Friday, July 5, 2019


In Light of Yesterdays 'Rocking' July 4th:

Melissa Motkin at Sepulveda Escrow wrote this handy Earthquake Preparedness Guide and we thought it might be especially important to remind all our readers. 

Stay Safe and Be Prepared! 

If an Emergency Occurs:
1. Listen to a battery-powered radio for the location of emergency shelters and follow instructions of local officials.
2. Wear Protective clothing and sturdy shoes.
3. Take your disaster supply kit.
4. Lock your house.
5. Use Travel Routes specified by local officials.

If you have time:
1. Shut off water, gas, and electricity.
2. Let others know when you left and where you are going.
3. Make arrangements for pets. Animals may not be allowed in public shelters.

Contents for Earthquake/Disaster Kit:
- water
- water purification kit or bleach
- non-perishable packages, canned, high energy food and non-electric can opener
- battery powered or hand-crank radio
- flashlight and extra batteries
- waterproof matches and candles
- first aid kit and manual
- scissors
- dust masks
- personal hygiene items (hand sanitizer, wipes, tissues, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, feminine supplies)
- towels
- plastic bags (various sizes)
- prescription medications
- extra pair of glasses
- credit cards and cash in small denominations
- pens and paper
- copies of personal documents (proof of address, passports, birth certificated, bank account records)
- list of family contact information including emergency contacts and doctor information
- pet supplies
- chargers for cell phones and other important electronics
- extra set of car and house keys
- booster cables
- fire extinguisher
- maps
- shovels
- axe
- duct tape
- heavy duty gloves
- rope
- multipurpose tool
- tire repair kit and pump
- change of clothing
- jacket or coat
- hat
- blankets or sleeping bags

Sepulveda Escrow sends our thoughts and regards to all the families and businesses who were affected by the recent quake.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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Friday, December 21, 2018

Private Content Thought Deleted Before Posting is Often Saved Anyway



Growing up, you may have been warned by parents and teachers that if you did something bad, it would end up on your "permanent record." Of course, eventually, you found out that such a record doesn't actually exist... at least not in a physical format. Most people are aware that everything you do or say online stays around forever. Even if you delete something, there's almost always a way for a tech-savvy researcher to dig up an old post or shared picture. However, what might come as a surprise to most internet users, as explained in Drew Harwell's L.A. Times article, is that many websites record words typed and images uploaded, even if you delete the content before it ever gets posted.

Many social media users have been in a situation where they were preparing a scathing review or an angry post, then decided to not post it at all, whether for personal or business concerns. Even though they deleted the words they had typed, and never approved the post to go out to their friends and followers, social media platforms (Facebook in particular) save what was deleted"until it is no longer necessary to provide our services and Facebook Products, or until your account is deleted." While it is unnerving to find out that the thoughts and pictures you believed were private were actually being stored on Facebook's servers, some might consider the privacy issue to be not too concerning. However, when Facebook recently accidentally exposed millions of those undeleted photos to third-party apps (not the first of their privacy faux pas this year), their customers were justifiably upset.

It's more than just social media sites that are gathering information you didn't intend to give them. Some online chat services for customer service (LiveAgent for example), show the responder a real-time view of what the customer is typing. These companies claim that this allows responders to more quickly reply to questions, yet they don't inform their users of what some might consider a breach of their privacy. If you knew that every word you typed could be seen, not just the ones you sent, you would probably be more careful with everything you write. I know I would.

According to research done at Princeton University, there are hundreds of websites that record all of the mouse movements and keystrokes made by a user while on the site. This could give companies and cybercriminals access to all kinds of personal and sensitive information, from passwords to credit card numbers. Such websites included WordPress, LiveJournal, and Spotify, among many others. The research couldn't conclusively determine whether a specific website actually had a record of the user's actions; it only showed that the sites had the ability to make such a record.

Not all websites and social media platforms fall into this category. Snapchat, for example, saves an unset message for 24 hours before deleting it completely, but during that time, the content is saved in an encrypted form that can't be accessed without the decryption key, which is only accessible if the message is actually sent. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram will save messages and images in drafts until the user chooses to post, but the content is saved locally, to the user's device, and is never uploaded to the platforms' servers. You should just be aware that in this day and age, everything you do on a computer (or even on a mobile device) could be recorded, saved, and possibly released to the wrong audience. As usual, be mindful with what you post online, and even be careful with content that you don't ever plan on revealing to the public.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Friday, November 30, 2018

Most Californians Have Insufficient Insurance Coverage




Owning real estate has inherent risks. From burglary to floods and fires, your possessions or your home itself could be damaged substantially by forces outside of your control. Fortunately, we have insurance to deal with those exact circumstances. In fact, when we handle an escrow for a real estate transaction involving a lender, the buyer is almost always required to get fire insurance (especially in California) before the purchase is allowed to go through. The lender (usually a bank) provides the buyer with the capital they need to purchase the property, so it makes sense that the lender would want to protect their investment in case of a disaster like a fire.

Over the past few weeks, many California home-owners were struck by tragedy when forest fires did damage to thousands of homes, some burned completely to the ground. In the aftermath, now that the fires have been contained, they have to figure out exactly how far their insurance coverage will get them since homeowners on average tend to be significantly underinsured. Insurance companies, like all other companies, are in business to make a profit. They don't want to pay any more money than they have to, so if you're one of the unfortunate Californians having to deal with this, you really need to be proactive.

Even if your home isn't in one of the current fire zones, you need to be vigilant for the future, because these forest fires have become an almost-yearly feature for Californians. Be careful with every document you sign regarding your insurance coverage. In order to maximize their profits, especially in a high-risk state like California, some insurers have been adding extra provisions to policies when customers come in for seemingly-routine renewals. The new provisions will often limit coverage for smoke damage (as opposed to damage from actual flames) or will set a short time limit within which a customer must report such damage.

One of the most common issues that homeowners run into is not being insured enough. Often, it's because of the rising costs of building materials. Now, insurers suggest that you get coverage for more than what you think you need. You can overapproximate material and labor costs, and some policies even let you include upgrades for changes to the house's wiring or for the cost of personal property, like televisions and computers. To get coverage for those products, though, you should take a video of your home and its contents, to provide proof to your insurance company if they try to give you a hard time about it.

Some insurance companies have decided to leave California entirely, stating that it's too expensive to provide insurance in an area so prone to wildfires. Others charge incredibly high rates, set exorbitantly expensive to make sure they can cover their costs in the case of a disastrous wildfire. One state-sponsored program, the California FAIR Plan, provides less costly coverage than most private companies, but will only provide up to $1.5 million in replacement costs, so you should think carefully about whether you would be sufficiently covered before you purchase such a plan.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Friday, November 9, 2018

Common Real Estate Scams and How to Avoid Them



Just like with most other areas of business, the real estate industry has been the target of many types of very creative and successful scams. While scammers are an unfortunate part of all industries where the exchange of money is involved, real estate especially has been a focus in recent years, likely because many more real estate investors these days are not local, and instead invest from afar. When someone can afford to invest in lucrative real estate across the country without ever leaving their home, they gain valuable convenience, while at the same time opening up themselves to risk.

One of the common scams is referred to as a "land contract sale" scam. A land contract is a document that spells out the legally-binding agreement between a seller and buyer, in which the seller of the property agrees to finance the buyer's side of the sale. Basically, the seller of the property becomes like a bank, in situations where the buyer doesn't have the credit history to get a real bank loan. So, instead of getting a mortgage and paying the interest and principal to the bank over an average of 30 years, they work out a payment plan where they pay the seller "mortgage-like" payments over 30 years (or often a shorter period, with a balloon payment at the end).

The existence of land contracts is important in the real estate industry, in that it allows people with little credit history to start down the path to home ownership earlier than they normally would be able to. Unfortunately, because of how the contracts are designed, sometimes sellers are able to take advantage of their buyers. The seller will put extremely strict requirements in the contract, intended to force the buyer to break the restrictions, thus making the property revert back to the seller's ownership. Or, they might make the interest rate on the payments much higher than any rate a bank would set. Sometimes, they even choose not to file the land contract and take out loans against the property, until it gets foreclosed upon. Land contracts don't always have bad outcomes, but if you're ever in a situation where you might need one, you should have your legal representation take a thorough look.

Lending scams tend to be very common as well, especially among people with little credit history (or very bad credit scores). Some (often unlicensed) lenders will be willing to lend an investor a lot of money to purchase a property and fix it up but will charge a much higher interest rate and have a shorter period in which the borrower must pay back the loan. They will also often charge high upfront fees for "loan insurance." The way to avoid this type of scam is to be wary. If a lender doesn't have very many questions for you, or if they don't ask for your credit information, it's probably a scam. As the saying goes, "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is."

Rental scams, which don't necessarily affect real estate investors directly, do affect people in the real estate industry quite often. The scammer will find vacant houses, often for sale or for rent, and will post their own listings, claiming to be looking for tenants. A potential renter will sign a fake lease created by the scammer, will wire or mail a security deposit and the first month of rent, and will never receive the keys to the property in response. The scammer will tell their target that they live out of town, which is how they explain why they can't give the prospective tenant a tour. They also quote a rent price significantly less than the going market rate, to help convince tenants to move fast on the "opportunity." It is suggested that homeowners looking to sell or rent should clearly place signage with contact information, in a location that can be clearly seen by prospective tenants.

One of the most costly scams out there is a classic. The scammer (sometimes the actual seller, or sometimes just a random person), will convince the prospective buyer (usually an out-of-town investor) that the property is of higher condition than it actually is. They accomplish this by insisting on using their own inspectors, who give the prospective buyer a false report. They will also not disclose liens on the property or significant unseen damage (like termites or mold in the walls). One way to avoid this scam (though not foolproof by any means) is to only purchase properties listed on trusted platforms like the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Additionally, out-of-state investors who aren't able to come and actually see every property they invest in should still visit the area at some point and find real estate agents and inspectors who they can trust to be honest. There's no perfect way to stop yourself from getting scammed in any industry, but being careful in all of your business decisions is a good start.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Friday, October 26, 2018

FHA: Housing Providers Required to Accommodate Service Animals


Image result for accommodations for service animals

Over the past few years, accommodations for service animals have become a much more prevalent issue in most industries, from housing to transportation. Where once service animals were only seen in very limited capacities, mainly as dogs serving people with visual or auditory disabilities, the definition of a service animal has expanded considerably. Now, there are a variety of animals filling those roles, including cats, parrots, ferrets, and even miniature horses, although none are quite as common as dogs. They serve people with all kinds of impairments, from deaf or blind people to people with PTSD or anxiety. These animals considerably improve the lives of the people they serve but are sometimes seen as problematic by store/restaurant owners and landlords. Fortunately, the Fair Housing Act has laid out a set of standards that can help property owners and property managers determine their legal responsibility in accommodating individuals with disabilities.

Most of the time, businesses and rental properties have broad, overarching policies like "No Pets," to ensure that the animals don't cause damage to the carpets or upholstery and to avoid driving away other customers due to issues of cleanliness or allergies. This can lead to an awkward situation for managers when an animal that appears to be a normal pet (or even an uncommon one) is actually a service animal. For example, there was a recent story in the news about a woman who was removed from her flight because she insisted on bringing her "emotional support squirrel." While the airline in that situation took issue specifically with the fact that it was a squirrel (not allowed on the plane because of its status as a "rodent"), the concept of "emotional support" animals, in general, has been contentiously debated. Emotional support animals don't have the same status under the law as service animals, which can lead to trouble.

Under the FHA, if a tenant has a clear disability, a property manager cannot legally ask for additional documentation. For example, if the applicant is clearly blind, they don't need to provide a letter from their doctor explaining why a guide dog is necessary. However, if the disability is not apparent, the housing provider can ask for documentation, which usually amounts to a letter from a physician, mental health professional, or social worker. Those rules apply to "service animals," which are specially trained from a young age and are bred to do a certain type of job. Because those animals are so well trained, property managers tend to feel more comfortable with being accommodating. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, are something else entirely. An ESA can be any animal (usually the person's pet) that helps to treat emotional issues (usually depression or anxiety). The difference is that the animal doesn't usually require special training, and is only differentiated from a normal pet by a note from a doctor.

Even under the FHA's guidelines, a request for accommodation may be denied for several reasons, including if the animal poses a risk of harm to others or would pose an undue financial risk to the housing provider. Examples include if the animal has attacked people in the past, or if it causes health risks (like allergic reactions) for other tenants. From the perspective of a real estate professional, it can be uncomfortable to be in the middle of everything, where you don't actually have a say as to whether the request will be approved or not. All you can really do is support your client and make it clear to them that the housing provider has the final say.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Friday, October 12, 2018

Consumer Version of Google+ Platform to be Shut Down Over the Next Several Months


Image result for google plus shutdown

Social media is an important aspect of most people's lives. For some, social media is a way to keep up with what's happening in the lives of their friends and family members. For others, social media is a platform by which they can advertise their business or find the latest news updates. Although each platform tries to compete with others to some extent, the different platforms tend to attract different types of users, and often users will have accounts on multiple social media sites. LinkedIn draws in job-hunters and business professionals. Facebook and Twitter tend to be for general connectivity, although the former is more for friends and family, while the latter is more general.

Google+, while not on the same level of popularity as Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, filled a similar niche, intending to connect users and improve social media reach through Google's impressive search engine optimization algorithms. Unfortunately, according to Sam Dean's L.A. Times article, SEO wasn't enough to keep the users engaged. Alphabet Inc., Google's parent company, recently announced that Google+ is getting wound down over the next several months. The company expects to have the social media platform completely shut down by August. This week, a Wall Street Journal article came out claiming that Google discovered a security breach on Google+ months ago, and the company never informed its users. Some analysts believe that this breach in customers' trust could be what brought about the announcement on Monday.

However, it seems very likely that the privacy breach (although it may have been the last straw) was not Google's main motivator for shutting down Google+. The real reason was probably one of simple economics. Google+ just wasn't bringing in enough revenue. Social media platforms, since they tend to be free to use, bring in money by selling advertisements. Advertisers will only pay a company if they can see that the number of potential new customers justifies the cost. If a company can pay Google a set amount of money each month for advertising on Google+, and be guaranteed an increase in customers and sales, then they will gladly make that leap. However, if they know that 90% of Google+ users spend less than 5 seconds per session, the company is unlikely to believe that their advertisements will ever be seen, so they will be unlikely to put an advertisement in the first place.

Although the consumer version of Google+ is getting shut down over the coming months, Google is still planning to keep up its enterprise platform, through which corporate customers interact and provide information that can be integrated into Google's other features, including Google Maps. It's impossible to tell which of the issues (low user rates or recent privacy concerns) really made Google finally flip the switch and shut Google+ down, but other social media platforms may soon follow suit. Due to several recent issues with Facebook's handling of user data and bugs in their operating system that allowed hackers to access the same data, governmental agencies like the Federal Trade Commission have stepped up their levels of oversight. Even the House of Representatives and the Senate are getting involved, looking to investigate and improve laws to keep data safer than before.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Friday, October 5, 2018

Experian Security Flaw Exposed PINs Needed to Unfreeze Credit Profiles


Image result for experian pin

With identity theft and consumer fraud constantly on the rise, every potential security breach is important for consumers to know about. All consumers, even those without credit cards, should constantly be prepared, and on the lookout for signs that they may be the targets of fraudulent activity. Recently, it was discovered that one credit reporting agency, Experian, had an overlooked security flaw that allowed criminals to access a consumer's PIN. According to Liz Weston's article, this failure of security has since been addressed, but for several hours this week, pretty much every person's credit profile was at risk.

If someone is the target of a cybercriminal and discovers that fraudulent activity has happened on their account, the first step they tend to take is freezing their credit so that more fraud can't happen in the time it takes to investigate the original fraud. This isn't an ideal solution, as some people who live paycheck to paycheck rely on their credit to survive, but overall, it's the best option currently available, as many consumers can go a few weeks without borrowing money from a lender or charging expenses to a credit card. In order to undo the freeze, to make the user's account accessible once the fraud issues have been cleared up, a user usually has to input a PIN code online and answer a few security questions.

This type of system, while convenient to the consumer who needs to unfreeze their credit as quickly and easily as possible, has its downsides too. The main issue with this system was revealed this week. In order to get into someone's account without their PIN code, a criminal would need to know certain financial information like name, Social Security number, date of birth, and street address (all of which can be purchased illegally through the dark web from criminals who had previously hacked companies like Equifax). Additionally, the hacker would usually have to also answer security questions that only the real user would know the answer to (name of a favorite teacher, favorite foods, etc). However, this Thursday, it was discovered that if a hacker (or any user, really) answered "none of the above" to the security questions (even if the correct answer was available to choose), the system would allow the unapproved user access, which could enable them to unlock a frozen credit profile.

Some users tested out the security flaw themselves to see if they could trick the system into giving up their PIN, and found that they succeeded quite easily. After broad public backlash, Experian announced this week that they were confident of the security of everyone's credit information, but is still working on making things even more secure to improve customer satisfaction. Late in the afternoon, users began to find that the security flaw had stopped working, a positive sign for worried consumers. However, as these issues keep arising and credit companies don't fix the security issues until after the fact, many consumers believe that the credit agencies don't have their customers' best interests at heart. However, there isn't much a consumer can do right now except be vigilant and keep insisting that credit agencies continue improving security.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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