Street Talk

Street Talk: Fraud fighter published

Jailhouse scholars.

May 31, 2019
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After conceiving an in-house solution to real estate wire fraud, the co-founder of CertifID has authored a new book on fraud prevention.

“Clear to Close: The Complete Guide to Understanding and Preventing Real Estate Wire Fraud,” the new e-book by Thomas Cronkright, co-founder and CEO of CertifID, teaches business owners and consumers how wire fraud scams work and some simple steps to achieve a high level of protection.

In the book, Cronkright spells out the first steps of wire fraud prevention and how to stop fraudsters from gaining access to transaction-level information. The book addresses the size and scope of the wire fraud epidemic, why real estate transactions are a top target for cybercriminals, how it affects all parties in a transaction, insurance coverage and how to recover if a wire fraud occurs.

“Real estate is a $33-trillion industry, which makes it the hottest market for fraud, and because the transactions can be so large, scammers only need one or two successes to earn significant amounts of money,” Cronkright said. “Prevention starts with protection, and in my new e-book, I outline the simple steps that banks, title companies and individuals can take to stop fraudsters before they can even come close to a transaction.”

As CEO of Sun Title, Cronkright and his business partner, Lawrence Duthler, experienced a significant wire fraud incident in 2015, costing the agency nearly $200,000.

After recovering about $145,000 of what was stolen, Cronkright and Duthler educated themselves on the best ways to protect their customers and launched CertifID, a real-time identity verification platform that allows individuals to send and confirm bank credentials before funds are moved.

From late 2017 to December 2018, the CertifID system protected over $1.2 billion from wire fraud. The system also stopped $40 million in high-risk wire transfers, and over 40 communications devices from foreign nations were identified in the same time period. Many of these devices were attempting to circulate wiring instructions fraudulently.

“Clear to Close” is available for download at certifid.com.

Dear old Dad

Americans are expected to spend more than ever on gifts for Father’s Day this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insight & Analytics. Total spending for the holiday is estimated to reach $16 billion, up from last year’s $15.3 billion.

“Fathers, husbands and sons can expect to feel the love this Father’s Day,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Over the past decade, spending on Father’s Day gifts has increased significantly. Retailers are ready with gifts that will have no problem impressing dad.”

Father’s Day spending has grown 70%, approximately $6.6 billion, since 2009. The biggest drivers of Father’s Day spending are growth in spending by consumers ages 35-44, and spending on clothing, special outings and gift cards. This year, 75.9% of people plan to celebrate and are expected to spend a record $138.97, up from last year’s $132.82, and up from just $91 in 2009.

Consumers ages 35-44 plan to spend the most at an average $197.66, over $100 more than this age group spent 10 years ago. Men planned to spend the most for Mother’s Day this year and also are likely to spend more than women for Father’s Day at $160.74 compared with $118.29.

“It’s important to consumers of all ages that their gift for dad is unique and creates a special memory,” Prosper Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “For example, subscription box services have become a popular unique gift option, particularly among younger consumers.”

When searching for the perfect gift, 39% of consumers will head to department stores, 34% will shop online, 24% will shop at a discount store, 23% at a specialty store, 11% at a specialty clothing store and 2% via catalog, according to the survey.

Getting ahead

The PNC Foundation announced May 30 that it provided a $50,000 donation to be split across all open pre-K and Head Start requests posted by Michigan teachers on DonorsChoose.org, an online charity that connects individual donors with classrooms in need.

Launched in 2000, DonorsChoose.org is open to every public, public charter and Head Start classroom in America. Since its founding, it has vetted and fulfilled more than 1.4 million classroom project requests ranging from butterfly cocoons to books to robotics kits.

PNC is providing the flash donation in support of its ongoing alliance with DonorsChoose.org and PNC Grow Up Great, its bilingual, $500-million, multiyear initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life. 

“PNC Grow Up Great is proud to support pre-K and Head Start projects in Michigan alongside the Detroit Regional Chamber and Launch Michigan,” PNC Regional President Ric DeVore said. “We’re not only investing in young children with resources they need to learn and thrive in school, but together, we’re investing in our nation’s future.”

To date, the PNC/DonorsChoose.org alliance has benefitted more than 900,000 pre-K and Head Start students.

Lifelong learning

The first inmate students of Calvin College’s Prison Initiative program have graduated.

The 15 students from Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia officially had associate degrees on May 21.

The program, launched in 2015, provides up to 20 inmates each year with an opportunity to begin pursuing a bachelor’s degree in ministry leadership. The partnership between Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary and the Michigan Department of Corrections is the only option in the state for inmates to obtain a bachelor’s degree while behind bars.

The goal of the project is for the inmates, many who have life sentences, to become leaders among the other inmates throughout the state, according to Todd Cioffi, co-director of the program.

Through other moral or academic leadership, the goal is to improve prison culture and curb recidivism rates.

The $500,000 program is funded entirely by private donations and grants. The cost is roughly $7,500-$8,500 per student.

“When I did my master’s, I did thesis work on how education reduces recidivism. That’s what made me actually pursue trying to get Calvin to be here at the Handlon facility,” said DeWayne Burton, warden of the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility.

The class has a cumulative GPA above 3.6, has created a prison reform conference and has started a community garden that led to a $2,500 donation to Safe Haven Ministries.

The Calvin Prison Initiative currently enrolls 55 students.

Inmates from any of the 30 men's prisons in the Michigan Department of Corrections system can apply to the program, and each August, about 20 admitted students are transferred to Handlon.

To date, more than 30 faculty members and dozens of students from Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary have served in the CPI program. A few professors from other area colleges and universities also have taught courses in the program.

“This program has changed my life,” said an inmate named Dustin. “It’s given me an opportunity to be the person I feel like I was always meant to be. College in prison is something that’s becoming almost nonexistent. For an institution to come in here and offer a fully accredited bachelor’s degree is unbelievable.”

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