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Hackers target associations – how to protect your brokerage, yourself

(TECHNOLOGY) Hackers are increasingly targeting associations, and while they set their own policies to protect themselves, here’s how to do the same for you and your company.

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It all seemed so routine. For officials of both the Henderson (TX) and Boulder Valley(CO) public school districts, the email that they received from an existing construction vendor asking them to update their automated payments to new bank information was nothing seemingly out of the ordinary.

Only when vendors began to inquire about the status of payments that the districts had sent did the districts come to realize that the routine change had made themselves the victims of a scam known as a BEC, or a Business Email Compromise.

In each case, the losses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars before being discovered. Henderson ISD lost approximately $610,000 to the hackers and Boulder Valley Public Schools lost approximately $870,000. The fiscal hit was accompanied by reviews of and changes to their operating procedures to ensure that such a loss wouldn’t happen again in the future.

While the districts tied their losses to public transparency, with information about the vendors and the scope of work that each was involved with available on their websites, government officials said that such schemes are typically quite sophisticated and ongoing long before any request for money, in order to establish a level of trust with their victims.

Secret Service Agent Bill Mack, speaking to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, noted that “[w]e’ve seen an uptick in the number of cases…Contact is often made long before the request for money. Criminals will use a compromised network to gather information about the target. Then, appearing to be a legitimate representative of the vendor, they will often request a simple change in account numbers.

With FBI estimates as to the annual cost of cybercrime reaching over $2 billion dollars annually, and those losses only partially recovered through either the efforts of law enforcement or insurance, it’s important to recognize the fact that as scammers and hackers expand beyond the tired trope of the 419/Nigerian Prince, they’re now targeting new avenues, such as governmental entities and private associations (perhaps even your local real estate board/association).

While professional associations have been the targets of hackers since at least 2010, according to Ed Schipul, they’re coming under increasing levels of attack.

As a professional member of an organization, we depend on their advice, counsel, and information about upcoming trends and events. We rely on the communication that we receive from them to be timely, accurate, and most importantly, not be harmful to us, professionally or personally.

Assuming that the associations themselves are taking steps to protect their cybersecurity, how do we, as members protect ourselves from hackers?

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has tips on staying safe from hackers in an ever-connected world:

• Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information.
• Only open emails that look like they are from people or organizations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable.
• Be especially wary of emails or websites that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
• Verify the validity of a suspicious-looking email or a pop-up box before providing personal information.
• Don’t immediately open email attachments or click on links in unsolicited or suspicious-looking emails.
• Install good anti-virus software that periodically runs to search for and remove malware.
• Be diligent about using spam (junk mail) filters provided by your email provider.
• Don’t visit untrusted websites and don’t believe everything you read.
• Criminals might create fake websites and pop-ups with enticing messages intended to draw you in and download malware.

In the case of officials at the districts, one measure that was implemented in each is worth remembering in a click-and-send era; they promised to have their respective staffs pick up the phone and call the vendor when any type of banking information was requested, to verify the request before providing information.

When dealing with our associations, if we receive an email or other outreach that seems out of character for them, it’s a good reminder to call and ask them if they’d intended to send it out before we take electronic action.

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Roger is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Real Estate Technology

No tech skills needed to build a lead gen chatbot in 5 minutes

(TECH NEWS) Create your very own AI chatbots with this awesome new free to start service, no tech knowledge required. Warning: It’s kind of fun and can lead to shenanigans.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the rise and innovating quickly. Chatbots featuring AI are becoming increasingly prominent on company websites for more cost-effective, 24/7 customer support and lead generation.

You don’t need to be tech savvy to set up Landbot’s new easy-to-use AI chatbot builder. As long as you have a basic grasp of how to use a computer and the internet, Landbot has you covered.

Landbot offers users a platform to create customized chatbots for customer support, lead generation, and analytics tracking. It launched eight months ago on Product Hunt, earning over 1,700 upvotes and ranked in the Top 200 Products of all time.

Their homepage features a friendly chatbot happy to answer all of your questions. The chatbot also serves as an example of what your very own chatbot could look like if you sign up.

Signing up is as easy as briefly chatting with the bot, providing your name, company or project title, and email address. Lucky you, the sandbox version is not only super user-friendly, but also free to use.

And trust me, the two hours I spent playing around with it are testament to how fun and easy it is to build a chatbot.

No AI, coding, or chatbot knowledge are required to use Landbot 1.0. Simply follow along with the tutorial, learning how to drag, drop, and connect blocks to create conversational interfaces.

Begin with the start message, which is the first thing customers will see. From here, you can create new blocks to build flows. Each block functions as either a question or a message.

Question blocks can have any number of answer types, including pre-set buttons, free text fields, or specific information like asking for contact info.

In the simple message blocks, you can add links, photos, YouTube videos, or custom HTML. Everything is laid out on a grid and connected by dragging an arrow from one block to the next.

Blocks can loop back to previous ones, creating a customizable loop. For bonus fun, you can test out a preview version of your bot to make sure you connected everything correctly.

Once you’ve got your basic conversation flow laid out, customize your bot’s appearance by editing a template or creating a design scheme from scratch. Background, fonts, and color can all be edited to personalize your bot.

Special features include app integration, where you can get Slack notifications when someone using the bot needs help. Automated emails can be sent to qualified leads, ensuring a human on your team follows up with the customer.

Manage leads with access to a table of details, exportable as a .CSV file for record keeping. Analytics are available showing user metrics, flow analytics, and if you incorporated surveys, then collected results.

While Sandbox is free to use, some of the more advanced features are only available if you throw down for a monthly subscription. Landbot offers three pay-to-play options, starting at €20 /month (around $25 USD) for the Starter plan.

Play around with Landbot’s platform and craft yourself a neat new chatbot pal, pal!

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Real Estate Technology

Identity-protecting stamps are a must for the office

(BUSINESS NEWS) Your identity is one of the most valuable things, that’s why Guard Your ID has created a stamp for when shredders won’t work.

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The widespread hacks of late have nearly everyone feel vulnerable, but the truth is that every day we knowingly engage in activity that puts our privacy at risk.

Just think of how many times you give up your telephone number when signing up for a new magazine subscription. Or the numerous times you thoughtlessly threw away mail containing confidential information.

There are so many opportunities to accidentally reveal private information but luckily, there are an equal number of ways to prevent it. Though you may think that identity theft could never happen to you, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Of the various tools invented to help you protect your identity, one of the newest is actually very simple. The company Guard Your ID has recently introduced privacy protection rollers and stamps. These gadgets are simple, quick and effective to help shield your identity on virtually anything.

The oil-based ink works on both glossy and non-glossy surfaces without smearing or rubbing off. These stamps work by creating an encrypted pattern which makes text unreadable.

Though shredding is another effective way to protect your identity, the rollers and stamps are more environmentally friendly. At some centers, shredded paper cannot be accepted as recyclable material. In addition, you can stamp more things that you can shred.

For example, you may want to cover up a label on a prescription bottle. The protection stamps are more versatile than shredding, and also more cost effective.

An Identity Protection Stamp can be purchased for under $20 and has a shelf life of 2-3 years. A wide format roller is also available for larger surfaces. In addition, refillable ink can be bought for the wide rollers.

It may seem like a nuisance to start stamping every label, bank statement and mail that contains any piece of private information on it, but in the end, it may be worth it. Just think of how much time you will spend freezing your accounts and recovering your identity if it is stolen.

It may seem silly, but today even a simple stamp goes a long way in protecting your identity and your clients’ sensitive information.

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Real Estate Technology

AI and marketing, a 2019 love story

(TECHNOLOGY) AI has permeated its way into almost every corner of the internet and now, brands are using it in fun new ways on social media.

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Way back in the 1950s, when computers were the size of studio apartments and magnetic tape was cutting edge technology, MIT professor Marvin Minsky defined “AI” (artificial intelligence) as any technology that demonstrates one or more of the qualities associated with human intelligence: perception, learning, problem-solving, even motion.

Whether you recognize it or not, AI is ubiquitous today. It powers your Amazon purchases, it secures your credit card accounts, and it enables Siri to listen and reply from the far side of the Uncanny Valley.

For the past few years, marketers have been using AI technology parse huge amounts of data, automate simple tasks, and, to a lesser extent, customize communications for specific audience segments. According to Salesforce, just over half of marketers currently use AI technology, and another 29% are expected to incorporate some form of artificial intelligence by the end of 2019.

One of the most interesting ways that marketers are currently using AI technology is to identify emerging influencers on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. Broadly defined, influencers are leaders of self-organized social media communities. To paraphrase Hemingway, influencers are just like you, except they have more followers. And, increasingly, they tell those followers where to shop and what to buy.

Brands are pouring money into social rising stars. 70% of brands will increase their influencer marketing spend next year, says eMarketer. For every dollar spent on influencer marketing in 2017 brands saw a staggering return of $7.65. But finding the right influencers is a tedious process, even for major brands like Nike and Target. That’s where AI comes in. Brands can harness the power of AI to scan their audiences and identify the individuals who are leading conversations, garnering likes and comments, and speaking in a tone that dovetails with the brand’s voice.

In 2018, Qoints, a benchmarking platform for digital marketers, launched AI Social Discovery, a tool that helps brands find the right micro-influencers (those with 50 to 50k followers) for marketing campaigns.

AI Social Discovery is powered by IBM’s Watson, the artificial intelligence technology best known for beating Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. In 2016, Watson helped car maker Kia identify hundreds of social influencers to boost engagement for a Super Bowl spot starring Christopher Walken.

Artificial Intelligence won’t rise up and overthrow its human masters, but it just might revolutionize the way we build communities around brands. And that’s good news. It means more contextually relevant messages for consumers, and more effective ad spends for marketers.

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