Posts Tagged ‘crime’

banner of the Alliant National Crime Watch Program flyer

Prevent fraud and get rewarded at the same time

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.”

Important Reminders

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)

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.

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Download the Alliant National Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering

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Fraud & Forgery Amidst Claims

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/.

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IRS Warns of Tax Transcript Email Scam

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 phishing@irs.gov.
recently.

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 phishing@irs.gov.

If you see these using an employer’s computer, notify the company’s technology professionals.

Reprinted with permission from the American Land Title Association.

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Partners in Wire-Fraud Protection: The Escrow Account Holder and the Bank

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.”

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