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How To Know You’ve Been Hacked



Ack, it’s a Hack!

According to BlogStorm, “Every month thousands of websites get hacked into and have hidden links inserted into the pages by people wanting their spam sites to rank highly in the search engines.” That’s a pretty big problem.

When this happens, the majority of site owners aren’t even aware of it and suddenly Google traffic is completely gone. Why? MickMel says that “if you get hacked, Google will stop sending traffic to your site but they won’t tell you about the problem.” Ack!

How to Save Your Site

Google Alerts to the rescue. Get notified instantly if you’ve been hacked because a majority of hackers use some common terms in their inserted links. It’s actually really simple. First, go to Google Alerts:

Under “Type” select Comprehensive so all types of sites are searched. For “How often,” select as it happens so you’re emailed immediately. Be sure to enter an email address you have open on your desktop so you don’t miss out. For “search terms,” create alerts for the following terms (which I’ve made in image form so Benn doesn’t have 10 trillion spam comments for this one post!):

TIP: don’t set up 100 alerts, do it all at once by using “OR” in caps between each term, so it’ll look like this: “bugs OR dogs OR cats OR fish” (make sure it says “” so it searches JUST your site, not the entire interwebs)!


So now you’ll know if any icky hackers have planted their flag in your site, hooray!

original image by boboloo

originally published August 17, 2008

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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  1. Kim Wood

    August 17, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Wow. I have some Google Alerts set up, but I just learned that you should specify the “icky” words and that you can have it search just your site!!!

    You ROCK, Ma’am! I know I tell you that – but there it is again….. something may have been so simple for you – but so helpful for some of us others!!!!


  2. Heather Tawes Nelson

    August 17, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Hooray to you! Thank you for the important info. This is a great and easy way to stay on top of any unsavory activity. Thanks again for the head’s up – my alerts are up and running now!!

  3. Mark A.

    August 17, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Pretty big headache, and you haven’t even touched on SQL injection problems, thousands of nasty bots pretending to be Google bot, cross-site scripting, fake user agents, the list goes on and on.
    For WordPress blogs, there is a nice security plugin which can be found here. Together with Akismet or Bad Behaviour, it should keep blogs rather safe. Until the bad guys find a new loophole.

  4. Amy Webb

    August 17, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Cna you clarify the instruction please: My understadning of Google Alerts is that they send you notification when the topic is mentioned on ANY website, blog, news item etc…anywhere on the internet. If I set a Google alert for the word s-x, surely I am going to get one very LONG email from google once a day: but how do I specifiy that I only want Google to search MY site for mention of that word?

  5. Lani Anglin-Rosales

    August 17, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Here’s how ya do it:

    TIP: don’t set up 100 alerts, do it all at once by using “OR” in caps between each term, so it’ll look like this: “bugs OR dogs OR cats OR fish” (make sure it says “” so it searches JUST your site, not the entire interwebs)!

    Hope this helps safeguard your site, Amy! 🙂

    Kim, this is new to me too, I just share with you the knowledge nuggets I seek out online. 🙂 Thanks for the compliments- now get to hack-safeguarding your site!

  6. Amy Webb

    August 17, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Got it, Thanks!

  7. Paula Henry

    August 17, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks Lani – Ack is right! I have added to my Google Alerts; hopefully, I won’t have receive any alerts for this.

  8. Linsey

    August 17, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    I have a question that maybe you can answer. I have a Google Alert set up for my name and my company’s name – Belterra Fine Homes.

    I recently received an alert with 3 sites – 2 I recognized as my own and one was definitely not related to me but had my company name tied to it. It looked fairly innocuous but when I clicked on the link, I almost fell out of my chair. Is this along the lines of what you are talking about and if so, what the heck do I do about it?

  9. Jay Thompson

    August 17, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Linsey –

    What you’re referring to sounds like “scraping”. Certain lowlifes take content from others and republish it on their own site. Usually they throw in a bunch of ads and try to make money off your work.

    They’re a pain in the rear. There are ways you can get them shut down (sometimes), but it entails some work. The “DMCA Notice” is the best weapon against these idiots. I talk a little about it here.

  10. Jamie Geiger

    August 17, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    thanks for this info- I have been getting so much spam email for all those “big” words haha- off to google alerts

  11. Missy Caulk

    August 18, 2008 at 5:35 am

    I couldn’t live without my google alerts, never thought about this, but the ones I get so far, cross fingers are legit, I do get some from my blog sent to splog sites, but askmet catches the majority.

  12. Jennifer in Louisville

    August 18, 2008 at 6:13 am

    Great tip. If you are around long enough, your site will probably get hacked (or at least attempted to get hacked) at some point. Excellent little trick to make sure you keep an eye on your site and get rid of the offending code almost as soon as it gets put in.

  13. Holly White

    August 18, 2008 at 7:44 am

    Sweet little tip there Lani. My site has been hacked a couple of times and this would have been a great tool to use to at least know that I been so I could correct it in a timely manner. Thankfully I don’t think it hurt my Google traffic, but still would have been nice. Thanks!

  14. Matt Thomson

    August 18, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Does anyone know the next step? I was hacked about 3 months ago, but didn’t know it was a hack (I”m not tech savvy as was posted on AG a few days ago). All I know is that I started getting about 25 requests daily from my “Contact Me” form on my website from people selling all of the above mentioned “keywords.”
    How do I get rid of them? How do I unhack myself?

  15. Amy Webb

    August 18, 2008 at 8:45 am

    @ Matt: You probably were not “hacked” per se but you more likely have been found by the “spambots” because of an unencoded email address on your site. You have your email address written out in the sidebar of your real estate website and it does not look properly obscured or encoded in the source code to me ( but I am not an expert )….and that is likely the problem.

  16. Jay Thompson

    August 18, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Matt – I concur with Amy. Not hacked, but your contact form has been “discovered” by the spammers. They are likely using automated bots to populate and submit your form. If your web provider provides some sort of “anti-spam”, it should be enabled (a “captcha” works pretty well. One of those things where you have to type in some letters or answer a simple question).

    Incidentally, I found it very difficult to find your contact info on your blog. You may want to add a “contact us” page or button. cFormsII is a great WordPress plugin for forms, and it includes captcha capability.

  17. Elaine Reese

    August 18, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Here’s a question. On my WP blog, I have it set to moderate all comments. Once I ‘ve approved a person, they can comment without being held. I only approve people that I know or trust which can be Realtors or the public. If there’s even just one hyperlink, the comment gets held in Akismet until I review. Given the way I have it set up, am I likely to avoid the hackers???

  18. Benn Rosales

    August 18, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Elaine, keep up with your wp updates on your site, that is the best way to combat trouble.

    In the dashboard of wp, at the very bottom, you see updates from wp- follow them. That is the fastest communication from wp of known issues there is- check it daily.

    Besides protecting often changed passwords, limiting exposure of the admin side, removal of meta links to the admin side, making sure that subscribing is limited only to that of subscriber are also very basic, but important solutions.

    I would also advise that you are careful of the types of topics you write about. There are obvious keywords folks are looking for.

  19. Elaine Reese

    August 18, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Benn, thanks. I’ll take your advice.

  20. Doug Devitre

    August 19, 2008 at 6:29 am

    Great post and response to comments. Very nicely done.

    Google alerts can also be a useful tool for both you the agent, company, service provider, etc., but can also be a good tool for seeing what your competition is doing in your market place. This includes keywords, names, geographical points of reference etc. If you add your competition to your Google Alerts then you can be knowledgeable about what they are doing are what they are not doing. This gives you a competitive advantage on the web, especially when clients ask.

  21. Vicki Moore

    August 19, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks Lani. I didn’t even know this was possible. I’m ready for them now though!

  22. Joe Loomer

    August 3, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Thanks Lani – I hadn’t set this up but I did it in five minutes following your explicit and easy to apply instructions.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  23. Ken Montville - MD Suburbs of DC

    August 3, 2009 at 10:55 am

    This is seriously good information!

  24. Ian Greenleigh

    August 3, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Never thought of using Google alerts in this way! Neat trick!

  25. Judy Peterson

    August 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Lanni, I have Google Alerts set up but never knew about this. A helpful tip I hope not to need. Thanks!.

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Disputing a property’s value in a short sale: turn a no into a go

During a short sale, there may be various obstacles, with misaligned property values ranking near the top, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker!



magic eight ball

magic eight ball

It’s about getting your way

Were you on the debate team in high school? Were you really effective at convincing your parent or guardian to let you do things that you shouldn’t have been doing? How are your objection-handling skills? Can you flip a no into a go?

When working on short sales, there is one aspect of the process that may require those excellent negotiation or debate skills: disputing the property value. In a short sale, the short sale lender sends an appraiser or broker to the property and this individual conducts a Broker Price Opinion or an appraisal, using special forms provided by the short sale lender.

After this individual completes the Broker Price Opinion or the appraisal, he or she will return it to the short sale lender. Shortly thereafter, the short sale lender will be ready to talk about the purchase price. Will the lender accept the offer on the table or is the lender looking for more? If the lender is seeking an offer for a lot more than the one on the table, mentally prepare for the fact that you will need to conduct a value dispute.

Value Dispute Process

While each of the different short sale lenders (including Fannie Mae) has their own policies and procedures for value dispute, all these procedures have some things in common. Follow the steps below in order to conduct an effective value dispute.

  1. Inquire about forms. Ask your short sale lender if there are specific forms that you need to complete in order to conduct a value dispute. Obtain those forms if necessary.
  2. Gather information. Your goal is to convince the lender to accept the buyer’s offer, so you need to demonstrate that your offer is in line with the value of the property. Collect data that proves this point, such as reports from the MLS, Trulia, Zillow, or your local title company.
  3. Take photos. If there are parts of the property that are substandard and possibly were not revealed to the lender by the individual conducting the BPO, take photos of those items. Perhaps the kitchen has no flooring, or there is a 40-year old roof. Take photos to demonstrate these defects.
  4. Obtain bids. For any defects on the property, obtain a minimum of two bids from licensed contractors. For example, obtain two bids from roofers or structural engineers if necessary
  5. Write a report. Think back to high school English class if necessary. Write a short essay that references your information, photos, and bids, and explains how these items support your buyer’s value. This is not something that you whip up in five minutes. Spend time preparing a compelling appeal.

It is entirely possible that some lenders will not be particularly open-minded when it comes to valuation dispute. However, more times than not, an effective value dispute leads to short sale approval.

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Short sale standoffs: how to avoid getting hit

The short sale process can feel a lot like a wild west standoff, but there are ways to come out victorious, so let’s talk about those methods:



short sales standoff

short sales standoff

What is a short sale standoff?

If you are a short sale listing agent, a short sale processor, or a short sale negotiator then you probably already know about the short sale standoff. That’s when you are processing a short sale with more than one lien holder and neither will agree to the terms offered by the other. Or… better yet, each one will not move any further in the short sale process until they see the short sale approval letter from the other lien holder.

Scenario #1 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they will proceed with the short sale, and they will offer Bank 2 a certain amount to release their lien. You call Bank 2 and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, the folks at Bank 2 want more money. If Bank 1 and Bank 2 do not agree, then you are in a standoff.

Scenario #2 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they cannot generate your approval letter until you present them with the approval letter from Bank 2. Bank 2 employees tell you the exact same thing. Clearly, in this situation, you are in a standoff.

How to Avoid the Standoff

If you are in the middle of a standoff, then you are likely very frustrated. You’ve gotten pretty far in the short sale process and you are likely receiving lots of pressure from all of the parties to the transaction. And, the lenders are not helping much by creating the standoff.

Here are some ideas for how to get out of the situation:

  • Go back to the first lien holder and ask them if they are willing to give the second lien holder more money.
  • Go to the second lien holder and tell them that the first lien holder has insisted on a maximum amount and see if they will budge.
  • If no one will budge, find out why. Is this a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan? If so, they have a maximum that they allow the second. And, if you alert the second of that information, they may become more compliant.
  • Worst case: someone will have to pay the difference. Depending on the laws in your state, it could be the buyer, the seller, or the agents (yuck). No matter what, make sure that this contribution is disclosed to all parties and appears on the short sale settlement statement at closing.
  • In Scenario #2, someone’s got to give in. Try explaining to both sides where you are and see if one will agree to generate their approval letter. If not, follow the tips provided in this Agent Genius article and take your complaint to the streets.

One thing about short sales is that the problems that arise can be difficult to resolve merely because of the number of parties involved—and all from remote locations. Imagine how much easier this would be if all parties sat at the same table and broke bread? If we all sat at the same table, then we wouldn’t need armor in order to avoid the flying bullets from the short sale standoff.

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Short sale approval letters don’t arrive in the blink of an eye

Short sale approval letters may look like they’ve been obtained simply by experts, but it takes time and doesn’t just happen with luck.



short sales

short sale approval

Short sale approval: getting prepared, making it happen

People always ask me how it is that I obtain short sale approval letters with such ease. The truth is, that while I have more short sale processing and negotiating experience than most agents and brokers, I don’t just blink my eyes like Jeannie and make those short sale approval letters appear. I often sweat it, just like everyone else.

Despite the fact that I do not have magical powers, I do have something else on my side—education. One of the most important things than can lead to short sale success for any and all agents is education.

Experience dictates that agents that learn about the short sale process
have increased short sale closings.

Short sale education opportunities abound

There are many ways to become educated about the short sale process and make getting short sale approval letters look easy to obtain. These include:

  • Classes at your local board of Realtors®
  • Free short sale webinars and workshops
  • The short sale or foreclosure specialist designations

As the distressed property arena grows and changes, it is important to always stay abreast of policy changes that may impact how you do your job and how you process any short sale that lands on your plate.

The most important thing to do is to read, read, read. Follow short sale specialists and those who blog about short sales on AGBeat, Google+, facebook, and twitter. Set up a Google Alert for the term ‘short sale’ and you will receive Google’s top short sale picks daily in your email inbox. Visit mortgagor websites to read up on their specific policies and procedures.

Don’t take on too much

And, when you get a call from a prospective short sale seller, make sure that you don’t bit off more than you can chew. Agents in most of America right now are clamoring for listings since we are in the midst of a listing shortage. But, if you are going to take on a short sale, be sure that it is a deal that you can close. And, if you have your doubts, why not partner up with a local agent that can mentor your and assist you in getting the job done? After all, half a commission check is better than none!

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