forwarded to email@example.com, the agency said. Those who receive such emails at work should notify their company’s technology team.