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Staying in the Know About Cyber Phishing Schemes

In our blog this month, we are focusing on how we can stay aware and prepared for any cyber phishing attacks. While these types of fraudulent schemes are not new, they remain relevant as they continue to be pervasive in our daily lives and have evolved since their inception. We asked Brittany Tacquard, Insurance Communications Manager at Stewart Insurance, to give us some insights into these schemes and how to avoid them.

Q. How do you define cyber phishing?

A. There are numerous methods cyber criminals use to breach a device, or break into an organization’s network. “Phishing” is one of those ways and the most common. It is when you receive an email that contains a link or attachment that typically leads to malware being installed on your device, allowing the criminals access to your information.

Q. What are some tactics used by the criminals behind these emails?

A. Phishing emails are not always easily spotted. They can be very specific and appear to be from someone you know. Many times, they use urgency as a way to get you to act fast.

Fast Fact:
75% of organizations around the world experienced
some kind of phishing attack in 2020

Q. What risks do phishing emails pose?

A. Infiltration of your device or various systems you use, breach of non-public information you have access to, gathering of information such as current client transactions to use to their advantage at a later time, and work stoppages [are all risks posed by phishing emails].

Q. What (specifically) should real estate professionals be cautious and aware of?

A. Know that you work in an industry that is rich with data and monetary transactions. You, your business partners, and your clients are being targeted daily.

Fast Fact:
$150 is the average cost per compromised record;
$3.92 million is the average cost of a data breach!

Q. What can we do to safeguard our information and our clients’ information?

A. Be mindful of emails with links and attachments. Increase email security. Speak with an IT professional with secure email gateways and multifactor authentication on your email accounts.

Verify with the email sender via phone using trusted contact information before opening attachments or acting on instructions.

Your Next Step

Acknowledge that phishing and other cybercrime tactics are ongoing threats that require your awareness daily and that they are not going away. Slowing down to assess what you have received or been asked to do in a communication, is critical. In addition, these fraudsters can gather your data or infiltrate your connections not just in their phishing attempts, but over the phone or over social connections, as well. A few other key ideas: Avoid access to open Wi-Fi. Be aware of what you share over the phone or on social media sites, as these cyber criminals can be listening, watching and waiting to learn something about you that makes you a target.

Let us know what ways you will protect yourself and others, as you maneuver through the cyber threat landscape and protect yourself from those cyber schemes?

*fast facts via Must-Know Phishing Statistics: Updated 2021

A Secure Home for the Holidays

As we get ready for the holidays, many of us are considering traveling to celebrate the holidays with family and friends or planning get-aways to warmer states.

Though it’s hard to admit, criminals know that this is a season of travel as well. So, with this in mind, there’s no better time to revisit some best practices for home security. We hope you’ll take a moment to read up on what insiders in the security field say, and share this post with your home-owner clients as well.  

Burglary is one of the biggest problems

Pew research shows that in 2019, burglary was the second highest form of crime after larceny/theft. In order to remove ourselves from this list of potential victims, there’s several things we can do to deter criminal activity.

Lights

Lights may seem like one of the most basic forms of home security, yet they can be an inexpensive and effective way to deter crime.

“Motion sensor lights are a simple idea, yet so effective – the last thing a trespasser or burglar wants is a spotlight on them, so don’t make darkness their friend,” says Jonathan Wall, GM for SimpliSafe.

Landscaping

This one seems surprising, but when it comes down to it, landscaping can be the difference between a criminal finding a place to hide or being completely exposed.

“Many homeowners love to have plants up against their home,” says Gene Petrino of Survival Response LLC. “These tend to become overgrown and provide hiding spots that allow criminals a concealed environment to break in undetected.”

He recommends keeping hedges below two feet in height and tree canopies over 6 feet in height to prevent any potential hiding places.

Locked doors, day and night

Once again, it’s surprising to learn that the majority of burglaries occur during the day, when criminals suspect homeowners to be gone at work or school. Experts agree that keeping all doors locked and secured, even during the day, is simple but extremely important.

Additionally, be sure to examine your entry point doors to ensure they are sturdy and unable to be removed from the outside hinges. Petrino also recommends reinforcing doors with 3 in. screws to make them nearly impossible to kick in.

Surveillance & security systems

Of course, home security systems are always a great option for deterring crime and there are many different packages and price points.  

“Sensors have also gotten incredibly smart,” says Wall.  “You can connect sensors that detect the unique frequency of shattering glass, sensors that just detect motion from humans and entry sensors that can help protect windows and doors, alerting you and sounding the alarm if any are triggered.”

If a full-blown security system is not in your budget, look into smart cameras and apps. Be sure to make cameras visible to the naked eye, to once again, act as a criminal deterrent.

Some might surprise you…

Finally, reformed criminals have said that sounds from within the home like barking dogs, the sounds of a radio playing, or hearing the TV on have also deterred them from burglarizing a home. Simple, but apparently effective.

Make home security, using simple or complex methods to keep you safe, a priority. Keep your homes secure this holiday season, and everyday!

Creating a Culture of Gratitude and Giving

Tis the season! With holidays just around the corner, bell ringers in the stores, and Christmas gifts already selling out online, the hustle and bustle is all too real. It can feel impossible to squeak out some time to actually focus on gratitude or schedule a time to volunteer and give back.

So maybe we are doing it wrong. We’re trying to squeeze all of our good will into one season that is already bursting with activity. It’s time to consider how creating a culture of gratitude and giving can be an all-year, all-the-time kind of culture.

Three Ways to Create a Culture of Giving

The idea of giving of time, talents and treasures is not just reserved for a select few, but it can apply to almost any organization, company, team or individual. We all have something to give, even if we’re strapped on cash or don’t have disposable income. We can think about giving as something that is within reach and then watch our impact go far beyond our own four walls.

Your Time

Time is the one commodity we all share equal amounts of every day. No one gets more than 24 hours, and we all decide how to use it. Time is indeed precious, and giving your time is a precious gift to whoever receives it. Whether it is mentoring a new rep, volunteering once a month, or donating time to a client who could use the help, it is all giving back and a great way to start creating a culture of giving.

Your Talents

We all have them! They make us unique and valuable and we can use them to give back.  Maybe you have a knack for construction and could help with Habitat for Humanity. Perhaps you’re a semi-professional behind the camera and could help a friend trying to get started in their business. Think outside the box on how your unique strength could benefit someone else. Nothing feels better and makes a bigger impact than when we’re using our unique strengths to accomplish a goal for good!

Your Treasures

At Trademark, our mission is all about multiplying our impact. We want to go above and beyond, exceeding the expectations of our clients and partners and seeing the ripple effect of our work. Giving back is a big part of how we make that vision come to life. The opportunity we have to see our impact spread beyond our own spheres, starts with the gratitude to see what we have and how we can share it. Our Caring4Community initiative is that chance to make a broader impact by engaging those we serve and inspiring the direction of giving! This initiative provides our customers the opportunity to select one of four charity options, and then we donate a portion of our closing fee to that selection. To date, we have donated $78,620!


Starting Somewhere

I hope that this post is a jumping off point. You can start small and see where it goes! You can ask around for who needs help, offer up a unique talent, or click a button to donate.

Imagine your company, team, or even yourself in a culture of giving. What a great place to be – part of something that is having an impact far beyond what you can even see.

Helping Your Client Understand the Benefits of Homesteading

When you hear the word homestead, it may conjure images of chickens and goats, gardens and fields. However, homesteading is less about what the homeowner does with their property and more about how the property is classified. Helping a homeowner apply for and understand a homestead classification may be a way to set yourself apart as a real estate professional and help your client achieve the best use of their property.

We asked Steven Little, with SRL Law, to share his expertise on homesteads and the laws surrounding them. Read what he has to say about the benefits of homesteading and how/when someone can benefit from this status.


 Three Major Benefits of Homesteading

The three major categories are reducing the property tax burden; (potentially) receiving a homestead credit refund; and protection of the property from creditors.

First off, the homeowners must apply for a homestead classification. In order to do so, they must:

  • Own the property
  • Occupy the property as sole/primary residence
  • Be a Minnesota resident

1.) Taxes

The tax benefit of homesteading a property is the Homestead Market Value Exclusion under the Minnesota Property Tax Code. This includes gardens, garages and outbuildings on the property.

Relatives that qualify for both residential and occupied agricultural homestead include; parents, grandparents, siblings, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews of the owner or spouse of the owner.

Properties held under a trust may also qualify for homestead status, if occupied by a grantor or qualifying relative of the grantor of the trust.

2.) Homestead Credit Refund

The Minnesota Homestead Credit Refund can also help provide some relief to homeowners on their property taxes. In order to qualify for this, once again, the property must be classified as a homestead and the owners must have a valid Social Security number. Lastly, they must have already (or arranged) to pay their property taxes.

Homesteaders may qualify with regular or special circumstances for benefits. See below for the requirements to claim them.

2021 Requirements to Claim the Refund

Regular

  • You owned and lived in your home on January 2, 2021
  • Your household income for 2020 was less than $116,180

Special

  • You owned and lived in the same home on January 2, 2020, and on January 2, 2021
  • Your home’s net property tax increased by more than 12% from 2020 to 2021
  • The net property tax increase was at least $100
  • The increase was not because of improvements you made to the property

Subtractions

  • You had dependents
  • You or your spouse were age 65 or older on or before January 1, 2021
  • You contributed to a retirement account
  • You or your spouse had a permanent and total disability on or before December 31, 2020

Homestead Credit Refund Program (state.mn.us) Minnesota Department of Revenue March 1, 2021

3.) Protection From Creditors

Finally, homesteading a property can protect up to $450,000 in value from judgment liens and foreclosures. This does not include mortgage foreclosures and IRS tax liens. See below for the details involving this protection.

According to Minn. Stat 510.01 (2021)

“The house owned and occupied by a debtor as the debtor’s dwelling place, together with the land upon which it is situated to the amount of area and value hereinafter limited and defined, shall constitute the homestead of such debtor and the debtor’s family, and be exempt from seizure or sale under legal process on account of any debt not lawfully charged thereon in writing, except such as are incurred for work or materials furnished in the construction, repair, or improvement of such homestead, or for services performed by laborers or servants and as is provided in section 550.175.”

The homestead may include any quantity of land not exceeding 160 acres. The exemption per homestead, whether the exemption is claimed by one or more debtors, may not exceed $450,000 or, if the homestead is used for agricultural purposes, $1,125,000, exclusive of the limitations set forth in section 510.05.” Minn. Stat. § 510.02, subd. 1 (2021).

We hope this article is an introduction to the benefits of homesteading and a way for you to help your clients save money and benefit from their property.

Keep On Learning!

Learning from Minnesota’s Settlement History

For the last few centuries, Minnesota, along with the rest of our great nation, has been an ever-changing landscape of culture and ethnicity. To better understand our history and learn from it, Trademark interviewed Michael Brennan, an instructor at MN Realty School. We hope through his knowledge and insights, you gain a better understanding of our state’s settlement history and an empathy for each clients’ unique journey moving forward.

A brief history

Before diving in, it’s important to recognize the different ways in which people groups come to live in a specific city, state or country. “Settlers” refers to a group of people who move with others to live in a certain region. “Immigrant” refers to a person who chooses to live in permanence in a foreign country. “Refugee” refers to a person who is displaced by war, persecution, natural disaster or forces beyond their control. “Indigenous” refers to those native to a particular region.

Minnesota, like other states, includes people and their ancestors who fit into all these categories. Check out this brief history from Michael Brennan.

Prior to the settlement of Minnesota by Europeans, the Dakota and Ojibwe resided in Minnesota for centuries. By treaty and conflicts, the Dakota and Ojibwe were restricted to reservations and settlers began the creation of towns, villages and cities.

In the 1850s, settler-colonists with British roots had already ventured west to Minnesota Territory. Immigrants from Sweden, Norway, and Germany followed them throughout the 1860s and 1870s. In 1896, official voting instructions were offered in nine different languages: Czech, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, and Swedish.  Free land was the incentive to move west!

Jewish people from multiple countries came to Minnesota too—first to St. Paul and Duluth and later to Eveleth, Virginia, Hibbing, and Chisholm primarily as merchants. The first documented Chinese immigrants to Minnesota arrived in 1876. The St. Paul Resettlement Committee formed in October of 1942 to assist with the relocation of Japanese Americans from the concentration camps established by the US government in March of 1942. It was one of thirty-five such committees that operated across the country during World War II.

Latinx people have made Minnesota their home since the early 1900s. In Minnesota, Latinx men, women, and children worked hard in the sugar-beet fields of the western part of the state. In the 1920s they began to settle in neighborhoods in St. Paul and Minneapolis

In the 1970’s Minnesota began to take in refugees as the Vietnam conflict was ending. The collapse of American-supported governments in Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam in 1975 led to a mass exodus of refugees fleeing from repressive regimes. This included Hmong and Lao people who had fought against communist forces in Laos on behalf of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Somalis started arriving in Minnesota in 1992. Some came as refugees, while others arrived as immigrants through the sponsorship of family members or relocation to Minnesota from other parts of the United States. Refugee resettlement agencies include the International Institute of Minnesota and World Relief Minnesota, non-profit faith-based service organizations like Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities.

Moving forward in sensitivity

While we reflect on our state’s history, it can seem like ethnicities and cultures are all lumped into one, making movements and choices in mass. Not so. It’s so important to remember as an agent, that each and every family and individual has their own needs, desires, and influences when choosing their home.  Making assumptions is the way of the past, not the future.

“While there may be large concentrations of ethnicities at the beginning of a migration (whether settlers, immigrants, refugees or indigenous), eventually, everyone identifies their personal preference,” says Brennan.

If you would like more training on this topic, the MN Realty School teaches a class entitled “Customs and Cultures, which encourages agents to C.U.R.E. (Communicate, Understanding, Respect, Empathy).

***BEWARE: EMAIL PHISHING SCAMS***

Phishing is a growing issue, and not just in the Land of 10,000 lakes! Big or small, most companies around the globe have been subject to these online predators, and financial institutions and other banking related entities are highly susceptible!

Pay attention to the details and protect yourself!

  • Never click on an email from someone you do not know.
  • Always verify the senders email – does it match your ‘senders’ email name or company?
  • Never reply directly to a suspicious email.
  • If someone is asking for your personal information, always ask why.

Trademark holds the highest level of integrity with our systems. Our proactive approach to tech security exceeds Industry Best Practice requirements to keep our clients and customers safe.

Here is some insightful information from the American Land Title Association – Phishing: Don’t Take the Bait!

Curating a Customer Service Philosophy

Everyone believes in good customer service—at least— they think they do. When we’re on the receiving end (the customer), we always expect to be treated with the respect, dignity and honesty we deserve. We hope for great customer service and when we find it, it’s hard not to tell others.

But what about the other half of the time, when we’re the ones serving a customer or client? How can we know our customer service is top notch?

Trademark Title made the decision a long time ago to focus on what great customer service really means to us by creating our own philosophy of service. Our service philosophy is to be authentic leaders who exhibit our core values of integrity, compassion and commitment. When a client works with us, we strive to show them these core values in everything we do.

Curating this philosophy took time, reflection and intention. Our story of growth in this area can be yours. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Reflect and remember. Think about your story—what did it take to get where you are and who helped you along the way? In reflecting, we often discover what is most important to us by what impacted us the most. This leads nicely into the next suggestion to…

Voice your values and follow them. Consider what matters most to you in terms of principles, ethics or ideals. If it’s hard to pinpoint just a few, look up a list of values and work with your partner or mentor to identify your guiding principles.

Focus on the impact. What do you want your clients to leave saying about you—that you were hard-working, detailed, communicative, informed? The impact you want won’t just magically appear without the intent to make it happen.

Sprinkle in some vision. It’s fun to dream about the future and what you could become, both as an individual and business. Vision casting shows you where you want to go and can help you see if you’re on the path to get there.

These suggestions will get you started, but most of the work is still to come. Philosophy is all about ideals and beliefs, so curating a philosophy of great customer service is only the beginning. Now it’s your mission to act—to live out your beliefs and ideals every single day. We’re right there with you on this journey.

IMPORTANT NOTICE REGARDING APPOINTMENTS

To all our valued partners,

As mandates are lifted and smiles can be seen, Trademark will continue to provide the highest level of service you have come to expect, along with our commitment to maintain a safe and healthy environment for you, your clients and our team.

Will closings be back to “normal”?

The pandemic opened our eyes to new, more efficient and better ways to conduct closings. We will continue to sign  sellers and buyers at separate times to maintain consumer privacy and welcome their representing agents and loan officers to the signings as well.

Will Trademark continue health and safety protocols?

Of course!  Trademark will adhere to the CDC recommended guidelines for those vaccinated and those unvaccinated, and we appreciate the same in return for those visiting our offices.  We value and respect our team, customers and clients and will always accommodate your health and safety requests to the best of our ability, including masks, plexiglass barriers or curbside closings.

General precautions remain…if you have been exposed or are feeling sick, please contact our team for special accommodations should you have a scheduled appointment in our office.

Fraud and Identity Theft in the Real Estate Industry

Read more

4 Ways To Safely Close On Your Home With Trademark Title

COVID-19 has impacted almost every area of the real estate market, including the home closing process. At Trademark Title, we dedicate ourselves to providing you a fast, comfortable and accurate closing experience as you finalize one of the most significant transactions in one’s life.

Maintaining the health and safety of our clients, team members, and community is our highest priority. Trademark has adapted its closing procedures to include social distancing policies and contactless closing options for our customers.

Here’s what you can expect with each Trademark Title closing experience:

In-Person Closing

Trademark closers are committed to keeping your real estate transaction moving forward. If an in-person closing experience is preferred, we will gladly schedule your closing in one of our 19 locations convenient to you.

We work with all our team members and partners to ensure they adhere to CDC guidelines and best practices. To maintain social distancing, buyers and sellers now sign in separate spaces at separate times. All non-essential parties to the transaction (non-signers) are strongly urged not to attend in-person closings. All Trademark offices are sanitized after each closing (tables, armrests, door handles/knobs, and propping doors open for air circulation when possible). Additionally, hand sanitizers are stationed throughout the space for your convenience and plexi-glass barriers are placed on the conference tables in a majority of our locations.

Remote Online Closing

Remote online notarized (RON) closings offer a safe and contactless alternative to in-person closings. Remote closings utilize secure online portals for consumers to electronically sign closing documents in the presence of a remote online notary. Though safe and convenient, this method is not a fit for everyone, as technology parameters and lender/underwriter/title company approvals must be met.

Curbside Closing

Adapted out of need due to the pandemic, Trademark also offers curbside closings. Our closer sends over all documents in advance so buyers and sellers can review and ask questions prior to signing. At the time of their scheduled appointment, the consumer will drive to a Trademark Title location and call their closer at the number provided prior to closing. Our closer comes out to meet them in their vehicle, collects valid photo ID and delivers the loan documents for the consumer to ink sign. Documents are presented on a clip board, clearly posted or highlighted where to sign and date, all while the closer is available by phone for questions.

Upon completion, the closer will pick up the signed documents, review for accuracy and completeness, make appropriate copies and send you on your way!

Mail-away closing

For those who may be quarantined or are out of town, a mail-away closing option allow the buyer or seller to sign in the instance the other options may not be feasible. Physical documents are sent via overnight delivery direct to the signers. The signer is responsible to sign the documents in the presence of a notary and return then via overnight delivery to the Trademark closer prior to the scheduled closing date. Trademark has resources to assist buyers and sellers in locating a notary too!

Trademark Title has the tools, resources, knowledge, and compassionate team members to provide you the highest level of service to exceed your expectations. And now more than ever, all while maintaining a safe and healthy environment for you and your clients.

Questions? Contact us here!

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