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from Local Attorney, Michael H. Wasserman

Thursday, September 7, 2017

THE EQUIFAX DATA BREACH AND YOU - 6 STEPS TO TAKE NOW

IDENTITY THIEVES HIT A MAJOR CREDIT REPORTING AGENCY — HARD

MILLIONS OF CONSUMERS’ CONFIDENTIAL IDENTITY INFORMATION IS COMPROMISED

Equifax, one of the big three credit reporting agencies announced that a massive security breach took place earlier this year. Offenders accessed data sets of 143 million US consumers.

That means all of the information you give the bank when you apply for a car loan, mortgage, credit card, or a new bank account could be compromised. The Equifax breach includes millions of social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit cards and driver’s license numbers.

Oy.

How widespread is the data heist? Let’s put it this way. Wikipedia says the July 2016 US population was 323,127,513. In 2014, the adult population was 245,300. Near as I can tell, that means more than half of all adults in the country have been compromised!

What to do? Here are 6 steps I suggest you take to protect yourself.

1. Determine If You Are Impacted.
Equifax is sending written notifications to every impacted consumer. If you cannot wait, go to equifaxsecurity2017.com and provide your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. You will see if your information may have been compromised.

2. Enroll in Credit Monitoring
Compromised or not, you can enroll in Equifax’s TrustedID Premier program which is complimentary 1-year credit file monitoring and identity theft protection. Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com or call Equifax at 866-447-7559 for more information.

IMPORTANT: According to Equifax FAQs, signing up for Equifax TrustedID does not limit your legal options related to this breach.
You might also ask your credit card issuer, bank, insurance agent, financial services representative or your employer’s HR department to see if they have similar credit monitoring programs. For pay services, there may be a third type of solution at  Equifax, TransUnion or Experian.
 
3. Get Fraud Alert with Another Credit Bureau.
Fraud Alert on your credit report alerts creditors and lenders who pull your credit report to take extra steps to verify your identity. Ideally, this stymies anyone trying to impersonate you on a credit application. Most fraud alerts only last 90 days, so you may want to repeat. You only need to alert one of the bureaus:
4. Monitor Bank and Credit Card Accounts for Unusual Activity
Watch your bank and credit card statements for unusual activity. Some consumer advocates suggest doing so daily, but at a minimum, check your credit report annually. If you let any of the big three know your social security number was stolen, they will send you a copy of their credit report files. Even so, you are entitled to a free credit report annually from  TransUnion, Equifax
and Experian.

5. Report any Identity Theft.
To prevent tax-fraud thieves from filing tax returns in your name and collecting any tax refunds, Tom’sGuide suggests reporting theft of Social Security number to the IRS or by calling 1-800-908-4490. They also recommend reporting the theft to local police. A police report could help clear your records and your name, and is necessary if you apply for a new Social Security number. 

6. Beware of Phishing Attacks
In 2015, ransomware criminals hacked into the Federal Office of Personnel Management and used 22 million stolen email addresses to launch a large-scale attack. Keep your guard up when reading through emails. Don’t open or respond to anything that looks suspicious.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Zoiks! Real estate scams up 480%

by Michael H. Wasserman
You read that right, A 480 percent increase according to a May 2017 PSA from the FBI. Its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Scammers are targeting wire transfers with alarming frequency. As state law mandates the use of wire transfers for most real estate transactions, it's vital that every buyer, seller and professional be vigilant to prevent fraud. Here's what to look for and what you can do to help protect your money - your deal. 

Check the Source: Wire transfer fraud typically starts with a "phishing" email that looks ok at first blush, but is a fake. Real-looking but fraudulent emails may contain:
  • A slightly different email address. It could be just one character off. Or using a correct name but from a free account, like gmail, aol or yahoo. 
  • Legit-looking logos and email footers. Remember, logos can be downloaded from public websites from title companies and banks. 
  •  A working phone number for confirmation. So, if/when you call the provided number to confirm the transaction, a scammer will answer and try to make the transaction sound legitimate.   
  • Correct names of the parties and/or properties involved. It might contain recognizable information and names that can trick people to click into a fraudulent situation.
This is scary stuff. So please, throughout real estate transactions (and really, every day) scrutinize your emails to make sure they are legitimate-particularly the ones that ask you for money or to download something.

Listen carefully to "official" phone calls: A scammer may act like they are calling from or working with your lawyer, bank, a lender or title company. They're real job is to get your personal information and account numbers-so they can create a wire transfer. Or to convince you to send your funds to a wrong account. Unless you already know the caller, do not share or confirm any information. Hang up (you can still be polite, of course) and confirm by calling back through a number you know is legitimate-not one they provide or call your attorney.

Trust but Verify: Make sure the wire instructions you receive are authentic. One common scam starts with instructions that appear legit, but direct you to wire funds to a fake bank account. Once the money is transferred, the scammer immediately withdrawals the funds, closes the account and oozes back under the rock they came from…with the stolen money…before the theft has been detected.

Beware Last Minute Changes: Whether by phone call or email, fraudsters build pressure on their victims by timing these messages for the end of day before or early on the morning of closing  (Nice touch, eh?). Posing as lawyers or title company agents, they will describe an urgent need to provide corrected or updated wire transfer instructions.

Stay Out of Trouble by Keeping these Three Things in Mind:

  1. Be mindful of the timing and process for your closing. Know exactly when/where/how wire transfers will occur. Put then in your calendar.
  2. Consider changing bank and other pertinent financial account passwords-and using complicated passwords. You might do this at the beginning of a real estate transaction to safeguard your accounts from any previous hacking.
  3. Whenever there is even the slightest doubt or suspicion, confirm all wire instructions with a trusted party. Don't feel pressured to send a wire transfer if you have ANY suspicions. It's simply not worth it.

Sadly, everyone needs to be vigilant when it comes to online wire transfers, particularly in real estate dealings where so much money must be moved into and out of title company escrow. Watch for fake emails, suspicious phone calls, and last minute changes. Always be careful how you share financial information. (Tell your parents, too.)

We truly are our own best defense. 

Here's my (real!) contact information, if you have any questions:
michael@mhwasserman.com
312-726-1512

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Meet John Aylesworth

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by Michael H. Wasserman

I’m so very happy to welcome attorney John Aylesworth to the practice. He joined us in February 2017 and our clients and colleagues have been reaping the benefits of his good counsel all spring and summer. John is hardly new to our practice; He has worked with us on individual cases for several years already. Now that he is with us full-time, we are able to help even more buyers and sellers move through the real estate process with sanity intact. John really hit the ground running this year, so you may have already met him.

John brings a great balance of calm and strength, and has a broad depth of experience in residential and commercial transactions, and new condominium development. He brings a roster of his own clients, many of whom consider him an invaluable counselor and friend, another great sign for us.

Like me, John strives to provide great service to our clients and brokers. He works hard to get contracts to the closing table, on time. John is an attentive listener, a practiced and practical negotiator and a fierce advocate.  

A little about John: he graduated cum laude from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1996. Following a stint as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois, John changed his focus to real estate law in 1999 and has been an active practitioner ever since. 

An avid bicyclist and runner, John prefers to commute from his home in River Forest via bicycle or “L”. A true adventurer, he and his son are on a life-long mission to summit the high point of every state. So far, they’ve made it to the top of 10 (only 40 to go!).


Please let us know if we can help you in your next real estate transaction. Visit us at MHWasserman.com.