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Data Privacy in the Title Industry has been an ongoing conversation nationwide for quite some time now. Since the implementation of The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, financial institutions are now required to inform consumers of their privacy rights and protect their private information. Since then, the laws related to data privacy have evolved to include the growing threat of cybercrime. Unfortunately, while these new laws continue to improve, so do the cybercriminals who commit these crimes.

How do they do it? Cybercriminals use technology in many ways to steal sensitive personal information to generate a profit. One way is through phishing emails. Hackers attempt to lure potential victims into opening emails from what appears to be a trusted source. These emails usually contain a malicious link or attachment. When opened, these links can download software or malware onto your computer that can phish for your personal information.

Another privacy breach on the rise in the title industry is wire fraud. We are seeing a growing number of homebuyers being targeted for wire fraud scams. Cybercriminals are getting smarter and are focused on more significant amounts, which puts those buyers paying cash at a much higher risk. Once the hackers have obtained email access to any parties involved in the transactions, they search for emails containing words like wire instructions. They then create a spoof email that looks like it is coming to you from a trusted source with new wire instructions to send money to a fraudulent account. As a result, victims unknowingly send wire transfers to the account of criminals pretending to be real estate and title industry professionals involved in the transaction.

The newest target of cybercrime is now mortgage payoffs. Cybercriminals are now impersonating lenders with the intent to elicit payment of mortgages. These criminals are sending altered mortgage payoff statements to title companies. In May of last year, the U.S. Secret Service issued an advisory warning of a drastic increase in fraud involving mortgage payoffs.

What can we do to protect ourselves? First, don’t click on anything! If you receive an email that seems suspicious, don’t do anything until you verify the email source. Often, these criminals may leave out a dash or a dot in the fraudulent email that is hard to detect at first glance. Never open a link in the actual email. You can copy the link, exit your email, and go to your browser to open any links you think may be suspicious. This crucial step prevents the cybercriminal from mirroring any personal accounts through your email.

Don’t share any personal information through an unsecured email. A lot of wire fraud occurs because Agents, buyers, and sellers share their private information using personal email accounts that are not secure. Most title companies use secure software to gather your personal information regarding your transaction. These sites require you to set up a username and password to access them.

Don’t use free wifi! Whatever you are typing can be seen by everybody on free wifi. Therefore, we recommend using Hotspots to prevent the opportunity for cybercrime. But, if you must use free wifi, do not access any personal accounts such as checking accounts, investment accounts and bank statements.

While cyber-attacks continue to rise worldwide, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to limit the risk of fraud.

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Erin Shepherd is a Settlement Officer at Eagle Title LLC, and a licensed Title Insurance Producer. She specializes in settling purchases and refinances for both residential and commercial properties. In her previous role as loan officer assistant at a major lender, Erin navigated all aspects of the mortgage process from origination to closing, including due diligence to ensure compliance with underwriting guidelines. She transitioned into the title business 15 years ago. Her extensive experience in both mortgage and title, and hands-on understanding of the settlement process, is an excellent benefit to her clients.