Some (relatively) new scam tips

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If I told you how many articles I’ve written about fraud and scams, you’d think I’m much older than I am, so we won’t go there. But I am old enough to be retired. My husband and I both worked for large corporations who kept us current on scams of all kinds. In retirement, we must read numerous sources to make sure we keep ourselves safe online and otherwise.

The Washington Post, one of my favorite newspapers, published an article on September 6 entitled “Yes, it’s a scam; Simple tips to help you spot online fraud.” You can read it here.  

The first tip makes so much sense: “Have “the talk” with family members.” This is so important! Tell your aging parents, your teenagers who spend a considerable portion of their lives online, and everyone in between the tricks you learn from your practice and your title insurance company about safety online. As painful as it may be to assist your elderly family members with their computer issues, keeping them safe from scams will save you from having to unwind the problems. Tell your family members to come to you to “gut-check”, as the article advises, suspicious messages and phone calls.

The second tip involves social media. The article advises that privacy settings can make it significantly harder for cybercriminals to successfully target you and your family members. Read the article for the details.

The third tip is my mantra: stay current! Using current events for unjust enrichment is a prime strategy of scammers. The article reports that within 24 hours of President Biden’s announcement of the student loan forgiveness program, The Federal Trade Commission released a warning about student loan scams. Updates for all of us are available at Fraud.org, a project of the National Consumers League. Make one of your employees responsible for reviewing and reporting on the great information from that site. And make sure your family members know about it.

I love this one: “Assume that people or companies aren’t who they say they are.” As lawyers, we’re naturally and by education skeptical. Make sure those around you approach the internet and telephone as skeptically as you do.

This one is great: “Verify everything using a different channel.” Title insurance companies have been telling their agents for years (decades!) to verify wiring instructions by making a telephone call using a known and trusted telephone number. This advice can be used in other areas of online life. Use official customer service numbers and websites. Call your bank! Call or text a friend who asks for money via social media. The article advises the use of AARP’s free telephone service to ask about possible scams: 877-908-3360.

The article advises all of us to memorize the signs that something is a scam:

  • You didn’t initiate the conversation.
  • You won something.
  • You are panicked:  scammers want to create a sense of urgency.
  • It involves fast payment methods: peer to peer payment apps, for example.
  • There are payment complications. For example, the scammer will offer to pay over an app like Zelle, say there’s a problem, then ask for your email address so they can send a fake email to get your information.
  • They want information.
  • Something doesn’t feel right.

Stay current, keep your office current, and keep your family members current!

Cyber Incident Preparedness for Closing Attorneys

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And what to do if you suspect a compromise

With the increase in wire fraud that is happening in closing offices around the country, our company recently shared two documents that I thought would be beneficial to pass along to all South Carolina dirt lawyers .

The first document is a Public Service Announcement from the FBI dated August 27, 2015 concerning Business Email Compromise (BEC). BEC is defined as a sophisticated scam targeting businesses working with foreign suppliers and businesses that regularly perform wire transfers. Legitimate e-mail accounts are compromised through social engineering and computer intrusion to conduct unauthorized wire transfers.

We have seen this happen in more than one law firm in South Carolina!

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This PSA states that the total number of victims from October 2013 through August 2015 was 8,179 and the total exposed dollar loss was $798,897,959!

The second document was prepared by Linda Grahovec, the Director of Education and Marketing for our company. This document provides two cyber incident checklists, one for use in preparing, and the other for use if your office is attacked.

Here are three pieces of advice for all closing attorneys:

  1. Use an e-mail system that requires two-factor authentication;
  2. Never wire funds based on the content of an e-mail. Always assume e-mail has been compromised, and validate the information by phone. A good practice would be to refrain from sending wiring instructions by e-mail.
  3. If you suspect fraud, contact the bank immediately.

Please remain vigilant! Read everything you can on this topic, and continue to update and guard your systems. One incident could easily put a law firm out of business. Title insurance companies are excellent sources of information and training on these topics! Call on them!