Action Plan if Affected by Marriott Data Breach

Marriott International says that a breach of its Starwood guest reservation database exposed the personal information of up to 500 million people. According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are steps you can take to help guard against misuse of your information if it was exposed.

According to Marriott, the hackers accessed people’s names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, dates of birth, gender, Starwood loyalty program account information, and reservation information. For some, they also stole payment card numbers and expiration dates. Marriott says the payment card numbers were encrypted, but it does not yet know if the hackers also stole the information needed to decrypt them.

The hotel chain reported the breach began in 2014. Anyone who made a reservation at a Starwood property on or before Sept. 10, 2018 could be affected. Starwood brands include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts, and other hotel and timeshare properties.

If your information was exposed, the FTC suggests taking advantage of the free monitoring service and taking these additional steps:

  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—for free—by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could signal identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
  • Review your payment card statements carefully. Look for credit or debit card charges you don’t recognize. If you find fraudulent charges, contact your credit card company or bank right away, report the fraud, and request a new payment card number.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you. A fraud alert is free and lasts a year.
  • Consider placing a free credit freeze on your credit reports. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that it won’t stop a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.

Marriott set up an informational website, https://answers.kroll.com, and a call center, 877-273-9481, to answer questions. It says affected customers also can sign up for a year of free services that will monitor websites that criminals use to share people’s personal information. Marriott says the service will alert customers if their information shows up on the websites, and will also include fraud loss reimbursement and other services.

The company said it will send some customers emails with a link to its informational website. Often, phishing scammers try to take advantage of situations like this. They pose as legitimate companies and send emails with links to fake websites to try to trick people into sharing their personal information. Marriott says its email will not have any attachments or request any information. Still, the safest bet is to access the informational website by typing in the address, https://answers.kroll.com.

To learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach, visit IdentityTheft.gov/databreach.


How Criminals Can Spoof Your Phone

Ever heard of SpoofCard? It’s a scammer’s dream and a nightmare for title and settlement agents. The technology isn’t new, but the application offers the ability to change what someone sees on their caller ID display when they receive a phone call. To spoof a call, a criminal will dial one of SpoofCard's access numbers and enter the destination number followed by the phone number to appear on caller ID.

Spoofcard“The recipient of that phone call will think it’s coming from one person when it’s actually coming from someone else,” said Thomas Cronkright, chief executive officer of CertifID. “Even a trained professional could fall victim to this.”

A current practice in the industry to confirm identity has been to call someone and reach them live over the phone - known as the “call-back” procedure. Cronkright says some errors and omissions insurance policies even require a call back before funds are initiated or coverage may be denied if I lost occurs.  The challenge is often you can’t get a hold of someone in real time, so they need to call you back.

As an example, a hacker could spoof a title company and call the buyer when it’s time to wire funds to close. Likewise, a fraudster could impersonate a seller and call the title company and provide them fraudulent wiring information for net proceeds to be transferred after closing.

“As the industry adopts new techniques to mitigate fraud instances, the fraudsters mimic such strategies to trick someone in a transaction,” Cronkright said.  “Fraudsters know when someone is wiring cash for a closing so they create a ruse through the phone call to disarm them so they will follow the fictitious wiring instructions that will be sent by the fraudster.  It’s a high impact scheme with no signs of slowing down.”

The Federal Trade Commission reported that imposters made more than 250,000 spoofed phone calls in 2017.

So what can title and escrow professionals do?  

“The key is early training and education of all transaction participants on how wiring information will be exchanged so that they can identify a fraudster before it’s too late,” Cronkright said. “Companies should also take a step back and review clinically how they are exchanging and confirming wiring information in order to identify areas where a fraudster could pierce through the communication chain and expose someone to loss. Unfortunately, we can’t simply rely on phone calls any longer.”


Boost Your Marketing Efforts With These Brandable Ads


ALTA members can modify and brand marketing material with their company information and logo at www.ALTAprints.com. You can customize material and download PDFs for free or order prints that can be delivered directly to your office. 

  • ADVERTISEMENTS: These multi-purpose, customizable advertisements can be used as flyers in coffee shops, handouts at first-time homebuyer seminars and ads for your real estate clients.
  • MARKETING FLYERS: Use these one-pagers as handouts at a conference or add them to your consumer introduction packet.
  • RACK CARDS: These are full of information about the benefits of title insurance in a two-sided half-sheet handout. They are the perfect item for any real estate function. The newest rack card educates consumers about how to protect their money from wire fraud.
  • POSTERS: These advertisements are customizable to print and ship to your next housing seminar, staff training, legislator/regulator meeting or open house.

How have you used HOP material to educate others about the benefits of title insurance and promote your business? Share your story by sending comments, photos or video to communications@alta.org.


ALTA Welcomes 2018-19 Board of Governors and Exec Committees


We decided to have a little fun since we were in Los Angeles for the installation of ALTA's 2018-19 Board of Governors. Check out who was nominated best actress and best foreign language film, as well as several other "awards."

ALTA 2018-19 Board


ALTA Announces Title Webby Winners


ALTA announced the winners of the Title Webbies, an awards program recognizing member companies that have created or redesigned the best title industry consumer-facing website or page within the past year.

The two Title Webbies were presented during ALTA ONE, the largest annual event for the land title insurance industry, currently being held Oct. 9-12 in Los Angeles. Nominees in the two categories—Best Website-Title Agents and Best Website-Underwriters—were judged on mobile friendliness, overall user experience, social-media integration, image/video use and content quality.

“For many consumers, buying a home is the single largest investment they will make in their lifetime, and ALTA’s Title Webbies shine a spotlight on the importance of consumer education and accessibility,” said Cornelia Horner, ALTA’s interim CEO and chief operating officer. “We encourage the land title insurance industry to focus on clearly explaining the closing process and communicating the benefits of title insurance to consumers. We wholeheartedly congratulate FTIC and Westcor for winning these well-deserved awards. We admire them for their hard work, creativity and ingenuity as well as their obvious thoughtfulness about the title industry’s big picture.”

Florida’s Title Insurance Co. (FTIC) was selected as the winner in the Best Website-Title Agents category. Randy Gilbert JD, FTIC chief happiness officer, accepted the award on the company’s behalf.

Ftic website

“We designed a completely unique approach using original content, cheeky humor poking fun at our industry, simple analogies to help the average person understand title insurance, interactive documents typically seen at a closing, easy-to-navigate buttons for ADA accessibility and over 80 high-definition ‘playful family’ images of multicultural demographics, races and handicaps that real people can relate to so they go in to the closing expecting an experience – not just a paper title policy. Hopefully, our website comes as a wake-up call to the industry to refocus on who our end users really are.”

Additionally, FTIC took an intentional approach to making a mundane product, such as title insurance, fun. The homepage is interactive: The cursor causes the main water photo to “ripple” as you navigate the page. The links, including “Title Insurance for Dummies,” “Who Pays for What,” “70+ Ways to Lose Your Property,” and “Mission Kreplach,” which details the company’s values, provide useful consumer information in an entertaining way.

Westcor Land Title Insurance Co. was chosen as the Best Website-Underwriters winner. Westcor’s website draws consumers in with vibrant colors and the memorable phrase, “Title insurance is boring. We’re not.” The website includes simple language explaining why a homebuyer needs title insurance; a national rate calculator also is easy to find from the top navigation bar.

Westcor website

Westcor COO Scott Chandler, CTIS, NTP accepted the award for the company.

“We are super excited to have a fresh, new look to our company website,” Chandler said. “Being one of the first points of contact many people will have with Westcor, we wanted the website to reflect both our company culture and our Number One asset that makes us who we are: our people. While we’ve greatly simplified the design of the site, we also were able to add new features that make browsing, contacting us and getting more info on becoming an agent much easier.”


Managing By Metrics: How To Measure Your Success

By Andrew Acker

There’s a classic quote that business leaders and managers love to throw around (and spoiler alert, I’m about too as well). It comes from Peter Drucker, one of the original management gurus. He classically states that “what gets measured gets managed.” 

Before you roll your eyes and cringe from hearing this quote again, let me tell you that it’s most often taken out of context. It’s typically used as justification to eliminate measuring tasks that cannot easily be quantified. However, there’s a big difference between a business quote, and the application to business.

The “business application” that Drucker was addressing was identifying the difficulty in measuring work and making sure the right work was getting done; right work being defined as work that contributes most directly to the bottom line.   

The real challenge in business is identifying the tasks and activities that, when tracked, provide the greatest business insights and ROI possible. To further quote Drucker, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Finding the appropriate measurement is hard work, and often executives apply simple concepts for complex decisions; utilizing models that include straight line metrics for everything from staff reductions, to increased sales, to expense reductions.

In an industry fueled by people with detailed expertise and an extensive knowledge of the product and process, how do we blend that passion and knowledge with data and strategy to quickly evaluate our most profitable systems, processes, and products?

Data can’t be the final decision maker, but with so much time spent in front of a screen and in software applications, are we missing potential opportunities and threats by not better leveraging data points that are easily accessible? You think Customer X is so profitable, but do you know how much time it actually takes to complete their work? Do you know how rude and unprofessional the customer is to your employees and what this costs in production time? Do you know how happy your employees are at their jobs? Do you know your ‘compliance confidence score’?

In order to find the best answers, we first need to identify the right questions to ask and then we can effectively use data at our disposal to provide better insights and decision making.

Andrew Acker, chief operating officer at D. Bello Associates, and Tish Bush, principle of TDB Advisors, will discuss this topic during the session “Managing By Metrics: How To Measure Your Success” at ALTA ONE. Click here to register for ALTA ONE.

The Ultimate Signer Experience: How Tech is Driving Change for Title Agencies

By Michael Chodos

Title agents have always been at the forefront of the mortgage experience: they are trusted guides to usher signers through one of the most important decisions of their lives. With so much riding on the home buying and seller process, it’s up to the title agent to ensure that the consumer’s experience is the best one they can have. So how are today’s mortgage technologies driving change when it comes to the signer experience?

  1. An even more streamlined, efficient process for title agents: Topping the list of benefits that technology affords title agents is a more streamlined, efficient process. Empowered by these tools, it’s never been easier for title agents to interact with their signers or answer their questions ahead of a signing. Streamlining the pre-signing experience provides a solid segue into the signing itself.
  1. Convenience for signers: Signings traditionally happen at the title agent’s office.  With online and remote notarization technology, signing sessions can now happen wherever the signer is located.  There’s more: armed with today’s technology, signings can now also happen on-demand, all thanks to technology platforms that support signers around the clock.

    Borrowers can review their documents ahead of the signing and sign anywhere in the world, as long as they have a wi-fi connection and a camera-enabled cell phone or computer. This is especially helpful for Americans living abroad who are closing on a home. They no longer have to wait weeks for an appointment at the Consulate or take a round trip flight just for the signing. Instead, signers can log on right from their table and sign when it’s most convenient for them.
  1. Reduced opportunities for errors: The combination of humans and hardcopies creates countless opportunities for errors and missed signatures during a closing. With mortgage technology, documents are all electronic, creating a single source of truth for signers and title agents alike. In the event that trailing documents need to be issued, title agents will no longer have to race to print, ship, or send hardcopy documents.  With technology, trailing documents can be issued with just a few clicks.
  1. Simplified post-signing interactions and access: After a document is signed electronically, technology makes post-signing activities easier than ever. Electronically signed documents are easier to track, audit, and record. Consumers can access them whenever they choose.  Recipients can check to make sure they haven’t been tampered with.  And the most critical documents, including e-notes, can now be tracked and indexed throughout their entire life cycle.   

    Technology tools are enabling title agencies of all sizes to create an even smoother signing experience. Unlike some industries where technology has completely replaced the human component, in the mortgage industry technology is enhancing the human interaction between agent and customer, not replacing it. As more and more mortgage technology companies continue to integrate, the signer experience will improve dramatically for years to come.

Michael Chodos, senior vice president and general counsel of Notarize; Alan Fields, senior vice president and director of underwriting services for WFG National Title Insurance; Brian Hughes, president of Amrock; and Nancy Pratt, vice president of partner relations and government affairs for Pavaso, will discuss this topic during the session “NextGen Closings” at ALTA ONE. Click here to register for ALTA ONE.


Let’s Talk Robots – How Will the Forces of Creative Destruction Impact the Title Industry?

By Mark Fleming and Paul Stine

We’ve all heard that artificial intelligence (AI), robots and automation will soon replace our jobs and many people feel real angst because of the perceived threat to their livelihoods. Yet, automation angst is not new. 

The term luddite, one who is resistant to technological change, exists because Ned Ludd led an uprising of handloom weavers in 1779 to protest the adoption of mechanical, steam-powered looms. Ned and handloom weavers were not alone in the industrial revolution. After World War II, automation angst appeared again with the mechanization of agriculture in the U.S. Today, the angst is based on the belief that the information revolution and advances in AI will make robots smart enough to take over many of the jobs humans perform today.

With each “revolution” jobs that humans performed are replaced by machines, but new jobs are created. Think of all the people building mechanical looms, farm tractors or apps for your smartphone. This process of creative destruction is one of the primary reasons economic productivity, the amount of work output one can produce per hour, is almost 4.5 times greater that it was 70 years ago. AI should not be feared as it represents the opportunity to innovate in ways we have not thought possible before and make us more productive and better enabled to do our jobs.

Automation chart

More importantly, AI is already here. Over 80 percent of people have used AI in some form in the last year. And 50 percent of people interacted with AI in the last year without even realizing it.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Consider the following examples of AI we utilize on a daily basis without even knowing it:

  1. Email Spam Filters
  2. Predictive Search Terms
  3. SIRI
  4. Online Virtual Assistants
  5. Facebook Recommended News
  6. Online Shopping Recommendations
  7. Home Virtual Assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod)
  8. Reverse Image Searches

Not that scary, huh? In fact, most AI is extremely helpful and makes our lives better. In fact, Google’s AI will soon be calling restaurants and theaters to secure reservations and movie tickets for you. These examples just start to scratch the surface of the benefits AI can provide.

As it relates to customer service, AI is changing the landscape. 81 percent of consumers now say that businesses are meeting or exceeding customer service expectations, but the way that service is being provided is changing. Today, more than 6 out of 10 U.S. consumers say their preferred channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-service tool.

That’s a LOT of people. And in the title industry, we’re focused on the needs of the consumer, as well as the Realtor and mortgage professionals involved in a transaction. And each of these customers is demanding digital tools.

With all that in mind, here are three digital self-service tools to consider when shifting your customer service strategy to keep up with customer demand:

  1. Chatbots

Chatbots are defined as, “a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the internet.” Or in other words, virtual assistants/companions that communicate with us through text messages, websites, applications or messengers. Believe it or not, 80 percent of businesses want to deploy a chatbot by 2020 and 85 percent of consumers prefer to interact with a bot.

The good news is that implementing a simple chatbot is pretty easy. Most of the high-rated providers claim a 15-60-minute implementation time. So, even if you multiply that implementation time by five (because we all know tech typically takes just a little longer than you think), it’s still very reasonable in terms of the return it could provide.

  1. AI Virtual Email Assistants

Have any idea how much time you and/or your employees spend in email every day? Perhaps we’d prefer not to know. Yikes! AI virtual assistants can help you automatically read, route and respond to emails. In title, we’re opening and closing orders all month long. While there are always complex problems to solve, there are opportunities to enhance efficiency that could free you and your team up to be more strategic and drive your business forward.

  1. The Smart Speaker

With Google Home and Apple’s HomePod entering the market, the smart speaker went from a gimmicky Amazon concept to a full-blown product category. Ok, so perhaps Amazon would argue that it had already done that, but analysts predict it will be a $12 billion market by 2023. It might sound like a stretch, but the smart speaker is the next frontier for customer service. Giving customers on-demand information through Alexa, Google Home or HomePod raises the bar in terms of meeting customers where they currently are, and more importantly, where they will be. Like chatbots, building an Alexa “skill” isn’t terribly difficult, and you could be up and running more quickly than you think.

Creative destruction can mean a lot of things and can take on many shapes and sizes. AI is driving creative destruction in customer service and offering new opportunities to change how we’re approaching it. Remember that more than six out of 10 U.S. consumers prefer a digital self-driven customer service tool. The good news is that AI-driven customer service is more attainable than ever. We can and must adopt new technologies to drive our businesses forward.

Mark Fleming, chief economist for First American Financial, and Paul Stine, co-founder of CloseSimple, will discuss this topic during the session “Let’s Talk Robots” at ALTA ONE. Make sure to stop by for more ideas on how you can start bringing AI into your customer service offering. Click here to register for ALTA ONE.


Mergers & Acquisitions: Better Together

Have you ever felt the urge to sell your title agency, but you don’t know what it’s worth or where to start? Or are you on the flip side and curious about expanding by buying a title agency?

From an agency seller’s perspective, let’s face it, it’s been one heck of a five-year run in the title industry and valuations are very strong. Unfortunately, some title agency owners may not have a well-thought-out exit strategy. There may not be any family members who wish to continue the legacy, and there may also be a lack of interest from employees who do not have the coin to buy the company. On top of that, technology changes and regulatory matters may be difficult for a title agency owner to keep up with. So, what do you do? How do you prepare?

On the other side of the table are hungry buyers who may be looking to plant capital or expand their already existing title empire. These companies may have technological advances and can scale up into a new market quickly and easily. But they need sellers. And this is where all the good times begin.

When a willing seller meets an anxious buyer, it provides for an interesting back and forth over valuation with discussions over earn-outs, net income multiples, EBITDA and other words that spell F-U-N. But it doesn’t end when the parties agree on a price. What about financing, the office staff, the office building itself, the physical assets, the training, the new infrastructure costs of consolidation?

Craig Haskins, chief operating officer at Knight Barry Title; Quinn Stufflebeam, chief executive officer of Title Financial Corp.; and Juan Guzman, a member of Houlihan Lokey's Corporate Finance business and Financial Institutions Group, will discuss this topic during the session “Mergers & Acquisitions: Better Together” at ALTA ONE. Heck, if you can get these guys to put the microphone down, there will even be time for audience Q&A. Click here to register for ALTA ONE.

Advocacy Gives You the Opportunity to Be a Difference Maker

There is no greater feeling than knowing you have made a difference! Imagine hearing about a recently passed piece of legislation in the news and knowing you had a voice in influencing how the bill was written. That is how many title industry professionals felt the evening of Dec. 15, 2017, when the final version of the tax reform bill was released. The language passed into law maintained the current capital gains tax exclusions for Americans selling a home. Thanks to the aggressive advocacy efforts of the title industry, this much hoped-for but unanticipated outcome was a reality. You can be part of those types of legislative victories. You have the power to create change that benefits our industry and customers. Being part of advocacy efforts gives you the opportunity to be a difference maker. 

Don’t miss out on the only ALTA ONE session where you could walk away with a $50 gift card! Join us for Brand Bingo, as we discuss how to be a top-notch policy influencer in your state capitol and Washington, D.C.  Learn how you can build a brand that makes you an effective advocate for the title industry, and play Brand Bingo for a chance to win prizes provided by the Title Action Network (TAN). Have fun, participate and hear from experts who have successfully promoted the benefits of the industry to lawmakers and regulators.

Diane Evans NTP, vice president at Land Title Guaranty and a past ALTA president; Leslie Midgley, CEO of the Texas Land Title Association; and Elizabeth Blosser, ALTA’s director of grassroots and state government affairs, will lead a discussion on this topic during the session “Build Your Brand as a Policy Influencer” at ALTA ONE. Click here to register for ALTA ONE.