Thursday, March 24, 2016

BEWARE - You and Your Clients Are a Target For This Real Estate Scam

Cyber-criminals are finding new methods every day to steal personal and financial information. Their techniques range from phishing scams to buffer overflow techniques and brute-force password hacking. Banking institutions have found themselves under attack far more than usual in recent years, and have in turn begun to incorporate stronger security measures in an attempt to block hackers. As a result, many scammers/hackers have moved on to what they believe are "easier targets." focusing on normal people rather than financial institutions, Just last week, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Realtors issued a warning to consumers that they must be hyper-vigilant in order to avoid recent phishing schemes that have been targeting closing costs on real estate transactions.

The National Association of Realtors, along with the Federal Trade Commission, issued their statement warning people to be on the look-out for a specific scheme targeting those involved in a real estate transaction. First, the hackers gain access to the email account of a customer, real estate agent, or escrow officer, and use the information to keep up-to-date on the transaction and determine the closing date. When they have figured out the closing date, the scammer sends an email that has been masked in such a way that they are able to impersonate the escrow company, title company, or real estate agent, telling the customer that the wiring instructions had a last-minute change. If the customer takes the bait, they send their funds to the scammer's account, which can be emptied in minutes.

Sepulveda Escrow utilizes encrypted and secure email when sending documents with sensitive and confidential information. In addition, documents can be returned via email through this secure portal. Sepulveda Escrow has also instituted new procedures to contact Clients directly to confirm details, rather than relying on email or contact through a third party. (Please see end of this blog for some helpful tips.)

It is imperative to know that cyber criminals don't always need to be able to break through firewalls or use high-tech software to get your personal information or access your computer's data. Quite often, hackers use more subtle tricks to gain access. Phishing schemes are one of the most common ways by which they trick potential targets. One example of phishing is when a hacker sends a mass email to a group of people, and makes it look like the email comes from a bank or other online payment platform. The email requests that the recipient verify their login information by following a link. The link leads to a page that closely resembles the actual login page for the financial institution, but when the user inputs their login information, the hacker records the username and password, thereby enabling them to access the account and steal their money.

Another example of phishing is when a hacker contacts a target or a group of targets under the guise of an Official informing them that they have been the victim of a scam. They then tell the recipient that they can help them fix the damage, but first ask for certain sensitive information like Social Security number or bank information, to "verify" what data had been "stolen."  While you may look at this and think that the scheme is too obvious to be effective, statistics show that approximately 0.4% of recipients fall prey to such attacks. In other words, if a mass email is sent to 10,000 people, about 40 of them will have their information successfully stolen.

While phishing is historically the easiest and most effective method by which hackers are able to steal personal or financial information, there are several other methods. A buffer overflow attack, used by more sophisticated hackers, involves inputting many lines of code into an online form in order to overload the system and allow the hacker to steal data inputted by previous customers. A brute-force password hack involves a computer program that inputs all kinds of combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols, until the correct password has been found and the hacker has gained access to an email or other kind of online account.

Finally, hackers often package viruses or worms into free online software or as attachments to mass emails. Such viruses can enable the hacker to record keystrokes, thus giving them access to many of your passwords, or enable them to access built-in microphones or webcams on laptops. Simply opening such an email or downloading an infected attachment can lead to a virus being installed on your computer or mobile device. Fortunately, anti-virus software can often help to detect and remove these viruses, but hackers are constantly finding new ways to avoid detection by your anti-virus program. The best way to avoid getting such viruses is to be careful when downloading anything, and to avoid opening any emails that seem suspicious or come from unknown or unreliable sources.

Here are some tips to help you avoid being affected by similar scams. First and foremost, if something doesn't look right or feels even a little bit suspicious, don't hesitate to double-check it. Don't rely too much on emails. Instead, pick up the phone and call your escrow officer or realtor to make sure that everything you have received is correct. Don't open email attachments you aren't expecting. Additionally, you shouldn't trust financial information that has been sent via email, nor should you send any of your own financial information via email, because it usually isn't secure. In general, wiring instructions are sent by fax or encrypted email message. When inputting personal information on a website, check the address for "https," of which the "s" stands for secure, meaning that your information will be better protected.

Be very careful when opening attachments or downloading anything from an email, no matter who sent it to you. Just because you recognize the email address, doesn't mean that the message actually came from the person you associate with that email address. It's possible that a scammer could have hacked a friend's email, or could have disguised their email to appear as if the message came from a friend's email address. Proceed with caution. Being aware and cautious can save you a lot of hassle in the long run. 

Biggest Tip: Following up on the phone after sending an email may seem burdensome, but we at Sepulveda Escrow find that it is always worthwhile to go the extra mile to avoid financial losses and potential lawsuits.

Find out more about us at Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Banks to Incorporate Biometric Scanning to Help Prevent Hacking on Mobile Platforms

Due to hackers and other cyber criminals, online security has become a major issue around the world. In an attempt to protect their users' information, various websites have enacted different countermeasures to increase security and prevent hacking, but criminals seem to be evolving with technology. Furthermore, many of the extra safety measures, while they do a good job of protecting users, are often viewed as too confusing or time-consuming. James Koren, in his L.A. Times article, describes Wells Fargo's newest security measures: eye scanning and facial/voice recognition.

Banks and credit card companies tend to be the main targets of hackers and scammers looking to steal money and/or identification information. With a relatively small amount of information about you, a cyber criminal can apply for credit cards, open up bank accounts, and rack up thousands of dollars in debt under your name before you are any the wiser. Banks like Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo are constantly looking for better ways to protect their customers without causing more of a hassle. What they have concluded is that the best method, at least for the time being, is the use of biometric markers, which, with current technology, are nearly impossible to forge.

The average consumer wants to be well protected, yet doesn't want to have to put in a lot of effort in order to obtain that protection. For example, Google, among other websites, has a feature called 2-Step Verification. When you make an account with Google, you have the option to save a phone number to your account. Then, every time you try to log in to your account on a computer that you have not saved, Google requires that you input your username, password, and a six digit code that is sent in a text message to the provided phone number. While this system essentially prevents hackers from getting into your account via brute force attacks, it can also be pretty annoying for users who have to log on to multiple computers/devices in any given day.

Besides lengthy, multiple-step encryption, there is also the simple issue of having to remember several different passwords for different websites, each with different formatting requirements. Each website doesn't want you to use the same password on another site, in case one of the websites gets hacked, but how is the average user supposed to remember upward of 5 passwords, and recall which one goes to which website? Biometrics seems to be the best of both worlds for both time-conscious and safety-conscious customers. Currently, fingerprint-scanning is huge in the marketplace, as new phones by Apple and Samsung are coming with built-in fingerprint scanning capabilities. Some banks are already offering fingerprint-based mobile access to non-business customers. However, for commercial customers, who have much larger accounts, and therefore much more to lose to cyber criminals, the banks want to use additional biometric markers to help ensure the security.

Wells Fargo's new service will use a phone's front-facing camera to look at the pattern of blood vessels on a user's retina. This pattern of blood vessels is just as unique as an individual's fingerprint and, therefore, provides just as much security.  Additionally, users could log in to their account using facial/voice recognition. A user holds their phone so that the front-facing camera can see them, and reads a series of numbers that appear on the screen. A combination of recorded voice data and facial structure data will determine if the user is who they claim to be. In all, these new features should provide a much easier and safer experience for all users, especially business customers who need better safety features. As of now, technology has developed to the point where biometric scanning is doable, but not yet hackable. In the future, this may change, but for the moment, biometrics is the safest course.

Find out more about us at Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.

Friday, March 4, 2016

"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at Universal Studios Hollywood Expected to Greatly Increase Park's Revenue

J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" franchise has made the author a millionaire and a worldwide sensation in the relatively short time since she first published "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," the first book in a seven-part series. While it took her quite a while to find a publisher that was willing to take a risk on the new author, when she finally did, the series took off and quickly became the best-selling sensation it is today. Between the seven books in the main series, three other books set in the same universe, 8 movies, and all of the different kinds of merchandise, "Harry Potter" has been a huge money-maker over the years. One of the largest sources of merchandise income has been Universal's "Harry Potter World" in Orlando, Florida. Hugo Martin, in his L.A. Times article, discusses the upcoming opening of a new theme park, this time in Los Angeles: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Everyone expects the new theme park to be a huge success, both for the franchise itself and for Universal Studios Hollywood, which has undergone millions of dollars in renovations over the past couple of years in an attempt to bring in more visitors. In 2014 they started with a Despicable Me-themed attraction called Minion Mayhem and continued into 2015 with the Simpsons Springfield land and a new Fast and Furious ride. The new Harry Potter attraction, however, while still smaller than its Florida counterpart (about one-third of its size) is expected to do more for Universal's bottom line than any of the other attractions.

Besides the fact that the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter will attract more visitors to the theme park as a whole, analysts believe that a large portion of the increased income will be due mainly from merchandising. In 2010, when Orlando first opened a Harry Potter World, park attendance went up by 20% and total revenue increased by 41% in the first year. Analysts believe that a similar trend will be noticeable at the Los Angeles analog. Between souvenirs like wands or robes and food options like butterbeer and chocolate frogs, the Harry Potter World is expected to make a killing among die-hard fans and regular folks alike. With a franchise like Harry Potter, there is very little that can go wrong, since the fans, known as "Potterheads," are so invested in the series that nay addition to the magical world is seen as a welcome surprise.

Members of Universal Studios' sales and design teams have come up with many clever ideas to make the theme park a huge money-maker. Replica wands ($39.95) can be purchased to match a favorite character's, and for a slightly higher price ($47.95), one can purchase an "interactive" wand. These interactive wands are specially designed to activate lights and motors specially incorporated into some of the wizarding world's attractions when waved in a certain manner. Not only do these wands bring in more revenue, they also add to the overall ambiance of the park and make visitors feel more immersed in the magical world that Universal is creating. Costumed employees add to the "realism" of the immersive world, and visitors will have the ability to purchase robes, wands, and the like to add to their personal collections.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter should be a huge success for Universal Studios Hollywood. As of now, it is smaller than the one in Orlando, but with enough traffic and high demand, the park will likely expand in future years. 2016 seems to be the year for all things Harry Potter related. Not only is California's wizarding world opening, but Rowling's sequel to the Harry Potter series, titled "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," will be performed in English theaters in July and the script should come out in print soon after. Finally, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," one of Rowling's other books set in the wizarding universe is currently in filming and is set to be released in movie theaters in November. One might expect that all of this new content will eventually be incorporated into new Universal attractions, which should make for even more income in the not-too-distant future.

Find out more about us at Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.