Fraudsters — both high-tech and old school — daily attempt to use real estate and other transactions to scam our law firm, our title company and our clients out of money and property.  To date, we have not been hit (some of our client have been), but we are always on guard.  Fraudsters forever keep trying.

As you are growing your business — and these tips apply to businesses large and small, old and new — it is a good idea — from time to time — to gather your financial team and key executives, along with your IT professionals, and simply have a conversation about “tightening things up” and avoiding common scams.

  • Are your checks (and cash) — incoming, outgoing and blank checkbooks — tightly secured and under watchful eyes?
  • Are your systems too open and accessible (a simple question such as automatic screen savers with passwords that trigger when an employee is away from his desk)?
  • Do you have proper insurance to protect your real risks?
  • Do you have proper training and systems in place to avoid common and emerging risks?

In the end, we all have some exposure.  So, eternal vigilance, the latest technology protection and training of employees new and old, is the only answer.  Part of this caution is constantly “tightening up” and “changing up” your transactional practices and security procedures to avoid the latest scam.

Here are some common scams we and our clients have seen:

  1. In the low-tech world, fraudsters simply borrow money based upon false promises and representations.  This is a time-tested and common scam.  It is borne of two human instincts: (a) we want to trust people and (b) we are lured by the promise of a better-then market return on investment (if it’s “too good to be true,” it’s probably fraud).  Many of these fraudsters have the appearance of business stability and financial success, but are willing to offer above-market interest rates for a personal or business loan.  In the end, these loans are not properly secured and are not properly guaranteed, and the fraudster never had the ability or intent to pay back the monies.
  2. Similarly, we have seen clients purchase assets or entire businesses that are subject to liens or governmental enforcement actions, or the purchase price is based upon false financial documents or hidden property condition.  In a business transaction, be careful of slippery buyers, sellers and attorneys who can make fraudulent closing adjustments as the numbers are flying about in a closing.
  3. Another low-tech fraud is thieves who rifle U.S. Postal Service mail boxes (both the blue drop boxes and mailboxes at your home or business), steal checks, and then change the payee and amount on the check and cash it.
  4. Pay attention here: In the high-tech world, fraudsters hack into a Realtor, investor or title company email system, and steal their email signature and logo, and the details of an imminent transaction.  Then, they establish a similar email domain (with maybe one letter changed or a “dot” added).  Using the new domain, they send an email to the party who is to originate a wire with false wire instructions — instructions straight into the fraudster’s overseas wire address.  The email by all appearances looks entirely legitimate and it’s from a name you know and with whom you actively are dealing.
  5. We have written about sellers who don’t own actually property attempting to mortgage or sell the same.  Read here and here.
  6. Finally, fraudsters use sophisticated hacking and ransomware viruses to invade your critical computer systems.  They corrupt your data and hijack control of your systems, relenting only when an exorbitant ransom has been paid.  Extortionists have taken over critical infrastructure such as oil pipelines, hospitals, and municipalities.  Most recently, the vendor running the Cincinnati Multiple Listing Service and dozens of MLSes nationwide was the victim of a weeks-long ransomware attack that was costly and disruptive.

So, how can you protect yourself in this world increasingly fraught with risk of theft of your valuable data, money and time by those with malintent?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Stay in your lane.  Let lenders lend.  In most cases, they are good at it.  If a borrower is coming to you for a loan, it’s likely because he’s not eligible for conventional financing, and that ineligibility is for a good reason — he’s either lying, broke or both.
  • Carefully use due diligence and proper documentation.  If you are going to lend money or buy assets or a business, perform the kind of due diligence a prudent and sophisticated buyer or lender would undertake and obtain appropriate security and guarantees of a loan.  We discuss some of the pitfalls of private lending here.  Similar risks can exist in buying assets and buying whole operating businesses.  Part of this process is assuring that the borrower actually owns the assets he is selling or pledging (free and clear) and that your security interest is properly and timely perfected as against that asset.  In a real estate-based loan, title insurance is a key way to assure this is so.  In purchasing a business, the risk is even greater in that the corporate entity may have significant residual undisclosed liabilities or governmental enforcement problems. That seller — and your purchase monies — will completely disappear by the time you learn of the fraud.  Finally, the #1 “due diligence item” is to know your employees, know your borrowers, know your sellers.  The internet (and now artificial intelligence tools) is an incredibly powerful way to do background on parties to a business transaction,  Use it.  Cautiously heed the lessons of what you find.
  • Properly perfect security interests and document guarantees.  When banks lend money, they want proper security for their loans and appropriate guarantors for their repayment.  In most cases, banks are over-protected, and they want it that way.  You do too.  In both real estate and equipment-based transactions, we have seen borrowers pledge the same assets to different lenders as security for two or more loans.  Obviously, in that circumstance someone is going to be left holding the bag.  (Yes, fraudsters are that shameless.)  Using proper real and personal property title examinations and lien searches and using appropriate documentation for loans and guarantees is critical.  For example, in Kentucky, in order for a personal guarantee of debt to be enforceable, it must follow specific statutory requirements.  Without that, it’s worthless.
  • Don’t put checks or other key financial documents in blue U.S. Post Office boxes on the streets and don’t have checks sent to a mail box at your business or residence that is accessible by others.
  • As to wire fraud, you can’t be careful enough.
    • The sender of a wire should assume everything you see is a lie, the fax, the email, the logo, the wire instructions, the sender web site, the sender.  Everything.  Always verify everything via voice using a trusted and known telephone number for the wire recipient.
    • If you smell a rat, don’t initiate the wire.  Wait and check some more.  Urgency — especially inappropriate urgency — is a key indicator of fraud.
    • Read carefully the sender email addresses and the email.  Many times the email domain of a fraudster does not exactly match the domain name with which you have been dealing.  Note misspellings and grammatical errors in the text of an email that may come from a foreign sender or one unfamiliar with the parties and the transaction.
    • Note last-minute changes, especially of wiring instructions.
    • Note changes made on the Friday before a holiday weekend or before another holiday, and before the end-of-month, when Realtors and title company employees are more likely to be busy and careless.
  • Buy cyber insurance.  Your property and casualty insurance agent can offer your business cyber protection.  It requires you to use good practices for the insurance to invoke, but both the coverage and the required procedures are a critical part of best practices protection.
  • As to ransomware attacks, we have two pieces of advice:
    • First, according to the Harvard Business Review (citing IBM), 60% of cyber attacks originate inside your organization.  Either a malevolent employee or ex-employee intent on theft or vandalism (75% of attacks) or a negligent employee (25% of incidents) who falls for a phishing attack scam cause most losses.  So, hire and retain employees of good character, monitor their activities, and carefully, comprehensively and quickly cut off computer access of former employees.  Segregate access to data in your organization to those who need that data, and no one else.
    • Second, every computer system is vulnerable.  Every one.  But homegrown (premises-based and self-maintained) servers are more vulnerable to a hack (in my opinion).  As a result, we (a) have migrated the vast majority of our data into the Microsoft cloud (other providers are also available) (heaven help the world if they hack the Microsoft cloud!), (b) have segregated access to data to employees who need that access, and (c) have make serial backups of data that is not in the cloud.
  • Understand the risks, develop training and systems to avoid the risk, and train all of your employees on cyber security procedures.

As our attorneys can assist with due diligence and proper documentation (including title insurance) of your transactions, call us!

In the category of “you learn something new all the time,” this week I learned something new about Remote Online Notaries (“RONs”) used for real estate closings.

The scenario was that a seller was unaware until he reached the closing table that the signature of his wife — married since the house was acquired — was needed on the deed in order to release her rights of dower.  Unfortunately, the wife was (a) a non-citizen of the USA, (b) she had a green card and had resided in the US for years, and (c) was physically located in Germany as of the time of the closing.

In the days before RONs, the only option was (a) email the deed to the signer and have them print it out in the remote jurisdiction (usually on funny-sized paper), (b) make an appointment at the U.S. Embassy for an overseas equivalent of a notary (or acknowledgement) (typically you can’t just drop in unannounced), (c) wait for that  appointment and (d) Fed Ex the deed back to Cincinnati.

The wife was able to get a quick appointment at the U.S. Embassy and would be able to get a deed back to Cincinnati about five days after the initial closing (even including an intervening weekend).  Unfortunately, the buyer just could not wait the five days and was throwing a fit, demanding thousands of dollars of concessions for (what we saw as) a relatively short delay.

So, RON to the rescue, right?

Not so fast.  The title underwriter’s (the guys who ultimately make the call as to whether we can close or not) first reaction was “so long as she is a US citizen, we can use a RON closing.”  I replied, “well no, in addition to being out of the country she is not a US citizen.”

Digging deeper (which we appreciate our title underwriter doing), it turns out that the “US citizen” thing is not a bright line test.  Rather, RON closings use sophisticated Knowledge-based Authentication (“KBA”).  These are whose odd security questions that pull and query minute details from your past (many times when I am asked a KBA question, I don’t even know the answer, even though the question is about something I should know!).  Well, as it turns out, those KBA questions are primarily pulled from information contained deep in your credit report, and — if your contacts to the US and its credit-reporting system ae sufficiently robust — RONs can possibly work for non-US citizens, including those who at the time are overseas.  (You actually find out “if it works” during the execution of a RON closing.)

So, the closing was saved — RON got it done within hours of the first phone call.  And I learned more about RON, citizenship and what “KBA” is.



We all know of creative and incessant attempts to defraud us of our hard-earned money, many (but not all) internet- and email-based.  But nonetheless (i) the efforts of snooker us never stop, and (ii) we must constantly tell others in our family and our organization to be wary.  Eternal vigilance is a business and personal requisite these days.  The criminals are absolutely relentless.

Just this last week, our firm and my family were “almost” taken in by two of these international criminals:

  • Our firm (because we have a great web site and use internet marketing tools) constantly gets “new client inquiries” (usually via our web portal or regular email) from fraudsters asking us “do you review contracts?” or “can you sue someone for us?,” pretty generic and bland (but transparently fraudulent) inquiries.  I generally just “delete,” but one of these made it to one of our newer associates.  It was a client from Dubai who wanted us to assert certain contractual claims against another party.  We did so, and the matter instantly settled with a $385,000 certified check payable to our firm escrow account.  The fraudulent client then wanted us to wire the escrowed monies to him and a third party, both overseas (major red flag there!).  Fortunately, our crack bookkeeping staff saw the certified check was dishonored before we wired out the funds — disaster averted!.  But it was a close call.

[Something to note about these fraudulent inquiries: (i) they never want to communicate via telephone (but rather by email), (ii) the phone number they provide is always bad, and (iii) they always have some bland *@Gmail address.”  I sometimes respond to the email address they provide “please call me,” and they never do.  I call the phone number and it is bad for one reason or another.]

  • Sunday, right before the Superbowl, I stopped to have lunch with my wife.  She related to me that a piece of furniture she had for sale in Facebook Marketplace had sold to a buyer in California.  He was going to send us “certified funds” and then wanted us to pay his moving company to bring the piece to California.  “Wait a minute,” I said.  “why would we pay his mover,” and it vaguely reminded me of a fraud scheme I had heard from a client or read about on the internet.  Sure enough, I Googled “pay the mover” and found out this is a common scam.  You wire or pay funds to a mover, and later the “certified funds” are dishonored.  The victim is “out” the moving fee and the scammer never intended to pay for your furniture!  My wife told the would-be buyer that we would hold the “certified funds” for 10 days before shipping the goods, and he went radio silent immediately.  Fraudster!

Our firms, and our title company in particular, are attacked by fraudsters almost daily.  Fortunately, we are alert to the most common scams, and have avoided them all (we have clients who have not been so lucky).  But these two close calls — at the office and at home – remind us that vigilance is required and gullibility, and trust, in the internet era are simply foolish!

Be cautious with your funds and your property.  There are loads of fraudsters — some anonymous on the internet and some that you think are your friends — who will gladly and shamelessly steal your money and leave you wondering why you fell for their scam!

Be cautious!  Be aware!  Trust very few.

Jane Schulte

There have been numerous articles written about Remote Online Notarization (or RON) in the past few months, surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, and the real estate industry’s need to perform work digitally to ensure that sales, purchases and refinances can occur during the social distancing orders currently in place.

However, there has been some confusion surrounding terminology and differences in digital closings, and we are writing this article is to provide some clarity.


An e-Closing or electronic closing is a mortgage closing in which all the documents are created, accessed, presented, signed, notarized and recorded electronically. They remain in their digital form and nothing is printed out. An e-Closing is conducted with the signor(s) and Notary in each other’s physical presence, thus not accomplishing the objective of full separation of the notary/closer and the parties.

Hybrid closing

A hybrid closing is the same as an e-Closing except that the Promissory Note is papered out and wet-signed (sometimes along with the mortgage), so again the procedure does not accomplish the objective of physical separation.

Remote Online Notarization (RON)

A RON closing, on the other hand, uses an e-Notary to perform notarial acts when the signor is not in the same physical location as the notary.  The signor appears before an e-Notary in a live, recorded two-way audio/visual conference where identification is verified with a photo ID along with knowledge-based authentication technology.  A platform such as DocVerify, provides a tamper-evident seal and uses encryption and multi-layered security to prevent fraud.


Ivy Pointe Title is pleased to announce that it has an in-house e-Notary to provide these services for cash, lender and refinance real estate transactions.  Craig Donohoe, our in-house closer, is now able to perform RON closings for any lender, realtor, borrower or seller who would like the opportunity to sign their documents in the comfort of their homes or businesses, not only to avoid social contact at this time, but also in the future for convenience, speed and efficiency that has not previously existed in our industry.  We also have a second dedicated outside e-notary, Ted Dahmus, who is committed to priority e-closings for Ivy Pointe Title.

For more information on how to place your RON title and closing order, please contact Rick Turner (513.943.5660).

With the advent of the COVID-19 Crisis, Finney Law Firm and Ivy Pointe Title have quickly stepped to the plate, with technology that allows for the practice of law with appropriate social distancing, with attorneys who focus on practice areas to help their clients, and with cutting edge information on emerging programs to help businesses and individuals in need.

Technology allowing for electronic interaction

Finney Law Firm and Ivy Pointe Title  have carefully developed the tools to be prepared for a day such as this:

  • DocuSign allows for execution of documents from your computer.  By federal and state law, e-signed documents are fully enforceable as with “inked” documents. Our team is licensed and trained in DocuSign technology for all documents in which clients will allow an electronic signature.
  • Electronic notary.  Finney Law Firm and Ivy Pointe Title contracted with one of only a handful of licensed e-notaries in Ohio for exclusive provision of e-notary services. Using the platform DocVerify, we have the strongest technology to allow real estate closings and other transactions to proceed.  By Ohio law, it is permissible to have documents signed and acknowledged (notarized) without person-to-person interaction via electronic signature and electronic notary.
  • Electronic payments. We use e-billing and credit card payments (and wire transfers and EFTs) for clients who prefer this method of billing and payment.
  • Electronic discovery and electronic depositions. Your litigation does not need to stop because of the COVID-19 crisis. Most of the work pre-trial can still move forward using e-mail, Zoom.US or Microsoft Teams for depositions, and motion work that can be electronically filed with almost all Courts.
  • Work-from-Home. If you do need to visit our offices, you will find that most of our professionals are not at their desks. Rather, they are safely (for you and them) working from home with the latest technology including Microsoft Surface laptops, Microsoft Teams Video Conferencing, Microsoft Office 365 data in the cloud, so we can access your data from anywhere in the planet, but with tremendous Microsoft security technology and backups.

Practice areas to help your business

Our business lawyers are up to date and prepared to help you through the thicket of issues that arise or are heightened with the COVID-19 crisis:

Attorney Isaac T. Heintz is proficient in contract interpretation, including how to enforce or avoid obligations under a lease or other agreement. He has already written purchase agreements with COVID-19 contingencies to extend due diligence periods to the declared end of the crisis. As you might expect, Isaac has also had many clients initiate their estate planning, or finish long-delayed estate planning work.

Attorney Stephen E. Imm heads our employment law group, and is advising clients on a myriad of new COVID-19 legislation and addressing employment law claims under previously existing law and the new enactments.

Attorney Bradley M.  Gibson heads our litigation group which is dealing with a multitude of business-to-business disputes, including those arising because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Attorney Richard P. Turner runs Ivy Pointe Title and in that capacity has been using every tool at our disposal to continue to close your transactions “accurately and on time, every time.”  These include closings respecting social distancing, and we stand prepared to be one of the first agencies in Ohio to implement fully electronic closings.  We also can do drive-by closings where you come to our office and sign documents from your car, or we come to you and you can sign them on our car hood.

Attorney Christopher P. Finney heads our public interest practice, and the host of issues addressing government-to-business and government-to-individual interaction arising from the COVID-19 crisis.

CARES Act assistance for your small business

Congress just passed the CoronaVirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which includes the Paycheck Protection Program that will provide what essentially are grants to businesses with fewer than 500 employees and enhanced Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL).

Attorney Rebecca L. Simpson has been counseling clients through this program, and on Thursday night she joins other presenters on a panel addressing “CARES Act, Including Paycheck Protection and Funds for Businesses.”


We are working furiously to meet the needs of our clients in this fast-emerging crisis. Let us know how we can help you or your small business navigate these turbulent waters to come to the other side safely and profitably.

And our hope is that each of you remain healthy throughout this pandemic.



In order to protect the safety of all parties to a real estate closing, Ivy Pointe Title has a team of closers willing “go the extra mile” to obtain signatures and notarize documents for buyers and sellers.

Curb-side service

To minimize social interaction, if you drive to either of our two offices (Mt. Adams or Eastgate), you can sign documents from the comfort of your car. We will come to you with the documents, obtain signatures, and notarize those that need to be acknowledged.

Travel to your location

We will also travel to the homes or workplaces of buyer and sellers to obtain signatures and notarize documents.  When all signatures are obtained and the transaction is funded, we will record the documents, issue the title insurance policies and disburse.

Best closing practices for hygiene and safety

We use “best practices” in all of our closings, including (a) we will not meet in person with any buyer or seller who is ill or exhibiting flu symptoms, (b) none of our closers will work or attend any in-office or remote closing if he or she is ill, (c) we wash hands, use hand sanitizer, and use Clorox wipes of all pens, equipment and surfaces before and after each closing, (d) we will not shake hands and will maintain a safe distance from all closing participants and (e) almost all of our Ivy Pointe personnel are working remotely from home to limit human-to-human interaction at the company.

Teleconferencing for Realtors and lenders

At closings, we also have the technology and have trained our personnel to teleconference in lenders and Realtors from our laptops so they may participate at all stages, all while keeping a social distance and minimize the amount of people gathered at one time.  Ahhh, this probably won’t fly for roadside service closings, but we can try with FaceTime!

A great future together

Let’s all cooperate to keep the closings moving forward and stay safe!


Even in the most difficult times and the most difficult transactions, Ivy Pointe’s team is willing to go the extra mile to be “Accurate and On Time” in your real estate closing. Contact Rick Turner (513.943.5660) or Eli Kraft-Jacobs (513.797.2853) to close your real estate transaction quickly and accurately.

Ivy Pointe Title is actively pursuing Remote Online Notarization (“RON”) in order to effectively and conveniently conduct closings during the COVID-19 crisis.

What is a Remote Online Notary (RON}?

First, understand what this revolutionary technology means: With e-signature and e-notary, original inked documents will no longer be required; everything can be signed through on-line execution.  A buyer on his computer in one place can sign all of his closing documents, including the mortgage and other documents that need to be acknowledged (notarized) in his living room or home office, with a remote notary public sitting at a desk in another location. Similarly, a seller sitting in his kitchen at home can sign the deed and have it acknowledged (notarized) by an on-line notary sitting at his desk in another location. The Seller can likewise sign all of his other closing documents from his living room.  Disbursements can be via wire transfer, mailed or hand-delivered checks. In other words, every single document (including the deed and mortgage) can be signed by a party without leaving his home, and without a notary public physically (but rather virtually) present.

Where are we today?

We are in discussions with our underwriters, lenders and Realtors to comply with all RON laws, mandates and edicts.  Rather than being “first” to the table with this ground-breaking technology, we want to make 100% sure we can do this correctly when we do launch.

We will keep you informed of each step as we navigate these new uncharted waters.  In the meantime, check out this new American Land Title Association (“ALTA”) bulletin:

Expect more updates from us shortly.

We have a critical federal income tax issue of note for consideration by our clients:

>>> You may benefit from pre-paying your 2017 real estate/property tax bill(s) before year’s end.

>>> County Treasurers in Hamilton County, Butler County, Clermont County and Warren County have confirmed that you can determine and pay your entire 2018 real estate tax liability (both halves) before December 31, 2017.

  1. The just-passed federal tax bill caps deductibility of combined state and local income and property taxes at $10,000 per individual or married couple (the cap is the same regardless) for tax year 2018 and going forward, but that cap does not apply in 2017.
  2. Thus, if your state and local income and real estate tax liability is expected to exceed $10,000 in 2018, you may strongly benefit from pre-paying property taxes due in 2018 right now.
  3. We have checked with Hamilton County, Clermont County, Butler County and Warren County.  Each County allows the prepayment of your entire 2018 property tax bills (technically the 2017 bills payable in 2018) before year’s end.
  4. That means you may have the ability to pre-pay both halves before December 31, 2017 and obtain that deduction for the 2017 tax year.
  5. The 2017 tax year property values have only been calculated for Hamilton County, and those values may be ascertained by going to this link.
  6. For those remaining counties, your 2017 tax year payment may be based on the amount you paid for the 2016 tax year payment.
  7. For more information on how to pay, please click on the relevant link(s) below.

In Ohio:

  • For Hamilton County  … Click Here and Here
  • For Clermont County … Click Here and Here
  • For Warren County … Click Here and Here
  • For Butler County … Click Here, Here, and Here

In Kentucky:

  • Property taxes are due in September (City) and October (County) and therefore they cannot be pre-paid.

Your specific situation may differ.  If you are subject to an Alternative Minimum Tax, for example, this pre-payment may not benefit you.

For more information on this and other federal income tax questions, contact Isaac T. Heintz at (513) 943-6654 or Eli Kraft-Jacobs at (513)797-2853.

I want to extend a warm and sincere “Thank You” to the attorneys, staff, vendors, and clients of Finney Law Firm, LLC who have joined together to make our firm — dedicated to “Making a Difference” for our clients and in our profession and community — a tremendous success in our first four years in operation.

We started our new firm in Eastgate in the fall of 2013 with a great group of attorneys, a loyal and experienced staff, a top-notch lineup of vendors and a solid core of clients.  Since then, we have attracted more talented attorneys and staff, and have been met with simply overwhelming response from our clients.

We started with just four attorneys and three staffers.  Since then, we have grown to nine full-time attorneys, and are about to add our tenth.  We have expanded the law firm at Ivy Pointe in Eastgate three times, and eventually added space in the Rookwood Pottery building in Mt. Adams.  Just weeks ago, we tripled our space at Mt. Adams, so that the two offices are now roughly equal in size.

Under the leadership of attorney Rick Turner, we started Ivy Pointe Title, LLC in the fall of 2014 to support our commercial real estate closings and added to that base residential transactions.  He started with one full-time staffer, and now oversees an operation of seven full time employees. Due to tremendous success under his leadership, in November, we plan on doubling the size of the title company.

Our journey has taken us three times to the United States Supreme Court (with three unanimous victories) and numerous times to the Ohio Supreme Court.  We have handled dozens of multi-million dollar corporate and real estate transactions for our small business clients, and we have saved clients more than five million dollars in real estate taxes.  We successfully have handled numerous class actions for clients, including acting as local counsel for the ground-breaking class action against the Internal Revenue Service.  All of this is while we have daily served, client-by-client, to “make a difference” in their transaction or litigation matter.

These accomplishments are the result of the combined efforts of many people, and to each and every one of them I owe my deep gratitude.  The engine of commerce, the laboratory of legal innovation, and the commitment to client service we have made together is enduring and flourishing, ultimately, because we all work together to provide value for our loyal clients in each assignment.

Thank you, most sincerely, for making this such a fun, rewarding adventure!

Christopher P. Finney, President