Consumers Call Remote Online Notarization Process Safe, Secure

RON survey graphicAn overwhelming majority of consumers who used remote online notarization (RON) technology to complete their real estate transaction described the process as secure and convenient, and made the possibility of purchasing a home a reality.

According to a survey issued by ALTA member company Champion Title, 97% of consumers who closed on transactions in Virginia using RON said the process was safe and secure. Additionally, 95% said they would recommend the RON process to others. Nearly 350 consumers participated in the survey.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, businesses have been forced to rapidly adapt to a new normal, and the real estate industry is no exception,” said ALTA CEO Diane Tomb. “Remote online notarization has been one of the title industry’s most important tools in this process.”

The digital closing process provided convenience for many consumers who wouldn’t have been able to close in person due to various reasons, including health issues, being out of town, serving in the military or having to work or find a babysitter.

What some consumers said about the RON process:

  • I am stationed overseas in South Korea. My closing happened nearly 7,000 air miles away and 13 time zones different. Closing on the house would have been impossible without this option. Our dream house would have slipped away from us had we not been able to execute the buy remotely.
  • It allows for people with disabilities, autoimmune disorders and those without access to transportation to easily close. It’s a more inclusive and accessible option.
  • For a family with three children, the remote process made it so much easier for us. We didn’t have to arrange for a sitter, get all the kids ready, take them to a sitter, etc. If the kids were in school, it wouldn’t be a problem but with being in a time of virtual learning, the remote process took a lot of stress off our shoulders.
  • We had already moved across country. Remote closing saved us from flying back for one hour of signing papers. It was also much more convenient than manually signing all the papers in a real estate transaction.
  • It allowed me to physically remain at work but take a break to take care of my closing. Minimal disruption of my workday, no dealing with commuter traffic, no finding/paying for parking in an unfamiliar location, and then having to go back to work.

Of those surveyed, 79% would support legislation providing nationwide access to RON. Virginia is one of 37 states that have passed RON legislation, ALTA continues to support the bipartisan Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic (SECURE) Notarization Act of 2021. The bill has been reintroduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and allows for the immediate nationwide use of RON. The legislation provides certainty for interstate recognition of RON and establishes minimum standards to ensure strong nationwide consumer protections. Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) have introduced the bill in the House, while Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

“All Americans deserve the same opportunity to close their transaction safely and securely through a remote process,” Tomb said. “This is why Congress must pass the SECURE Notarization Act.”


37 States Now Have RON Legislation

Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon became the latest states to pass remote online notarization legislation. There are now 37 states that allow this type of digital closing. Legislation in New York and New Hampshire is pending, while awaiting the signature of each state’s governor.

RON Map July 29

The number of title and settlement companies offering digital closings increased 228% compared to 2019, according to ALTA’s 2021 Digital Closing Survey. The survey of 300 title professionals showed that 46% offered digital closings in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the health crisis, a 2019 survey showed that 14% of companies offered digital closings two years ago.

ALTA continues to support the bipartisan Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act (SECURE Notarization Act), which has been reintroduced in the House and Senate. The bill would permit immediate nationwide use of RON, create national minimum standards for its use and provide certainty for the interstate recognition of RON. The SECURE Act would complement existing state laws and follow similar structure of state/federal legislation like the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). The bill does not preempt state laws that adhere to minimum uniform consumer protections, such as laws based on the 2018 Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts. The also doesn’t impact state law on testamentary wills and trusts or the practice of law.

Here are links to the bills in the states that recently passed the legislation:


Fannie Mae Survey: Homebuyers Remain Satisfied With Mortgage Process

Fannie survey 3

Consumers remained satisfied with their mortgage experience despite the COVID-19 pandemic and lenders moving to remote working conditions and handling record-high origination volume, according to Fannie Mae’s latest National Housing Survey.

The survey showed that 88% of recent homebuyers expressed satisfaction with the mortgage process during the first quarter of 2021. This remained unchanged from 2020.

More consumers are gradually migrating to a complete digital process. According to the survey, 12% of recent homebuyers conducted their transaction completely online during Q1 2021. This is up from 7% compared to the same period a year ago.

Additionally, 46% preferred reviewing their final loan documents online. This is up from 42% during the first quarter of 2018.

Of those who used digital channels, a majority of recent borrowers (57%) said the pandemic had no impact on their decision to use digital channels, but a reasonable proportion (38%) did indicate that the pandemic had some influence on their decision to use digital channels.

Compared to 2018, there was an increase in recent homebuyers preferring to do early mortgage tasks online, such as learning about the mortgage process or better understanding different terms and options. Tasks involved later in the process—including pre-qualification or getting updates about their loan—showed a decrease in preference for online tools. In 2020, online preference continued to hover around 50% or lower for most tasks—except submitting financial documents—which was nearly 70%. This further confirmed borrowers’ desire for continued in-person help and support as they navigate the mortgage process, according to Fannie Mae.

Fannie survey 2

Additional differences were illuminated after looking at online mortgage task preferences by race and income levels. Of the recent homebuyers surveyed in 2020, higher-income, Asian, and Black respondents showed a stronger preference for conducting mortgage tasks online, while lower-income and Hispanic consumers demonstrated a stronger preference for conducting tasks with an in-person representative or by phone.

The survey results supported the fact that a “one size fits all” digital process may not be the right approach to best meet the needs of all consumer groups. Businesses should be sensitive to the diverse needs of individuals and groups.

Fannie Mae reported it expected a larger increase in the percentage of homebuyers that wanted to use online channels for mortgage tasks.

“Consumer satisfaction in the mortgage experience remained high during the pandemic, but the change in consumers using online processes was not as large as we expected,” Fannie Mae wrote on its blog. “The shift to digital continues to be a gradual process, with certain segments showing different online servicing/in-person needs. Since buying a home is an infrequent and complicated expense, shifting to online-only channels appears to be an imperfect solution for many borrowers who have questions and want to make the right choices.”


Elders Top Target of Financial Fraud

Elder financial abuseBaby boomers and older Americans have spent decades accumulating an enormous stockpile of money. At the end of this year’s first quarter, Americans age 70 and above had a net worth of nearly $35 trillion, according to Federal Reserve data.

With this accruing wealth, elder Americans have become the top target of financial fraud.

In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received a total of 791,790 complaints with reported losses exceeding $4.1 billion. Based on the information provided in the complaints, approximately 28% of the total fraud losses were sustained by victims over the age of 60, resulting in approximately $1 billion in losses to seniors, according to the 2020 IC3 Elder Fraud Report. This represents an increase of approximately $300 million in losses reported in 2020 versus what was reported by victims over 60 in 2019.

Confidence/romance fraud was the top crime type resulting in losses of more than $281 million for those older than 60. Business email compromise scams came in second with losses of nearly $169 million.

Losses from crimes involving real estate/rentals targeting elders has increased the past three years, rising from $36 million in losses in 2019 to $50 million in losses last year.

While title and settlement agents typically don’t meet the subject until the closing, it’s important to be aware of red flags and proceed cautiously when encountering irregularities or unusual situations, such as a large cash out from a refinance, proceeds being wired to an account not belonging to the senior, or a relative or caretaker who shows too much interest in the transaction for no apparent reason. 

When a transaction closes involving elder abuse, the new owner or lender’s title may be subject to challenge by the senior that can result in substantial loss to the underwriter. In addition, the title and settlement agent may be exposed to tort or contractual liability.

The escrow or settlement agent should take note of any signs of cognitive impairment, confusion or lack of understanding of the transaction when the senior is present to sign documents before or during the closing. If a mobile notary service is utilized, the escrow agent should obtain the notary’s observations of the senior’s mental and physical state and the senior’s living situation before closing the transaction. If the senior is accompanied by an overbearing third party who has no apparent interest or role in the transaction, the settlement agent may wish to speak directly with the senior before proceeding further.


Good Deeds: First American Champions Deliver

E69144FF-9F82-47DE-BA9A-B19BA93EB0E3Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people in underserved communities have experienced food insecurity—meaning they have limited or uncertain access to enough food. First American’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Advisory Council partnered with its #FirstAmCares Champions to sponsor Volunteer Month in April.

Overall, the Champions campaign held over 40 virtual and in-person food drives raising $152,500 and collecting more than 15,000 pounds of food.

First American’s home office team in Santa Ana, Calif., held a drive-thru food drop that collected six truckloads of canned goods for Grandma’s House of Hope. First American teams in Arizona, along with 40 Realtors, collected over 2,300 pounds of food and raised $5,680 for several local food banks. Groups in Indiana donated 1,300 pounds of pasta and raised $1,750 to benefit Second Helpings Food Bank. First American’s Nevada Champions raised $4,000 and filled two carloads of food for the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, focusing on collecting travel-friendly items that could fit in backpacks. Offices in Idaho held a competition, collecting thousands of food and personal care items as well as raising over $2,700 in online donations. Some Wyoming branches even got their clients in on the food-drive fun, increasing donations for Needs Inc. and fostering a spirit of goodwill.

In May 2021, First American organized its second annual coast-to-coast virtual relay race to support Feeding America, raising a total of $24,050. Due to overwhelming interest, First American created teams made up of more than 260 employees from every U.S. division. The total amount raised for Feeding America was $94,221.


Stay Vigilant Against Business Email Compromise, Phishing Emails

The combination of a global pandemic coupled with a world full of remote workers led to a 660 percent increase in phishing attempts since March 1, 2020, according to ID Agent.

Like title and settlement companies, email from ALTA staff can be spoofed. In the latest scheme, a phishing email appears to come from Taylor Spolidoro with the subject line “INV220621.”

Do not click on any links and delete the phishing email if you receive an email asking for this information. This is a phishing scam. ALTA’s system was not breached.

If you happen to click on a link or open an attachment from a phishing email, contact your IT department. Below is an example of what the phishing email looks like:

Taylor spoof

Red Flags

Title and settlement companies can protect themselves by increasing staff awareness about these scams. According to the FBI, businesses that deploy robust internal prevention techniques at all levels (especially training front-line employees who may be targeted by initial phishing attempts), have proven highly successful in recognizing and deflecting email scam attempts. Here are some red flags:

  • A customer’s seemingly legitimate emailed transaction instructions contain different language, timing, and amounts than previously verified and authentic transaction instructions.
  • Transaction instructions originate from an email account closely resembling a known customer’s email account; however, the email address has been slightly altered by adding, changing, or deleting one or more characters. For example:
    • Legitimate email: john-doe@abc.com
    • Fraudulent email: john-doe@bcd.com
  • Emailed transaction instructions direct payment to a known beneficiary; however, the beneficiary’s account information is different from what was previously used.
  • Emailed transaction instructions direct wire transfers to a foreign bank account that has been documented in customer complaints as the destination of fraudulent transactions.
  • Emailed transaction instructions direct payment to a beneficiary with which the customer has no payment history or documented business relationship, and the payment is in an amount similar to or in excess of payments sent to beneficiaries whom the customer has historically paid.
  • Emailed transaction instructions include markings, assertions, or language designating the transaction request as “Urgent,” “Secret,” or “Confidential.”
  • Emailed transaction instructions are delivered in a way that would give the financial institution limited time or opportunity to confirm the authenticity of the requested transaction.
  • Emailed transaction instructions originate from a customer’s employee who is a newly authorized person on the account or is an authorized person who has not previously sent wire transfer instructions.

What If You Get Phished?

According to the FTC, companies impersonated as part of an email phishing scam should notify customers as soon as possible, contact law enforcement, provide resources for affected consumers and review their own security practices. Offering immediate advice and support can help companies retain customer goodwill. Here are tips on how to respond if your business is impersonated in a phishing scam:

Notify consumers of the scam. If you are alerted to a phishing scam in which fraudsters are impersonating your business, inform your customers as soon as possible. If your business has a social media presence, announce the scam on your social media sites and warn customers to ignore suspicious emails or texts purporting to be from your company. You can also inform your customers of the phishing scam by email or letter. The important point is to remind your customers that legitimate businesses like yours would never solicit sensitive personal information through insecure channels like email or text messages.

Contact law enforcement. If you become aware that criminals are impersonating your business, report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Suggest that affected customers forward any phishing emails impersonating your business to the Anti Phishing Working Group (www.antiphishing.org), a public-private partnership against cybercrime.

Provide resources for affected consumers. If consumers believe they may be victims of identity theft because of a phishing scam, direct them to identitytheft.gov/, where they can report and get resources to help them recover from identity theft. For more information about recommended computer security practices, direct consumers to resources on the FTC’s consumer information site, where they can learn how to protect themselves online and avoid future phishing attacks.



Good Deeds: Keeping the Caring Going

Kansas-based Continental Title Co. has continued its successful #CTCCares campaign into 2021.

During the first quarter of the year, the title company has donated over $10,000 to 14 organizations.

In 2020, Continental Title donated over $49,000 to local charities.

Share Your #GoodDeeds

Over the past year, ALTA has highlighted how members continue to serve their customers and communities. We'd like to showcase what you're doing to give back. Email your stories and photos to communications@alta.org. We also encourage to you share on Facebook or Instagram, using #GoodDeeds and tagging ALTA.



Good Deeds: RamQuest and Pavaso GiveBIG With Matching Campaign

RamQuest joined forces with sister company Pavaso in May for a GiveBIG charity matching campaign. As a result, a total of $4,436 was donated to 32 deserving organizations.

Throughout May, when team members donated to a non-profit of their choice, a 25% matching contribution was made to that same organization. RamQuest and Pavaso participants supported a variety of causes and organizations important to them, giving the campaign broad reach.

“It’s inspiring to see the enthusiasm everyone has to jump in and give back,” said Brooks Yeager, president of RamQuest and Pavaso. “Supporting the organizations that are important to our teams makes this GiveBIG initiative that much more impactful.”

GiveBIG is an ongoing initiative that combines the efforts of both the RamQuest and Pavaso teams to support local charities and non-profit organizations to Give Back to Ignite Good.


Good Deeds: ‘Casual for a Cause’

Dominion Title & Exchange Services in Green Bay, Wis., recently launched a “casual for a cause” campaign to raise money for local charities. Employees can donate $5 to wear jeans one day of the week.

The company also started a campaign called #DominionCares where a portion of each closing fee will be donated toward one of three local organizations. Buyers can select the Golden House, Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS) – Green Bay Campus or NEW Community Shelter. The Golden House provides help to domestic abuse victims. The Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS) focuses on building a community where people value animals and treat them with respect and kindness. The NEW Community Shelter works with others in the community to address homelessness.

NYSLTA Donates to Feeding America

Members of the New York State Land Title Association (NYSLTA) recently contributed nearly $18,000 to four Feeding America foodbanks located across New York. This money will provide over 53,000 meals to those in need. In September 2013, the NYSLTA formed a Charitable Works Committee with the purpose of giving members to join together in participating in charitable causes.

Share Your Good Deeds

Email your company's good deeds to communications@alta.org


‘Together’ in Good Deeds

In Bellevue, Neb., Tom Low and his wife volunteer at Bellevue Together, an organization that work closely with community leaders, school teacher and counselors to help those in need. 

The group has storerooms full of clothes, furniture, school supplies and other miscellaneous items. Lowe and his wife help pick up and deliver donated items donated items such as beds, bedding and furniture.

ShoesLow said many of the people who receive help are recommended by school counselors and teaches as they get to know the children and know their needs.  

“Each July, the organization invites children in need to come and get five sets of clothes, a pair of shoes, a backpack of school items and toiletries,” said Low, a commercial underwriter for Omaha, Neb.-based TitleCore National. “ We have many volunteers to help them through this process. This year, 308 children will come through our facility in July to pick out new outfits. Money and clothing items are donated by the local community. Volunteers help every week to sort cloths and other donated items, labeling them with the correct size so they can be more readily made available.”

In 2021, Bellevue Together also donated gift cards to teachers.

“This has been a hard year for them and we wanted to show them our appreciation for their hard work and making sure our kids get what they need for success in life,” Low said.

Share Your Good Deeds

Email your company's good deeds to communications@alta.org