01/31/2019

Win a VIP Capitol Hill Experience

Win a tripWant to win a trip to Washington, D.C., for a VIP Capitol Hill experience?

All you must do is take our Congressional Liaisons survey and start reporting your activity with members of Congress.

The top three Congressional Liaisons will win a free trip—including airfare and hotel—to the nation’s capital. Winners will be based on reported activity.

Here are the steps to help you win:

  1. If you haven’t done so, take the Congressional Liaisons survey.
  2. Check out the Congressional Liaison Toolkit (page 3) for ideas on interacting with your member(s) of Congress.
  3. Communicate with ALTA staff about Congressional Liaisons activity opportunities.
  4. Report all Congressional Liaisons activity here.
  5. Watch for monthly email updates on the Congressional Liaison rankings.

The competition runs from Feb. 1 until ALTA ONE in Austin, Texas, where the winners will be announced.

If you have questions, email Elizabeth Blosser, ALTA’s director of grassroots & state government affairs.

Working In … Or On?

OLC Blog Pic Working On

“Working hard, or hardly working?”

Who hasn’t groaned when a coworker greets you with that dusty old joke?

Well, I’ve got a fresh take on that line:

“Working IN…or working ON?”

And if that sounds a little strange, let me explain.

During the typical work day, you’re doing all of the things you’re normally called upon to do: making calls, taking calls, emails, finances, spreadsheets, project planning, creative tasks, putting our fires, a little management here, a little leadership there. And then more calls, more emails, more fires. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Those are all activities that came with the territory—all part of working IN your business. And there’s little doubt that your business is going to suffer—a lot!—if they don’t get done.

But what about working ON your business?

Working on your business involves taking a big step back and looking at things from a slightly different perspective. It’s concerned with not just the who’s, the what’s and the when’s—but the why’s. And the how’s.

Look at it this way—if working IN your business is the equivalent of working your way through your daily project log and to-do list, working ON your business is adopting the frame of mind you needed to originally create that daily plan in the first place.

Working ON your business is taking a ten thousand-foot view, and then a deep dive into where you want to go and what you’re trying to accomplish—and how to get there.

Not to mention the biggest question—WHY you’re doing it.

Are all of these little nuts and bolts that you’re assembling in the course of your daily routine still aligned with your mission, your vision, and your strategic plan? Are they still the best way to take you where you need to go?

You’ll never know, unless you take time out to work ON your business. Sometimes we’re so busy running as fast as we can that we forget to flap our wings and try to fly.

Want to chat more about this? Well, have I got a deal for you!

Coming up this Feb. 6, I will be joining a few other experts in their field—Brie McDaniel and Kay Underwood of Title Insurance Consultants, and Ethan Powsner of Fidelity National Title Group—in a webinar sponsored by ALTA titled “Four Ideas to Move Your Agency Forward.” The webinar will be held from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EST.

And we’ll be talking about a whole bunch of ways to create a more balanced approach—how to get that necessary work ON your business done in the face of all of the work you need to do IN it.

Click here to register.

And the best part? It’s FREE.

Come join us and make 2019 the year you connect the dots and put the pieces together. I promise it will be worth your while!

And in the meantime, never forget …

GROW BIG OR GO HOME!  

Cynthia McGovern is CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting. She can be reached at cmcgovern@orangeleafconsulting.com.      

 

01/24/2019

How Do You HOP? Pilgrim Title Finds Success

The TOD Chronicles - Mon. Sept.24  cybercrimeWhen Dena Davis joined Pilgrim Title in 2017, the Rhode Island-based title company didn’t have a social media presence. As marketing & business development director, Davis’ main role was to quickly ramp up efforts with the goal of creating a social media footprint and promoting the company’s brand. She turned to ALTA’s Homeowner Outreach Program (HOP) for the resources.

“We made a decision to make a big push in the area of brand awareness and marketing through education and by creating a strong social media presence,” Davis said. “In a competitive business environment reliant on referrals, we felt this was most important."

HOP provides more than 60 marketing and education resources that members can use to communicate with homeowners, Realtors, lenders and others. (ALTA recently added material that's helpful in seller-pay states). Davis said Pilgrim Title employed a 360-degree approach and started by branding and printing all the hard copy materials offered through HOP. This included presentations, rack cards and other advertisements. The materials were then shared during face-to-face meetings with Realtors and lenders so that they could then use the information to educate their clients. The company also provides the materials on its website.

“We also attended a number of trade shows such as the Rhode Island Home Show where we partnered with the Rhode Island Association of Realtors and offered materials to attendees,” Davis said. “We continue to use the materials in conferences and in welcome packs when we make new connections with associates."

Pilgrim Title also created branded slide shows and videos based on materials offered through HOP to provide continuing education classes offered through the Realtor association.

“The face-to-face marketing is most valuable, and people appreciate materials they can use,” Davis said.

The company also took advantage of the various digital resources and posted the educational videos on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram to reach the wider public, particularly first-time homebuyers. Additionally, Davis utilized the HOP blog topics for posts on LinkedIn to reach its real estate partners on a business platform. The company’s monthly newsletter often includes HOP informational/educational materials and they use the HOP welcome letter template to reach out to new clients.  

Customer Feedback

At the center of Pilgrim Title’s efforts is TOD, the company mascot that stands for Title On Demand.  TOD acts as a portal to the company’s website and services. Davis says response to TOD has been off the charts and well received from Realtors and lenders because they say the Title On Demand portal makes transactions smoother.

“People seem to appreciate the sense of humor he brings, while offering useful information, tools and community outreach,” Davis said. “We felt that creating a persona representing everything title, would make the information we share more digestible, and frankly, more fun." 

People often interact with TOD online, and clients often want their picture taken with a cardboard cutout of TOD after a closing, Davis added. Pilgrim Title recently launched TOD Talks videos, where its attorneys address common title issues and solutions the company offers.

"Since TOD is part of a large campaign, it was important to us that he was memorable," Davis said. "We wanted a six-foot-tall TOD in our office so that we could take pictures of happy homeowners and their agents at the time of closing."

Results

So, what have been the results? Davis says the company now has a thriving social media presence, gaining followers and customers. During a recent month, views on Pilgrim Title’s Facebook page increased 127 percent, while engagement increased 81 percent. A recent video campaign bumped up company video views by 735 percent. Maintaining this growth does take a focused effort, according to Davis.

“While our market does not track market share for agents, we have seen our business base grow since we embarked on these efforts,” she added. “In addition, based on ALTA published premium data, we are confident our market position has strengthened considerably.”

 

Need Resources to Give Presentations to Real Estate Agents, Consumers?

Ppt images

Through ALTA’s Homeowner Outreach Program, members can access PowerPoint presentations that can be customized and used in the marketing and sales process with homeowners and real estate agents. Make sure to check out the "notes" section of each presentation for education tips, content and more.

Want to learn how to effectively use all the resources available through the HOP program and build better relationships with homeowners, lenders and real estate agents? Register for ALTA’s HOP Leader Training, Feb. 12 in Phoenix.

01/22/2019

Survey: Less Than 60 Percent of Title Companies Have Cyber Insurance

Wire transfer fraud and cyberattacks are top of mind for most title company owners. According to the FBI, there has been a 1,100 percent rise in these crimes from 2015-2017. However, only 58 percent of title companies nationwide have cyber liability insurance policies, according to a nationally representative survey conducted last year by ALTA’s Data & Analytics Work Group.

The survey of over 650 title agents nationwide was conducted in February 2018 by ALTA’s Data & Analytics Work Group, a group of agent and underwriters from the two section executive committees. It asked agents about their experience with different insurance coverages, including errors and omissions, fidelity bonds and cyber insurances. This is the second of two articles examining insurance coverages. Click here to read “Most Title Companies Have E&O Coverage.”

Cyber insurance can't protect a business from cybercrime, but the right policy can provide a financial backstop in the event of a breach or email compromise. Cyber liability insurance protects the insured agent from damages arising from a data breach and loss of non-public personal information by cyber theft and other cybercrimes. This coverage often includes managing the response to a breach, such as notifying regulatory agencies and affected consumers.

Larger title companies are more likely to have cyber policies. The survey found that 83 percent of companies with more than 50 employees reported having cyber insurance, while only 40 percent of title agents with less than 10 employees have this type of coverage.

Additional survey highlights:

  • Smaller agents are more likely to get their cyber coverage as part of their E&O policy. Roughly half of agents with over $1 million in revenue obtain a specific cyber liability policy, with the inverse being true for agents with less than $1 million in revenue.
  • Agents with less than $1 million in coverage, tend to select a deductible of $10,000 or less. Deductibles above $10,000 don’t become common until agents start buying over $2 million in coverage.

When it comes to protecting your business from wire transfer fraud, coverage becomes less common. Only 25 percent of agents nationally have a social engineering endorsement or specific funds transfer fraud coverage, the survey found. Purchase of this coverage rises above 50 percent for agents with over $7 million in gross revenue or more than 50 employees.

Cyber coverages continue to change on a yearly basis. It can be valuable to discuss new options with your broker prior to your policy renewal. Last year’s ALTA’s Best Practices Executive Committee produced a video on cyber insurance coverage that can be found here. This video breaks down the various available coverages and insuring clauses.

Cyber chart 1

Cyber chart 2

01/09/2019

Survey: Most Title Companies Have E&O Coverage

More than 95 percent of title companies have errors and omissions (E&O) insurance coverage, according to a nationally representative survey conducted last year by ALTA’s Data & Analytics Work Group. Additionally, almost a quarter have made claims on that insurance over the past five years. (see chart below)

The survey of over 650 title agents nationwide was conducted in February 2018 by ALTA’s Data & Analytics Work Group, a group of agents and underwriters from ALTA’s two section executive committees. The survey asked agents about their experience with different insurance coverages, including E&O, fidelity bonds and cyber insurances. This article is the first in a series designed to offer insight into the various types insurance supporting the title industry.

E&O insurance provides coverage if a client holds you responsible for a service you provided, or failed to provide, that did not have the expected or promised results. There are numerous risks that can warrant protection with an E&O policy. 

The survey found that larger title companies are more likely to have E&O policies. All title companies with more than 50 employees reported having E&O insurance. This compares to 94 percent of title agents with less than 10 employees that have E&O policies.

Additional Findings:

  • The most popular Per Claim coverage amount is $1 million to $2 million. Regardless of their size, the majority of title agents reported Per Claim coverage of more than $1 million, but less than $2 million.
  • Smaller agents appear to prefer smaller Per Claim Deductibles. For example, those agents with less than $2.5 million in annual revenue reported a deductible less than $15,000. However, agents with over $15 million in annual revenue selected various higher deductibles, up to more than $50,000. One possible explanation is larger agents may dedicate more capital or balance sheet to “self-insuring” their risk, indicating an apparent preference for a catastrophic policy approach.

If you require more resources and information about E&O Insurance or other insurance coverages supporting the title industry, you can find them at ALTA’s Marketplace

Ultimately, the decisions around E&O policies are worth exploring with an insurance broker or agent. They can assist you in designing insurance coverage to align your business, its risk, risk tolerance, contract expectations and budget to an appropriate coverage.

Andrew “Andy” Wert, a vice president in the Agency Division at First American Title Insurance Company, serves on ALTA’s Data & Analytics Committee. He can be reached at pwert@firstam.com.

This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of this author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of this author’s employer, First American Title Insurance Company.

E&O survey chart

12/20/2018

Pitch Perfect: ALTA President Cynthia Durham Blair’s Blend of Attributes Will Guide Industry to Amazing Harmonic Heights

Blair BridgeCynthia Durham Blair NTP always desired to be a professional singer. After high school, she hoped to go to New York City and try her luck on Broadway. “My dad put the kibosh on that and told me I had to get a college degree first,” she said. Broadway’s loss was the title industry’s gain. In October, Blair became the first title professional from South Carolina to serve as ALTA’s president. She’s also the fourth woman to lead the association, following in the footsteps of Cara Detring, Anne Anastasi and Diane Evans.

Described as an eloquent attorney, loving mother, keen entrepreneur, inspirational leader and a trusted friend, Blair’s also someone who’s not afraid to rock out to AC/DC. It’s all these intertwined attributes and invaluable assets that will help ALTA and the industry have the perfect pitch over the next year, capitalizing on opportunities and braving business challenges.

“I am truly privileged to lead such a strong group of title industry professionals who work diligently every day to ensure our customers don’t have to worry about their property rights,” said Blair, who is also a founding member of the law firm Blair Cato Pickren Casterline LLC in South Carolina. “Helping unite our more than 6,300 members and the land title insurance industry under the ALTA umbrella is a job I am humbled to have and one I take seriously.”

Path to Becoming a Title ‘Nerd’

Blair grew up in Columbia, S.C., in the house where her mother still lives. She’s the middle child of three siblings. A younger brother also lives in Columbia. An older sister lives only an hour away near Charlotte. Their father was a commercial real estate broker and developer.

“We started out at a very young age looking at property and buildings,” said Blair, who added that her father instilled a strong business sense and money management skills in his children.

While Blair was in graduate school, her mother turned in her stay-at-home mom apron and became a certified antiques appraiser. Her mother has operated that business—in addition to dealing sterling silver flatware and collectibles—ever since.

When Blair headed to Florida State University, she was still tempted by music and focused her studies on voice and theater. Blair soon learned there were plenty of technical courses that didn’t interest her. “I realized that to actually major in voice, you had to study music theory and other things I didn’t want to do, so I quickly knew that wasn’t my future,” she added.

With her father encouraging some type of business major, Blair focused on studying multi-national business. Already minoring in Spanish, she thought it was a great fit. As graduation loomed, Blair decided to give the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) a try. She did so well that Kaplan—which provides comprehensive training to help prepare for the LSAT—asked Blair to teach a course. With that, she headed back home to attend the University of South Carolina School of Law. Although Blair thought she’d become an international business lawyer, she clerked for a small real estate attorney after her first year of law school.

After finishing law school early, she earned an international MBA and lived in Chile while doing an internship with a large telecom company. Working as a criminal litigator for several years, Blair realized that was something not in the cards long-term. With commercial real estate in her blood, she landed at a law firm in the title industry. Blair recalled her real property professor during the first year of law school who made property law seem so interesting. “He is still one of my favorite professors, and although he doesn’t teach anymore, I still see him occasionally,” she said. Also fueling the title flame was the attorney she clerked for, who taught Blair from the ground up how to search title and how to be a real estate practitioner.

“To this day, you might find me preparing a Closing Disclosure or putting a loan package together when my closers are busy in the weeds,” Blair said. “I believe it’s important for business owners to know how to do their own business.”

Blair was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1993 and admitted to practice law in Florida in 1995. She also is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. District Courts for the District of South Carolina, and the Northern and Southern Districts of Florida. Her abilities have been recognized by many. She has an A/V Preeminent Peer Rating for the highest level of professional excellence from Martindale-Hubbell and is the recipient of several prestigious professional awards including the 2013 Leadership in Law Award from the South Carolina Lawyers Weekly, the Gold Compleat Lawyer Award from the University of South Carolina School of Law and the J. Lee McDonald award for outstanding service to the title industry.

“I know I’m a total nerd, but I really enjoy preparing closing statements and Closing Disclosures,” Blair added. “I also love when I get a big title search that I need to review, and I have to sit down and piece together the chain or figure out boundaries—it’s like a puzzle, and I’ve always loved puzzles.”

Handling the messy chains of title or vague legal descriptions may get the juices flowing, but Blair says her favorite transactions involve first-time homebuyers. “I’ve handled thousands of closings and reviewed thousands of title searches, but first-time buyers are always so excited, and it reminds me of the first house I bought almost 20 years ago,” she added.

Forging Her Own Path

Being on Broadway or a famous rock star may have been options early on, but Blair always thought she’d own her own business—no matter the industry. So, after several years with another law firm, Blair and a few other attorneys ventured out in 2014 and formed their own firm—Blair Cato Pickren Casterline LLC. Based in Columbia, S.C., the company started with one office, six lawyers and 14 staff members. They now have two offices, 12 lawyers and 28 employees.

“The first few months were really tough trying to get everything up and running, but we persevered and have been extremely successful,” Blair said.

The firm’s accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed. SC Biz News named it one of the state’s fastest growing small businesses in 2018, while readers of The State Newspaper (the local newspaper in Columbia, S.C.) voted the company as the Best Law Firm the past two years. Blair attributes the success to the relationship she has with the other two owners—Gary Pickren and Rex Casterline.

“Our roles in the firm are organically very complementary, meaning we are lucky to each have strengths and weaknesses that have made our management roles in the firm work very well,” Blair said. “The other main driver behind our success is the fantastic team that we have. We have built a very solid, hard-working team of folks who are invested in our clients and customers.”

BlairTractor_200
Balancing Work and Family

Running a law firm while serving on ALTA’s Board of Governors often puts a crunch on the calendar. Often with not enough hours in day, Blair maintains boundaries in the evenings, so she can spend time with her son, Durham, and daughter, Emily Grace.

“There’s never a shortage of work that needs to be done. Figuring out how to prioritize all the urgent tasks and projects is always a challenge,” Blair said. “Admittedly, sometimes it is tough. I have great help for the children, and I normally know my travel schedule way ahead of time, so it just takes good time management. I know there are times my law partners get frustrated with me being gone but with phones and laptops, I can do most anything work-related remotely anyway and keep in touch with my children.”

To strike a balance, Blair’s children join her on a couple of ALTA trips each year. Earlier this year, Durham joined his mom on a trip to Anchorage, Alaska. Making their first trek to the state, they visited a wildlife preserve. “My son saw more snow on that trip than he’s ever seen in his life,” Blair joked. In August, Emily Grace was the travel partner as Blair attended the Kansas Land Title Association’s annual convention in Topeka. The trip was a significant milestone as Blair has now visited all 50 states—a goal she set to hit before turning 50. She turned 50 on Oct. 12, the same day she was installed as ALTA’s president.

“I love the opportunity to take my children new places and create cool memories with them,” Blair said. “My children are now counting their states and have a friendly competition between themselves to see who can visit the most states. I think they both have visited something like 16 states, which is way more than I had at their ages.”

Respected Leader and Friend

Blair attended her first ALTA meeting in January 2010. It was at the Large Agents meeting where she met Bill Burding NTP, chair of ALTA’s Agents Section Executive Committee and executive vice president of Orange Coast Title Co. The two have been friends ever since“

Cynthia has demonstrated leadership on both the Agents Section as well as ALTA as a whole,” Burding said. “In a time of changing leadership at the CEO position of ALTA, the organization could not be in better hands during this year of transition. Her work on remote online notary legislation is especially important as that is this year’s major issue confronting the industry generally and agents specifically.”

The first major ALTA conference Blair attended was the Advocacy Summit (called the Federal Conference then) later that year. That’s when she met Shonna Cardello CLTP, NTP, president of White Rose Settlement Services. Both were first-time attendees and quickly understood the importance of getting involved and advocating on behalf of the industry.
Cardello said she was drawn to Blair’s integrity, intelligence and genuine interest in the industry, “not to mention her fantabulous personality.”

“While serving ALTA and any other association, Cynthia has the ability to wear the association hat and leave the personal hat in the office,” Cardello said. “I value this trait in our leaders. Cynthia is a strong woman and I am excited to see where she leads us this year. I know it will be an amazing ride with Cynthia as president.”

Over the years, Blair forged two strong friendships with Lisa Steele, executive vice president of Mother Lode Holding Co., and Nicole Plath, CEO of Fortune Title Agency. They started calling themselves the “Trifecta of Awesomeness,” but have since shortened it to simply the “Trifecta.”

“Cynthia will be an excellent president for our association,” Steele said. “Her passion and knowledge, along with her progressive thinking, will certainly help lead our industry through whatever comes our way. She’s a true leader who is bright, articulate and relatable. I’m proud to call this powerful woman one of my best friends, and I’m so excited for this chapter to begin for her and ALTA. She’s a rock star.”

Plath shared a similar sentiment, describing Blair as “one of the most inspiring and intelligent women I know.” She connected quickly with Blair because they “both know how to play hard and work hard.”

“Beyond her charisma, she has a deep understanding of the issues we face as an industry and of the strategic priorities we want to achieve over the upcoming year,” Plath added. “Over the years, as our friendship has strengthened, I have gained a deep admiration for her as well. She is an amazing mother, a strong and confident leader, and an incredible friend. I am truly grateful to have her in my life and can’t wait to see her in action as she represents our industry this coming year.”

 


Strategic Priorities

The title and settlement industry remains at a critical juncture with the presence of more and more disruptors that could affect how mortgage and real estate transactions are handled, including technology advances and information security threats. Blair is excited to start working on ALTA’s 2019 strategic priorities alongside the Board of Governors, staff and membership. ALTA’s 2019 strategic priorities include helping members:

  • plan for change through innovation and quality operations.
  • stay relevant in the secondary market.
  • communicate the benefits of what they do to consumers.
  • protect their businesses’ and customers’ data and money.
  • harness the power of ALTA’s Our Values and a robust, ethical corporate culture.

To help title professionals remain an important piece of the real estate transaction, Blair said one of the best things ALTA can do is to continue developing resources such as the ALTA Marketplace, which is a new interactive vendor directory that provides high-level guidance to title professionals about the products and services available to them.

“Providing a one-stop shop where our members can keep up with what’s new and what’s on the horizon is extremely valuable,” she said.

Blair said one of the things she plans to focus on is helping small title agencies across the country become aware of the resources ALTA provides to help them compete and operate more efficiently. In addition to the Marketplace, the hiring tools are great resources to help smaller operations find new talent and onboard employees.

“There are many resources that are meant to help small businesses be on a more even footing with their larger competitors,” Blair said.

Regulators have put more emphasis on protecting consumers and making the real estate transaction more transparent. This has made it vital for ALTA members to help consumers better understand the important role title professionals play in the transaction and how they benefit from having a title insurance policy. Blair encourages all title professionals to continue telling the industry’s story in terms that consumers can understand.

“The materials that have been developed by the Homeowner Outreach Program are a fantastic utility to do just this,” Blair said. “There is so much material that can be used in ads, social media and classes for industry partners.”

In addition, she says the development of ALTA’s Our Values program has been important to serve as the industry’s culture compass, highlighting the best attributes and reflecting professional strength.

“It has become clear to me that if a company defines its values authentically and its employees buy into the values, the company’s culture thrives, and it becomes a driver of that company’s business and brand,” Blair said. “Values serve as the basis for what all of us do. I think the Our Values program has helped many of our members begin the process of defining their own companies’ values and culture.”

Over the past year, Blair has helped guide ALTA’s efforts to educate the industry about remote online notarization and the need for more advocacy regarding digital closings. She led the recently established ALTA Digital Closing Committee, which will focus on improving and innovating the closing process.

“ALTA should be viewed as the industry leader in digital closings and innovation in the customer experience in real estate settlements,” Blair said. “Digital closings, which are not a new thing, are gaining more traction, particularly with the passage of remote online notary laws in several states. The newest generation of homebuyers want to do business in a different way, so our industry is going to have to adjust our thinking to meet the desires of that market.” 

Jeremy Yohe is ALTA’s vice president of communications. He can be reached at jyohe@alta.org.

The Personal Side of Cynthia Durham Blair NTP
  • While she loves Florida State football, you probably won’t find her sitting at the top of Doak Campbell Stadium. Why? She’s terrified of heights
  • She loves animals and currently has two dogs and three cats. All but one of them are rescues. “I particularly like big dogs, my dogs are mastiffs,” she adds
  • Cynthia loves to read fiction, particularly mystery/crime drama and fantasy. She says, “I’ve probably read almost everything Stephen King has ever written.”
  • Cynthia was a public defender when she started practicing law, trying quite a few cases to a jury.
  • Have a large extended family? Cynthia does, and she loves to entertain. She also enjoys hosting her family for all major holidays.
  • Shoes? Yeah, Cynthia says she has a large extended family but may have an even larger shoe collection.
  • Get her to drink a glass or two of wine and she’ll bring down the house with some karaoke.
  • She visited all 50 states before her 50th birthday. (#50by50)

12/04/2018

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.

11/27/2018

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.”

11/01/2018

Boost Your Marketing Efforts With These Brandable Ads

Altaprints

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.