When I joined the Department of Corporations, it had no website. I remember reviewing possible designs for a site. Now, it seems hard to imagine that there was a time when state agencies didn’t have websites. Today, the Department’s website is a good source of information about enforcement actions, licensing requirements and procedures, as well as the laws and regulations that the Commissioner administers. The site also provides important warnings.
“Be warned by me then: they that ride so and ride not warily, fall into foul bogs.”
For example, the Department earlier this week posted this Commissioner’s Bulletin warning of cyber hacking of escrow trust accounts (the Commissioner licenses and regulates independent escrows under the Escrow Law, Cal. Fin. Code § 17000 et seq.) The Commissioner reports that so far this year two escrow companies have been victims and that together they have lost $2 million. The loss at one of these companies caused it to be placed in conservatorship.
Consumers should also take heed of the Department’s website, as illustrated by the unfortunate case of May v. Bank of America, (Cal. Ct. of Appeal Case No. G046893 (April 2, 2013). In that case, the plaintiffs fell into a real estate scam and wired $130,000 into an escrow account in the name of “Golden Gate Escrow”. They brought suit, but the Court of Appeal was not prepared to pull them out. In an opinion written by Justice William W. Bedsworth, the Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs’ argument in part because they could have easily checked out the status of the escrow company on the Department’s website:
Appellants argue BofA was at fault for not determining whether Golden Gate Escrow actually existed, as it could have done with “`minimal’ inquiry.” But appellants too could have made a “minimal inquiry” to find out who or what they were dealing with before they parted with $130,000. For instance, a visit to the California Department of Corporations website provides a link whereby licenses for persons and companies regulated by the Department of Corporations, the Department of Real Estate, the Office of Real Estate Appraisers, and the Department of Financial Institutions can be checked in one go. If there was something wrong with Golden Gate Escrow in this transaction, it was appellants’ responsibility to discover it, not BofA’s.
Please note that May is an unpublished decision. See California Rules of Court, Rule 81115.