Most of South Carolina dodged a bullet with Hurricane Florence

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The coast of North Carolina didn’t fare as well

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Cartoon by Andy Marlette, Marlette Cartoons

Hurricane Florence is the fourth disaster to occur in our beloved state since this blog was launched in 2014. After the 1,000 year flood in October of 2015, Hurricane Matthew struck in October of 2016 and then Hurricane Irma struck in September 2017. Rebuilding is not complete from the prior catastrophes.

Many of us were concerned that the projected path of Hurricane Florence that was heading for us last week seemed reminiscent of 1989’s Hurricane Hugo which tore across our state doing significant damage from the coast to the upstate. Thankfully, Florence didn’t repeat that history. It took a similar path, but it weakened to the extent that we suffered only a rainy weekend here in Columbia.

The coast of North Carolina, though, is experiencing flooding and road closures, and there are some extensive flooding concerns in areas of our coastline and Pee Dee. Conway, Cheraw and surrounding areas are watching continuing flooding threats. There are further concerns that the flooding rivers in North Carolina will eventually cause water problems in South Carolina.

On my way to work this morning, I passed the remains of several businesses that were destroyed when Gills Creek flooded in 2015. Other areas in and around Columbia are still in the rebuilding process or have been completely abandoned. Many homeowners have made their homes bigger, stronger and certainly taller. Others have given up and moved away.

I saw a joke on Facebook last week that waiting for Hurricane Florence was like being stalked by a turtle. Another jokester quipped that if you name a hurricane after an old woman, you should expect her to travel at 3 miles per hour, heading right, with her left blinker on.

These disasters definitely bring out the best and the worst in folks. We saw first responders and linemen on the Interstates heading toward the coast last week. We saw churches and schools set up shelters. I heard of a real estate agent in North Litchfield Beach who set up a Facebook page to keep absentee owners informed. He even offered to secure properties for nervous absentee owners. On the other hand, we saw news coverage that looters were active in the areas that were hardest hit.

Dirt lawyers are in an exceptional position to support clients who may not be familiar with the assistance available to them. We have all learned a lot in the last few years. I challenge each of us to continue to educate ourselves and to be available to offer the valuable advice our neighbors and others will need in the days ahead. Local, state and federal governments seem better prepared this time around and seem to be working better to coordinate efforts. Carolinians are strong and resilient, and we are stronger and more resilient now than we were for the last disaster.

Let’s once again rise to the occasion, real estate lawyers, and provide the best advice available for our clients and friends who will need it as they sort out, clean up and rebuild.

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Take a look: deep within the Internet is a secretive place…

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.. where criminals buy and sell your private information

Nobody in my household is old enough to receive publications from AARP. (And if you believe that, I should either say “thank you” or try to sell you that beautiful 8-lane bridge crossing the Cooper River in Charleston.) But, for some reason, AARP’s September Bulletin arrived in my mailbox today, and it contained an excellent article entitled “Inside the Dark Web” that provides the best information on that topic than I’ve read to date. You can read the article here.

The article, written by Doug Shadel with Neil Wertheimer, said much of the available information on the dark web comes from Brett Johnson, an “imposing and charismatic” former criminal once dubbed the “Original Internet Godfather.” Johnson created “Shadowcrew”, one of the first online forums where criminals could buy guns, credit cards, Social Security numbers, and drugs. He landed on the Secret Service’s most-wanted list and was in and out of prison for a decade. The other source of information is a character who is now in prison and who asked to be called “Blue London” in this article. Today, according to this article, Brett and Blue are willing to share detail about the dark web, Brett, as a law enforcement consultant, and Blue, as an inmate who wants to reduce his prison sentence.

dark web

The article describes the entire content of the web. The “surface web”, which makes up 5-10% of the Internet, consists of sites that show up when you use normal search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. These sites encompass news, entertainment, products, services and consumer information. The creators of these sites, like Wikipedia, Amazon and WebMD, want lots of people to see them.

The “deep web”, which makes up 90-95% of the Internet, consists of pages requiring a password and can’t be accessed by normal search engines. These sites include online banking, subscription websites, government records, emails and most social media content. Examples include PayPal, Netflix, LinkedIn, Instagram and Dropbox.

The “dark web”, which makes up just 01% of the Internet, consists of sites that provide anonymity to users and go largely unregulated. Many are legal. For example, sites service as outlets for human rights activists can be found on the dark web. But the dark web is also used by criminals to make illicit purchases and sales with total anonymity. Cryptocurrency like Bitcoin is used to make the transactions untraceable.

The article described AlphaBay, a site that, before it was taken down in 2017 by the FBI, had over 200,000 users and took in between $600,000 and $800,000 daily, mostly drug related. But that site also dealt in stolen personal IDs, stolen credit card numbers and hacking tools.

Brett and Blue showed the authors of the article many other inhabitants of the dark web that moved in to take the place of AlphaBay. These sites sell the items marketed on AlphaBay plus logins and passwords, credit reports, and “fullz” which translates to a “complete package of everything needed to commit identity theft: Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, address, phone numbers, driver’s license number and more.”  Blue said a fullz can sell for $20-$130, depending on the victim’s age and credit score.

Data can also be sold piecemeal. Brett asked the author his wife’s name and quickly found her Social Security number available for purchase at $2.99. The author also paid a small fee and received a 92-page report containing all his current and previous addresses, phone numbers, social media sites and email addresses. The report also contained descriptions of his family members and neighbors and details about properties he has owned.

Much of the data, according to this article, goes up for sale shortly after it is stolen. The huge data breaches we hear about routinely apparently flood the market and deflate prices. Brett and Blue told the author that they could study social media sites to harvest data for criminal purposes. Many sites use “knowledge-based authentication” (KBA) questions, which should be information that only the user knows. But if the user adds this type of information to social media sites, the scammers can successfully mine the information.

The article provides some advice to stop the cybercriminals. First, we should all simply assume that our information is already “out there” on the Internet, and take action to protect ourselves. Cybersecurity experts and former criminals agree on three steps to help us all stay safe:  freeze credit, closely monitor all accounts and use a password manager. The author said he fully subscribes to this advice and has taken all three steps. I’m at two out of three. What about you?

(You can thank me later for directing you to this outstanding article that you are much too young to read.)

ALTA develops wire fraud rapid response plan

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Dirt lawyers:  post this in your office!

alta-color-regIn this era where cybersecurity is our greatest challenge, American Land Title Association has benefited all of us in the real estate industry by developing a rapid response plan for wire fraud incidents. Two links are here, one to the plan itself and another to a response worksheet.

Many of our offices have been challenged with these incidents, and we have learned that time is of the essence. We are, in fact, hearing more and more stories where the diverted money (or some of it) actually gets returned when action is taken quickly. Every second counts! Use these resources to guide you and your staff in reacting immediately.

This plan guides offices in contacting banks, parties to the transaction and law enforcement officials at various levels. Websites for notices are included.

I recommend that you save these resources in a place where everyone in your office can access them. And I recommend that you make hard copies and post them in a central location in your office.

Be safe out there!

And thank you, American Land Title Association!

Check out Bloomberg Businessweek’s article about Greenville

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You only have to walk in downtown Greenville to see the phenomenal transformation this lovely city has made over the last two decades. The riverfront, waterfall and pedestrian bridge provide a scenic backdrop for excellent dining and cultural experiences.

My family enjoys season tickets for the Broadway series at the Peace Center which gives us a chance to enjoy top-notch shows and to check out the always-evolving restaurant scene. When we took two five-year old grandchildren to see The Lion King, we had a wonderful time enjoying the children’s fountains and mice-searching game on Main Street.

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But the city planners were not only planning for culture. They were planning for business! Bloomberg Businessweek published a flattering article about the progress of businesses in Greenville on June 21. You can read it here.

The article points to decades of political commitment to creating a community that appeals to college graduates and highly skilled workers. State-of-the-art manufacturing plants have been built in the area by Michelin ad BMW. Our company has excellent attorney agents in large and small law firms who work on Main Street and surrounding areas. They report to us that they love their Greenville home.

Greenville was once a hub for textile and apparel production, but now, in addition to the manufacturing plants, Greenville supports entrepreneurs who are locating their start-up businesses downtown. One co-working space houses about a dozen start-ups, according to the article.

The author correctly points out that Greenville has excelled at creating an appealing and walkable commercial district. While downtown may have been unappealing twenty years ago, now many new inhabitants (the population has grown by 20 percent from 2000 -2016) are able to live downtown and walk to work.  Greenville has been successful, according to this article, in creating what economists call an “innovation cluster”.

Read the article and visit Greenville! I recently blogged that Charleston is exploding, and Greenville may follow suit! And I am fortunate to live in Columbia, also a great city, and within two hours of each of our sister cities, not to mention the beach and the mountains. South Carolina has so much to offer!

Marketing tips for dirt lawyers

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bookLast week, this blog discussed technology and marketing issues, and I warned readers to expect more on those topics. I read another great book! This one, The Power of a System, by John H. Fisher, a medical malpractice lawyer, is basically about how to build a successful plaintiff’s practice. Why, you ask, should a real estate lawyer care?

A real estate lawyer should care because Mr. Fisher included some great marketing tips for real estate lawyers. He believes, for example, in identifying the “ideal client” and marketing relentlessly to that person. Here is his quote about the “ideal client” of a real estate lawyer:

“If you are a real estate lawyer, are your ideal clients the homeowners buying a new house? No! The homeowners will use your services one time for a fee of $750, and you will likely never hear from them again…You will be broke by the time the homeowners need you again. The ideal clients for a real estate lawyer are real estate agents who refer a steady stream of new homeowners. The goal is not to make money on a single transaction. Rather, your goal should be to develop relationships with your ideal client that will generate new clients and a steady stream of income for the rest of your career. The lifetime value of your ideal client is far greater than the value of a single transaction.”

This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Real estate lawyers in South Carolina should devote their marketing dollars and time to courting the individuals who are in a position to send them business. In addition to real estate agents, local lenders and builders are prime targets. Analyze your market, your community, and determine who will be in a position to direct business to your practice. Call those individuals your “ideal clients” and go after them!

Mr. Fisher has developed three simple marketing tools that he says will make all the difference in a law practice:

  1. Create an information-powerhouse website that provides killer content on a daily basis;
  2. Publish a monthly newsletter targeted to your ideal client;
  3. Host regular seminars and workshops that provide valuable content to your ideal client.

As to the information-powerhouse website, you will need assistance.  There are experts who can assist you with setting up the website as well as providing content. You will, of course, have to comply with the Rules of Professional Responsibility, so you cannot let your website expert work alone. Stay tuned for later blogs about websites.

As to the monthly newsletter, Mr. Fisher was very specific. He believes newsletters are “marketing gold”, but they must be written by the attorney to show personality as well as expertise, and they must be mailed consistently on a monthly basis. He believes that mass-mailing pieces will not do the job.

He said he is always thinking and taking notes about possible articles. (I get this idea because I am always thinking about blog ideas.) He said, with collecting ideas all month, he is able to devote only two hours per month to actually writing. He writes a main article or two on law related topics. Then he answers a legal question or two. After that, he throws in a brief article about his marketing events (“What’s John up to?”). And he adds a goofy picture or two of him and his kids to humanize himself.

He hires a graphic designer to make the newsletter “pretty” and uses a “fulfillment provider” for printing and mailing.

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He wants his newsletter to be so good that his ideal clients (the lawyers who refer medical malpractice plaintiffs to him) will save them and post them on their bulletin boards. Can you write a newsletter that good to promote your practice? I believe you can!

As to event marketing, Mr. Fisher says events should be educational, informational and fun and they should give away secrets! He has seminars for lawyers (his referral partners) to explain his systems, how he treats his clients, etc. He says to promote the heck out of these events to your ideal clients. Mail invitations. Follow with postcards, emails and handwritten notes. He recommends using testimonials from others who have attended successful events. Keep building momentum. Obtain sponsors and vendors to assist. Make sure the events are fun! And then follow them with handwritten notes.

Our office is in the business of consulting with real estate lawyers on marketing and other issues. We can help!  And here’s a further warning about more of these topics in future blogs.

Happy marketing!