Aug 18, 2017
Joe Crutchfield, CEO of Investors Title Company, shares with us his expert knowledge on how cybercrime has become a serious threat to the real estate industry, and how both agents and clients are falling victim to this scam.
GM: Can you explain what has been happening with recent cybercrime in the real estate industry?
Joe: Cyber hackers have been obtaining control of a real estate agent’s email account or computer, or perhaps the computer and email address of a buyer or seller. Once obtaining the account, they have access to all of that person's emails and contacts. This gives them the ability to "impersonate" an agent, title company closer, lender, or even a buyer or seller. Posing as the seller or buyer's agent, or title company closer, the hacker will email the seller to wire their proceeds to a specific account, or email the buyer to wire their down payment to the hacker, when in fact they think they are wiring to a person or company involved in the transaction.
GM: Can you provide 1-2 situational examples.
Joe: We had a buyer that responded to a hacker’s email that stated it was coming from one of our closers, when in fact, we had never emailed this buyer, or had any previous contact—as we had just received their order. The buyer did wire money as instructed in the email. Luckily, because the buyer contacted the FBI and his bank immediately, he recovered his money, but that, I think, is extremely rare.
In another instance, a hacker emailed one of our closers posing as the seller, and sent a copy of a check with a request to wire the seller’s proceeds to the account and bank shown on the check. The problem was, the check was on an account that was not the seller’s. Luckily, we were able to confirm this with the seller, and obtained the correct information for the seller’s account.
GM: How can clients protect themselves from falling victims to cybercrime?
Joe: Changing passwords frequently, using up-to-date virus protection, not clicking on unsolicited links or opening emails from people you don’t know are just some of things that are generally recommended to protect computers and their owners. Perhaps just as important (some people say most important) is to be vigilant, and, particularly in real estate transactions, not rely on email for communication when it comes to closing funds transfers. Before wiring to a title company, consumers should ask their bank to verify the account number and bank. Phone calls and personal contact with someone that you know is who they say they are, are much safer ways to communicate banking information and wiring instructions then using email.
GM: What are some key red flags that you’ve received a fraudulent email?
Joe: Misspelled words and bad grammar, up to now, have been clues to the illegitimacy of the email, but I think in the future, the quality of the hacker’s emails will improve. What we tell customers is that emails asking them to do things that seem unusual are ones to question. We recommend that customers make a phone call to determine if the email has been sent by a credible source. For instance, when a buyer receives an email three weeks prior to closing stating that they need to immediately wire their money to the title company or risk losing the deal, they need to call the title company instead of responding to the email because title companies do not and should not send these types of emails.
GM: What should a client do if they think they’ve been hacked?
Joe: First, they should contact their bank and instruct the bank to immediately recall the wire and open a fraud file with the receiving bank. They should go to ic3.gov and open a fraud complaint and also contact the local FBI and police department.
Joe Crutchfield has been a leader in the St. Louis title industry since he began his career as a staff attorney with Investors in 1986. He became General Counsel and managed the production office until 2000, when he was promoted to the position of President. In 2016, Joe was named CEO.
Investors Title is a leader in St. Louis title services and is one of the largest providers of title insurance and closing services in Missouri. With over four decades of experience, their title professionals invest the time to deliver the consistent results clients expect and deserve.
Visit their website to learn more, and locate their various offices across Missouri.
Dec 19, 2016
GM: Tell us the history behind Design Aire and your role at the company
Seth: Design Aire was started in 1904 when my great grandfather, Frank Fischer, began installing steam heating systems in South St. Louis. I started working at the company delivering duct systems for new construction during my high school and college summers. Currently, I am in charge of sales and marketing for our residential and replacement division.
GM: What regular maintenance do heating and air conditioning systems need?
Seth: The main task performed for furnace maintenance is the inspection of the heat exchanger. If a heat exchanger is cracked, carbon monoxide or other harmful flue gases can enter your conditioned air. A licensed service technician should check your furnace every fall to make sure that your heat exchanger is operating safely. The technician will also clean your furnace and make sure it is operating efficiently.
The two primary functions of air conditioner maintenance are to clean the AC/condenser coil and check the refrigerant charge. Both a dirty coil and low refrigerant levels will negatively impact the efficiency of the system which will result in elevated electric bills.
GM: How often should an air filter be replaced?
Seth: The most important HVAC maintenance that almost every homeowner can perform is replacing the furnace filter. Most inexpensive filters should be changed every 30 days. Upgraded, pleated filters are designed to last 3-6 months.
GM: How important is air quality and what factors need to be considered?
Seth: The most important indoor air quality improvement that any St. Louis homeowner should consider is a whole-house humidifier. Both the reduced outdoor relative humidity and the process of heating your indoor air combine to lower the humidity levels in some home’s to uncomfortable levels. To protect your home’s woodwork, your family’s sinuses, and to eliminate those annoying electric shocks, I recommend every St. Louis home have a whole-house humidifier.
GM: What is two-stage heating?
Seth: Two-stage heating and air conditioning is a relatively recent advancement in the HVAC industry. The idea is that most systems are designed for the extreme temperature days. You want your home to be cool when it is 95 degrees outside, and warm when it is 5 degrees. Your home’s heating and air conditioning capacity should be sized to handle these days, but the vast majority of our temperatures are not that extreme. Often you don’t need the full capacity of your system to adequately condition your home. Two-stage furnaces and air conditioners are capable of operating primarily in a 50-70% capacity while still offering 100% capacity when necessary. Two-stage systems are both more efficient and more comfortable.
GM: Any current trends in the HVAC industry?
Seth: The main trend in the HVAC industry parallels a larger trend: home automation. Wi-Fi thermostats are the most requested system upgrade of the year, and they are just the beginning of automation in home air conditioning.
314.739.1600 | Seth@designaireinc.net
Oct 26, 2016
Sander Coovert, founder of Absolute, talks with us about countertop selection and gives his expert opinion on choosing what surface is best for your home.
Sander: Absolute is St. Louis’ premier source for granite and quartz countertops. The company was founded in 1999 by myself under a different business name, and was rebranded ‘Absolute’ in 2007. Today the company is run by myself and my business partner J.R. Evans. Probably the greatest achievement our company has realized is its stellar customer service ratings. Out of thousands of clients, 97% say they would recommend Absolute to their friends and family.
Sander: Absolute is a fabricator of natural stone and quartz. We have displays of various man-made quartz products in our showroom, as well as over 35 colors of granite that are commonly used due to their color and price. We work with our clients to find the right material at the right price to achieve the desired look, and then we measure, cut and install the countertops. Most materials come from suppliers that import various materials all over the world. There are 8 or 9 suppliers in the St. Louis area and we work with all of them.
Sander: Granite is by far the largest seller for countertops and accounts for nearly 70% of the countertops we install. Quartz countertops make up about 25% of our business, with marble, slate, limestone, onyx and other natural stone making up the remaining 5%.
Sander: Granite or quartz is the preferred surfaces for kitchens. Both are incredibly durable, antibacterial in nature and are extremely low maintenance.
Sander: When we are working with clients, the first thing we do is determine the “look” they are going for, as well as how they will use the space. We'll then talk about the pros and cons of all the available products and pick the one that will look the best, will perform over time, and is most economical.
Sander: Granite is the best choice when combining look, performance and cost. However, the quartz industry is making great strides in reducing costs associated with production to be more competitive with granite. If you’re looking for the “white” look that is a popular trend in today’s market, quartz is the better choice.
314.733.0123 | firstname.lastname@example.org