Blockchain, AI, Hackers, Consumer Privacy … and Birds of Prey


by Kara Cook

Late last month, Heather and I attended the annual National Settlement Services Summit, NS3, this year held at the lovely Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. While escaping the sweltering temperatures inside, we admired the “Jewel of the Desert’s” art-deco architecture in air-conditioned spaces; outside by the pool, we marveled at the skill of Diablo, the resident hawk, who protected snacking sun seekers from pesky, scavenging smaller birds.

Beyond our fascination with learning about falconry and Diablo’s specific training (we snapped some photos!), we attended some intriguing sessions to keep all of us here at Cook & James on the cutting edge of thought leadership, best practices and innovation in the real estate closing and settlement industry.


Blockchain News in 20 States

A track [OR A session….] called “Blockchain Show & Tell” provided some interesting legislative updates on blockchain, a topic Heather dove into in a blog last year.

Did you know as many as 20 states have passed legislation to increase the adoption of the cash exchange/cryptocurrency technology? We learned that Delaware recently passed legislation to allow corporations to trade stock on blockchain; Ohio became the first state last November to allow companies to pay a variety of tax burdens with cryptocurrency; and Wyoming enacted regulation that exempts “utility tokens” from state securities regulation and virtual currencies from state money transmission laws.

We are definitely keeping our eye on blockchain and other developments in e-currency.

An AI Called Olivia

AI - artificial intelligence – is a super hot topic right now across many verticals. Maybe because here at Cook & James we’re in a growth mode, the session on AI in recruiting really piqued my interest. During “Adding AI to the Toolbox,” I learned that AI recruiting assistants can be custom integrated with your existing Applicant Tracking System (ATS). They use sophisticated Natural Language Understanding – the tools understand context, complex statements and everyday conversation including slang, and can even steer conversations to an intended goal customized to the client.

One tool described in depth is “Olivia.” Developed by Paradox, Olivia can engage with candidates through web, mobile platforms or social channels. She lets you spend your time engaging and talking to job candidates without having to sift through all the back and forth like scheduling interviews and premature queries. Amazingly, she can answer questions from company culture to benefits and basically becomes your company FAQ available any time your candidate wants to communicate.

One thing Olivia by Paradox can do is provide feedback from candidates which benefits employers by giving them a glimpse of what candidates are frequently asking about and topics that matter to them, which in turn lets the hiring manager respond proactively and appropriately.

I found the developments in AI fascinating and can see how tools like these can streamline the hiring process, improving it for applicants and companies alike.

The Terrifying Topic of Hackers

For us in the real estate closing world, a hacked email is terrifying. Despite our warnings literally blazoned everywhere for all our constituents, the dreaded hack still happens, so the session called “Hackers’ Strengths & Weaknesses” was a must-attend for me.

Business email compromise (BEC) and fraud/email account compromise (EAC) are on the rise. From 2015 to 2017, the real estate industry experienced more than a 1,100% rise in the number of BEC/EAC victims who reported real estate transaction fraud! And there was more than a 2,200% rise in reported amounts lost in BEC/EAC real estate transaction scams. Yes, those are not typos – more than one and two THOUSAND percent, respectively!

No surprise, but most attacks stem from phishing, typically in an email. Hackers try to gain access to personal information and infect computers with malware and they are VERY crafty. However, often there are spelling or grammar errors. Often the hacker will change just one letter of an email address. Often the hacker will say the wiring instructions have changed for the funds – let me just say, if that ever happens it is always done via a personal phone call and never an email.

Just like we repeatedly urge, if you think something is suspicious, DO NOT click. Contact the company with whom you’re working via a phone call, but NOT from the number in the email. And always report phishing to the FTC ( or ) and to the Anti-Phishing Working Group ( which includes ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions, and law enforcement agencies. It’s also always a good idea to alert the company or person that was impersonated about the phishing scheme.

Hacking is such an important, pervasive topic, I plan to post an update shortly to the blog I wrote about 18 months ago using much of what I learned at this NS3 session. Please watch for that blog and be careful with your data!

Data, Data Everywhere – Has Consumer Privacy Become an Oxymoron?

Obviously, another hot topic is data breaches and privacy concerns on personal, political and professional fronts. I learned background about GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, the May 2018 regulation which basically protects the personal information of European Union (EU) citizens from privacy and data breaches. There are many specifics about the size of companies, whether that company storing data has an EU presence or just processes personal data from EU residents, and/or whether it exports personal data outside the EU and EEA areas.

There is a counterpart here in the states called the CCPA, California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. Also know at AB375, unless it’s amended before its effective date of January 1, 2020, it will be the most strict data privacy law in the United States. It will require data privacy protections and requirements similar to - or more broad - than those imposed by the EU’s GDPR. At least 23 other states have begun legislative actions and Congress is holding hearings to begin federal regulations for consumer privacy.

The four info-packed and robust NS3 sessions described here definitely gave us here at Cook & James plenty to watch in the coming months. If you’re interested in more details from our learning in Phoenix, contact me – I’m always happy to share my notes, thoughts and takeaways with our colleagues and collaborators.