January 2018 Newsblog


I would like to start this new year with a story of a phishing scam that I was unknowingly dragged into right before Christmas, not because I want to start the year out with disturbing news, but because in this day and age, let this be a lesson to all of us: be alert, be aware, and ask or confirm if you are not sure.

Here are the facts of what happened:

  • A number of my clients received a phishing e-mail purportedly from me, advising to click on a “WeTransfer” link to access documents
  • That e-mail came by the name of juliianat@vivaescrow.com. Note that this is not my correct e-mail address as that email has two “ii”s.
  • That e-mail had, on the bottom, my signature block from 2015 as well as our old office address in San Marino.
  • This phishing e-mail went to a variety of e-mail addresses, including individuals at the State Controllers Office, my regulator – the Department of Business Oversight, various Lenders who I had not dealt with in a number of years, and assorted clients, old and new. It is likely all of these were pulled from an email contact list that somehow got stolen and is now “out there on the Internet.”
  • “WeTransfer” is an actual company which offers document storage and transfer services, like DropBox, so you can say they got caught in this phishing scam also.

We found out about this scam when one of my staff received this email and found it highly suspicious. I immediately crafted a “Do Not Open This Is Not Me” e-mail message to everyone I had continuous contact with. Did I get the warning out to everyone?

Regretfully, no, as with my 40 years in the industry, I have accumulated over a thousand people on my contacts list. Did everyone on my list get the phishing e-mail? I don’t know that either. But for those who did, many were astute enough to e-mail or call my office to question this e-mail.

At the same time we looked up this “WeTransfer” company (yes, this is a real company) and immediately advised them of the scam, so they were able to delete the link, and block the fake user and their IP address.

We see these types of scams all the time—my spam folder is full of them. I used to disregard them and delete, but when I became the innocent party used by scammers, the realization that this can happen to anybody, anytime, hit home.

They might have not used my real e-mail, but they tried to make it look like me as best as they could and did use my real contact list from some recent point in time. The bigger footprint a person has on the Internet, the bigger their chances of being targeted. So, beware!


The new Tax Law pushed forward by the Republicans is almost the biggest news item, with many people rushing to pay their second half property taxes by the end of 2017 so that the $10,000 cap on state and local taxes in 2018 will be alleviated a little.

Will this new Tax Law really help you and me? Will it really help my little company, as the President says it will?

I am sure all the nation’s CPA’s are having such a great time scrambling to get the new tax laws swallowed and digested before their clients start calling on Jan 2nd and demand tax planning immediately. Meanwhile, here is a calculator put out by the New York Times and forwarded to us by an escrow industry attorney.

No representation is made that it will be correct for any person or entity, but in the absence of any other concrete figures, this is just as good a way as any to do some calculation without your CPA’s in-depth help.

The new Cannabis Law is throwing Californians and the State government into a frenzy, so much so that the CA Secretary of State has put together a video featuring actor Cheech Marin explaining on how to set up this business.

I repeat, this video is from the California’s Secretary of State Youtube account, telling you the easiest way to go about setting up a cannabis business. Does anyone else feel a little weird about this, like me?

Here is one big issue with this brand new industry:

Selling weed is still illegal on the federal level so banks are not taking cannabis sellers as depositors. Dealing with bank transactions and money coming from cannabis revenue is a headache no bank wants to deal with. So how do these sellers safeguard their cash or other income? Stuff it in the mattress?

How do we do an escrow transaction for a company who might be buying or selling property for the business, or buying or selling the business itself?

All our transactions require deposit of funds through a banking institution and we would have to disclose to our bank if the funds are coming from an illegal federal activity. Even State Banks and Credit Unions use the Federal Reserve System to pass funds through.

So, unless the Buyer and Seller decide to handle the funds outside of closing, we would not be able to do this type of a transaction.

The amazing Bitcoin – Really, the hottest topic at this time is the Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of the Bitcoin. I elaborated on my thoughts on my December blog and I now have a dumbed down version of how one bitcoin is created (correct me if I am wrong), in a huge warehouse somewhere a large number of super duper fast computers work endlessly to solve mathematical algorithms.

Once one algorithm is solved and a blockchain created, other computers authenticate the results and give it a “proof of work” and a specific code number designation.

This equals to one single bitcoin. Each coded bitcoin can be further sliced into percentages to which a key number is assigned. We can then buy (through a reputable company) either percentages or full coins, to be put into our own “bitcoin wallet” which has to be set up in advance. Voila!

From what I understand, there are a finite amount of 21 million algorithms that can be mined into bitcoin and as of now, only 16.7 million are mined, although not all are used and many are lost. The balance of 4.3 million will take those super computers up to year 2050 to be mined.

Bitcoin is looked at as a decentralization of the control of currency, taking away the control from Wall Street and governments, supposedly. No more creation of paper money whenever the debt ceiling rises. Control of this currency would be in the hands of consumers and due to the finite-ness, the value could only rise. Or so they say.

The creation of this currency means that it takes lots of computers, lots of time, and lots of other resources to come up with the creation of one final product. That’s why this type of cryptocurrency is not readily available, which then gives rise to speculations and this mad craze.

For environmentalists, what is the long time effect of the production of this currency? Here is a thoughtful article for all of us to think about.

Unless you have nothing else to do, you just can’t keep track of the rise and fall. For those of us who don’t have an investment (yet), just reading about the 1000% rise over the last month will make us ill.

But other avid followers look greedily to the news, like this article from CNN Money, that came up before Christmas and this article about a real estate listing in Miami in Bitcoin….

Which now leads me to this funny that I picked up from a blog (no credit to me except for sharing it with you!):

A boy asked his bitcoin-investing Dad for 1 bitcoin for his birthday.

His Dad replied, “What? $15,554?? $14,354 is a lot of money! What do you need $16,782 for anyway?”


** SB 2 Affordable Housing Act Recording surcharge. Effective Jan 1, 2019, a $75.00 surcharge will be added to documents that are recording. There are exemptions! One important one is that if the document is part of a transaction in which a Grant Deed with Transfer Tax is being paid, then it can be exempt.

Ask a knowledgeable Escrow Officer if your transaction may be affected or exempt.

** AB 168 – To narrow the pay gap between gender hiring, starting 2018 California employers may not ask job applicants about their prior salary, compensation or benefits. Click here for some details (in readable format)

** FHA loan limits are increasing the new year. Here is an article from the mortgage industry publication and click here for the announcement directly from the source. However, some California counties may not be impacted. Please check with your loan officer.

** PACE loans news. Notice is given that Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac have already stopped insuring loans on properties with a PACE loan and now, FHA is jumping on the bandwagon.  PACE loans have to be paid off if a refinance loan that will be government insured by these 3 agencies is contemplated.

** New service by REDFIN to grab market share. The on-line real estate brokerage firm with the very low commission rates is getting into the service of helping Sellers optimize their sale by staging and presenting their properties. For those interested, click here for a description of their “concierge service.”

** The IRS is firmly in the 21st century. Connect with this government agency through YouTube for videos on tax tips, how to declare rental income, how to write off vacation homes and how to avoid tax scams.

** Chip implants are coming! A Wisconsin company is voluntarily implanting microchips in their employees, to enable them to “open doors, log onto their computers and purchase break room snacks with a simple swipe of the hand”.  We had Siri, we had Alexa, ladies and gentlemen, the future is here. Now.

Finally, here are a few trivia questions to set the mind rolling in this new year.

Your stomach must produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks; otherwise it will digest itself. 

The sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” uses every letter of the alphabet.

It’s impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.

There are only four words in the English language which end in “dous”: tremendous, horrendous, stupendous, and hazardous.

Have a tremendous and stupendous 2018!