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You may not know it, but your email and web browsing habits may be inadvertently helping the “bad guys” take your personal information, or nonpublic private information (NPPI). Hackers are targeting the real estate industry by utilizing sophisticated techniques and technology to hack into existing email threads and redirect the communication, and far worse, the funds, elsewhere. For real estate agents and their clients, this could mean a big payday for hackers, as well as an enormous headache, and possibly legal action, for agents and their clients.

To protect you and your clients, Aaron M. Davis, CEO of Florida Agency Network (FAN), has compiled a list of actions agents should take to help prevent exposing themselves and their clients to a potential hacking situation.

Hackers have infiltrated our industry and figured out how to create chaos. The most effective way to fight back is to educate yourself and partner with companies that monitor and secure their networks.

Through FAN’s partner, Premier Data Services, agencies within the Network stay up-to-date on compliance initiatives and policies. Each agency hosted by Premier Data Services is SOC 2 compliant, and is audited and verified by a third-party specialist organization, 360Advanced. FAN and its agencies gladly take on the responsibility of not only insuring the title to your home, but also in safeguarding your NPPI.

 

 

Have questions? Get answers, and get social with us. Follow us on Facebook and stay up-to-date with valuable resources and information.

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Recently, the real estate industry has seen a surge in email scams, cyber crime and hackers targeting real estate transactions in an attempt to defraud real estate brokers, lenders, title agencies and more. With each transaction containing sensitive, or nonpublic private information (NPPI), hackers are using technology and techniques to hack into emails and redirect the communication and funds elsewhere.

According to Chris Gianni of Premier Data Services, a network partner with The Florida Agency Network, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you and your clients don't become victims.

One of the easiest ways to avoid a hacker from taking funds is to simply pay attention. Checking and verifying email sources can take a few minutes, but it could save you and your client from getting into a messy situation.

Gianni says hackers will inject a new reply email address with a domain so similar to the original email, you might not even notice. For example, one of our embodying title agencies encountered a hacker who attempted to duplicate the original email domain, "____@XYZTITLE.com", by using "____@XYZZTITLE.com", with the signature line copied from the actual settlement agent's information.  That hacker then attempted to send alternate wiring instructions to the buyer in order to redirect the funds to a fraudulent bank account. However, thanks to some quick thinking and a few minutes verifying the email source and information, the hacker was unsuccessful.

Also, Gianni advises keeping your work email separate from your personal email.

"If you're working in a personal email, let's say, one that you use to sign up for newsletters, online accounts or to download content, a hacker could easily get in and find out you're a real estate agent. From there, he or she will most likely begin monitoring your emails, plan out a way to get a hold of sensitive information and get whatever they want. "

Securing your passwords in another security option Gianni suggest. Using at least 8 letters, including symbols, alternating between upper-case and lower-case letters, and changing passwords regularly is an effective way to secure you and your client's privacy.

The most effective way to avoid being a victim of a cyber crime is to use a secure network or do business with companies that do the same. Embodying agencies within the Florida Agency Network stay up-to-date on compliance codes and policies. Through FAN’s network partner, Premier Data Services, each agency is SOC 1 & SOC 2 compliant and verified by third-party organization, 360Advanced. FAN and its agencies gladly take on the responsibility of not only insuring the title of your home but also safeguarding your NPPI.

 

Have questions? Get answers, and get social with us. Follow us on Facebook and stay up-to-date with valuable resources and information.

Your email is your business’s lifeblood these days. Most clients like the convenience of reading their updates on their home, on their title commitment, and everything else through the convenience of email. And, while they may or may not be following safe procedures, it should be one of your primary concerns.

After all, your clients private information is in those emails. Financial records, account numbers, names, and other forms of sensitive data that shouldn’t be released to the public. What if someone guesses your password or otherwise gets access?

There are some very good tips you can follow to keep your email safe. Most of these solutions are simpler than some recipes you’ve been dying to try or some driving maneuvers you perform daily. If you add these layers of security, you can be confident in your email’s safety.

Password Security

The first line of defense against people who’d like your information is to create strong, unique, and unguessable passwords to your accounts. Many people tend to use passwords like “pa$$word1! “ when that’s one of the most easily guessed passwords. Below is a list pulled from CBS News of the 10 most common passwords last year:

 

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. abc123
  6. 123456789
  7. 111111
  8. 1234567
  9. iloveyou
  10. adobe123

 

If you see any of your passwords on here, you should be changing them right now. Those are the most common and they are also the most easily guessed.

Best practice for passwords is to use a random string of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols of significant length (8 or more characters). It should look more like “1dfGHt#2” than “password.”

If you’re worried about remembering passwords, use a password manager app or sync tool like iCloud Keychain or 1Password. That way, you can generate extremely secure passwords that your phone and/or computer will put in automatically for you while still maintaining the security that you need.

Phishing Attempts

But, a good password isn’t worth anything if you give it away willingly. We’ve all been warned about phishing and spam, and never to click links in emails where you (a) weren’t expecting an email or (b) don’t know the sender. Those maxims are still true but there’s even more to be worried about now.

Phishing is, specifically, the act of imitating a legitimate company’s login screen to get your password. They’re getting good at replicating the official website, too. Here are some common traits of phishing emails, pulled from Microsoft:

Follow this rule of thumb if you don’t want to get caught by a phishing scam: if you receive an email from anyone asking you to login, give them your password, or otherwise give up information, do not use their links or give them that information. Instead, if you’re concerned, go to the website they’re claiming to be from yourself by hand-typing the URL into your browser. That way, you can be sure you’re at the right place.

A problem that faces real estate and title professionals in particular are schemes to get you to transfer funds to a dummy account. The emails in question will look almost exactly like real requests for transfers and if you’re not careful, you might end up sending large amounts of money to fake accounts. When in doubt, verify the transaction request with the sender if you know them, or take steps to find out if they’re legit. Use the tips above to recognize and avoid emails intended to steal passwords or cash and delete the offending messages as soon as you can.

Security Questions

Recovery options are also difficult because if you’re vigilant about setting a good password and avoiding/ignoring phishing but make your security questions easy to answer or easily researched, you’ve done a lot of hard work for nothing. When you set up your security questions, make sure they’re:

If you’ve ever revealed your security question’s answer anywhere, ever, don’t use it. Instead, if you’re given the option, make up your own question about something you don’t tell others, or use the question that you’ve never told anyone. Be aware, too, that some image memes that are commonly shared on Facebook are looking for information commonly found in these questions. If you know you use certain details for these questions, don’t publish them on any social media network or tell anyone you don’t trust.

2-Factor Authentication

Some websites (like Google, Facebook, and Twitter) have introduced what’s known as 2-factor authentication. It may sound complex but it’s actually rather simple: they require any password input to have another, smaller password generated by another device. The services I mentioned earlier all use apps on iPhones/Androids to generate the code. If you activate this system, you’ll be asked for a code each time you log in that only you, on your device, can make. That way, even if someone else has your password, the only way anyone’s getting in is if they have your code generator—and they’d need to steal your phone for that.

Stay Safe

The only way that you’re going to lose your data and your email account if you use these tips would be to hand it to them directly. Staying safe has never been easier thanks to the basic tools that we’ve been given from the email providers themselves and the basic tips to maintaining a safe, secure email system earlier in the email: make a good password, give it to no one, don’t log in through links but rather through the sites themselves, and just practice good email management, and you’ll be fine!

 

Actionable Tips

Follow these basic tips to stay safe through your email:

As professionals, it can be difficult to keep track of what's going on in the world we live in. From the vast social networks that we must keep track of to the niche sites where our businesses might be talked about without our knowledge, how can you keep your eyes on what's being said—and how can you use that information to make your business better?

Google Alerts

One popular way of monitoring your image is to use Google Alerts to ensure that you're always on top of what Google sees—and we all know that Google sees just about everything. Put your name into the box, set your email to receive the alerts, and you'll be on your way. If there's something new that Google finds, you'll hear about it as often as you like. That way, if something happens in one of the remote corners of the web, you'll know about it.

Social Media

You can track your image on social media channels mostly by making sure you maintain a solid presence online. The internet is not shy about telling you exactly what it thinks, good or bad. If you give people an outlet to pour out their experiences, good or bad, you'll hear about it. In fact, some companies have taken to proactively diagnosing and fixing the problems while engaging entirely through social media channels. Listening to social media for your name or business name can be as simple as searching through Twitter, Facebook, or your preferred network's search function, but you might consider using a solution like Hootsuite to set up search terms on each network that it will monitor and create a dashboard for. It might make it simpler for you to be listening for what people are saying about you.

Location Websites

A big one that people don't generally think of is to be monitoring sites like Yelp, Google+ Local, and other map-based sites where people might be tempted to leave bad reviews or say bad things. Make sure that in your search of the internet that you keep sites like these in mind. It'll help you in the long run because not only is it good to claim your locations and keep the info up-to-date, you'll be able to head off customers who didn't use the proper support channels to let you know about the problem.

Overall, monitoring your online image is easy once you get the hang of it. In fact, most of it is automated thanks to tools like Alerts and Hootsuite. Don't let it distract you from the goal of providing the best client service that you can.

We're sure that you're all familiar with data caps as members of the RE industry. After all, with cell phones becoming increasingly common (91% of adults have one), usage is at an all time high—which might explain why companies such as AT&T and Verizon put data caps in place, to make more money and to reduce network congestion. And you, as professionals, use apps like Maps and services like Evernote to keep everything up to date with your services. When your data cap is looming large over you, free WiFi might seem like a godsend. Use your services without adding to your data cap—the perfect combination!

But, before you connect to just any network, we have a warning for you: while WiFi from businesses and private providers like Brighthouse or AT&T is everywhere, it's also dangerous.

Unsecured Networks

Free WiFi feels great, but certain providers of free WiFi prefer to use managed systems rather than password-secured hotspots like businesses use—usually to ensure that the public can connect and increase their awareness. But the problem here is that on an unsecured network like this—even if there's a login screen for your personal credentials—none of your data is properly encrypted, meaning that anyone can get on the network and, with a little bit of knowledge and work, can get your personal information from what you're broadcasting over the air.

While some apps and websites do use encrpytion to connect (such as Facebook and most banks), care should be taken because other sites and apps have not adopted the standard. Responsible use of WiFi can and will make your life better but it only takes one irresponsible person to ruin your accounts or your work. Be safe when connecting!

Fake Hotspots

We've also been receiving reports of thieves using fake hotspots to lure you into trusting them. They follow the same system as phishing attempts through your email: recreating websites to look official to get you to give up your credentials. It's worse when you realize that most cell phones (regardless of operating system) are set up to automatically connect to their provider's hotspots automatically—but they put no controls in place to prevent fakes from replacing them.

Here's a scenario: let's say your WiFi is toggled on your iPhone and you're walking to a showing. If someone in the area has named their WiFi "attwifi," the normal name for AT&T's hotspots, you'll automatically connect whether the hotspot's legitimate or not. Then the thief can go to work sniffing out your data. If you're not expecting a free WiFi hotspot, you might not notice and then you'll be compromised.

Securing Your Data

There are steps you can take to help prevent this problem. For one thing, every modern smartphone has an indicator showing that a website is secured and encrypted (meaning it's far harder to read what you're sending). On iPhone, there will be a grey lock next to the name of the site you're on. This means that the connection is secured and the identity of the site is verified by a third party. On Android, it depends on browser, but the Chrome browser displays a green lock. Look for these symbols when doing any transaction with your data! Without them, you are at risk.

Secondly, you should turn off auto-login to any and all WiFi hotspots that they're currently enabled for. While it's a bit more work to do, it's not all that difficult to do. On iPhone, it's in Settings > WiFi > (Network Name — click the circled "i" symbol) > Auto-Join.

These tips will make your life more secure and protect your contacts, leads, and business from being spied upon—or worse!

Troubleshooting: Everyone's had a bad experience with a computer at some point: either a program crashing, a slowdown, a virus, or even just computer age. Well, while manufacturers would like you to upgrade often, there's a better way to keep your computer running for a while longer—especially if you don't want to move to new equipment or if you're waiting on a certain feature to come to market. We've got the tips you need to do some troubleshooting to your computer!

Troubleshooting Tips

Every computer system has its fair share of problems but there are always ways to fix those or improve how they work—and slowdowns are no different. Here are a few things we think are useful to help you keep your system running the way it should:

Viruses

While we're sure you've heard more than your fair share about viruses, it bears repeating: viruses are dangerous to your security and can cause your system to run slow, incorrectly, or even destructively. Somewhere around 32% of computers have some sort of infection on them. Keep your virus scanners up to date and keep malware and adware protection on your computer. That will help solve most of the problems resulting from viruses.

Troubleshooting First, Replacement Later

Don't buy into the idea that you need a whole new system if you're experiencing slowdowns. The above tips can help you avoid replacement, but there's something else you should consider: if your PC is more than 5 years old, slowdowns are not only common, they're inevitable. The rate that hardware is improving means that 5 years is the difference between bleeding-edge and dinosaur. This doesn't mean your PC is useless, just that it might take a little longer to run the new versions of software or to boot up. This is normal and expected, and shouldn't cut into your workflow too much.

Either way, using these tips, you should be able to milk a little more life out of your computer, regardless of operating system. Troubleshooting can save you a lot of time and money, and it doesn't have to be difficult.

Blogging is the thing to be doing in online marketing. The trends in marketing are all heading towards online marketing. While hand shaking and grinning at events is always effective (and word of mouth is still king), an online presence is becoming more and more important. While mobile technology is 7 years old, it's still in its infancy—meaning that now is the time to get in on the game.

Blogging is the key to getting into this space. Blogs are well-equipped to do three things for your agency:

  1. Promote your ideas and thoughts on the market
  2. Allow others to join in a conversation about those ideas
  3. Encourage sharing of that content and make word-of-mouth easier to get.

It's not just a hobbyist thing anymore, nor is it just for revolutionary ideas. You'll never know the reaction you'll get from your ideas if you don't put them out there.

Promote Your Ideas Through Blogging

Blogging is for ideas. You have ideas. Big ones. Whether it's about how the market is flawed (and your great solution to that flaw) or how someone can make the market work for them rather than working the market, you've got something to say about the market somehow. Start saying something big, develop those ideas.

Some of the biggest internet successes all started by seeing a great idea and developing those ideas into bigger things. Their sense of entrepreneurship and intelligence moved them from people with ideas into people with products. Elon Musk moved from having a simple web company into helping found SpaceX and Tesla Motor Company. Larry Page started Google on an idea and some knowledge. So can you!

While you might not quite make that level, there's room in the market for your ideas on real estate. Blog about them, talk about them, get them on paper and into the public. The thing all of these folks have in common is that they made websites that primarily assist others in achieving their goals. Do the same yourself, and see the results grow.

Start Conversations By Blogging

When it comes to the internet, you need to understand that it's a primarily social medium. Blogs don't exist just to detail ideas, they're made to discuss them and make them better. Every big, successful blog has methods of creating conversations around them. WordPress has implemented a system where you can find content on their site and engage using your account. Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr all have their own conventions on how to share and respond to content.

The key here is that no matter the medium, the form exists to talk to others. Comment sections and conversations on Twitter are important. Invent a hashtag, get people talking, ask for responses. People talking about your idea, especially if you can get your name or your hashtag attached to the conversation, means that you're getting free press and association with your idea.

Encourage Sharing of Your Blogging

Even if people don't want to be part of your conversation—say, people are already impressed or just want others opinions for their consideration—at least make it easy and simple for people to share those ideas and articles with others. Promote the ideas on Facebook, Twitter, Quora, wherever you have a social media presence.

Remember when we said earlier that word-of-mouth was the best form of advertising? As the world moves more and more to mobile technology and consumption of media, social sharing and commentary is the new word-of-mouth. In fact, search engines like Google are starting to use social shares through sites like Google+ and other social media to help rank sites in their results—a big factor in getting found online.

Make Your Ideas Live

There are many forms of blogging. Twitter, technically, is a micro-blogging app, which amounts to a series of small posts of ideas you could put up during a lunch break or between appointments. If you find your ideas don't fit, WordPress.com has a longer form that you can flesh out your ideas on. If answering questions is your thing, Quora is the place to go.

The one thing you shouldn't do, however, is let your ideas live in your head alone. We live in a big, beautiful world with people who could use them—and who could amplify your idea to your next client.

We've recently discussed the "Internet of Things" and smart homes, but now there's some big news from Apple that might shake some things up.

What Is Home Automation And The "Internet of Things"?

If you need a quick refresher as to what the internet of things are, it's a series of gadgets that have been given the ability to connect to the internet for your convenience.

This means that your fridge might have a screen where you log your food levels so you know when to go to the store—and how much to buy. Or, your thermostat could detect if you were home and adjust itself accordingly to save you energy. These features are gaining ground and making sure homes are equipped (or at least ready) for these appliances is a big deal.

The News

Apple announced yesterday during their WWDC keynote presentation that they're working with some of the biggest names in home technology to get most (if not all) devices onto a single standard of communication. This is a welcome change as the current market is filled with apps for each device, making managing a smart home a little complex.

The list of companies on-screen at the keynote are:

Now, with the addition of these standards, Siri can control the home with certain commands. The keynote itself used the example of telling Siri "I'm going to bed" to initiate the doors locking, lights going out, and other actions.

There will also be an app (most likely) that will allow you to control all of your devices at once—smoke alarms, thermostats, door locks, and others to start.

If you're a real estate agent of any kind advising your clients or assessing market value of a home, home automation systems are still valuable, but stay tuned to find out which systems will follow these new standards—and to see how Apple's new developments will help push the smart home into more common acceptance. This could be big news for the real estate market as well as the consumer market.

All of the social media outlets are recommended for your business. They’ve become a force that’s not just for sharing your personal life with your friends but for sharing your professional life with your clients.

Images, too, have become key to interacting on the social web. As our devices have grown more powerful and visually stunning, the use of images has risen too—to the point of being a necessity.

We don’t need to convince you that you need images, we’re sure—the numbers bear that out. Engagement on photo posts is far, far higher than on text posts. The Internet is a visual medium. But how do you use the images in a way that promotes your business and shows that you know your tools?

Part of it is knowing the image size you’ll need. Below we have a list of image sizes (in pixels) that show the optimal size for images to be seen, clicked, and responded to. All dimensions are listed Width X Height. 

The Big List For Social Media Image Sizes

Using these guidelines can and will help you to promote your business because you’ll quickly improve your social media prowess and make your business look more beautiful and appealing to the average social user.

Feel free to bookmark this guide to the social media recommended image sizes in case you need the numbers again. Happy marketing!

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