New Year, New Laws

The New Year brings with it new laws that will impact most all Californians. One of the most significant new laws on the medical front involves prescription drugs. Assembly Bill 1073 requires California pharmacists to provide translations of prescription instructions in the most common languages other than English. They include:  Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Korean.

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Assembly Bill 1073 will benefit residents in California with limited proficiency in English and help them to gain better healthcare access and information. California will now join New York as the only other state in the nation to require pharmacists to provide non-English medication information.

Here are some additional laws that will affect consumers.

  • SB254-Mattress Recycling: California and Connecticut are the only states in the nation that currently offer a recycling program for used mattresses and box springs. Residents can find their nearest participating collection site or recycling facility by visiting www.byebyemattress.com.
  • B604–Hoverboard Law: There’s a law for that shiny, new Hoverboard you got for Christmas. For starters, you must be at least 16 years old to ride it. Wearing a helmet is also required while operating the Hoverboard on highways, bikeways, or other public bicycle path, sidewalk, or trails.
  • SB675—Hospital Patient Discharges—This law enables hospitals to take specified actions relating to family caregivers, including, among others, notifying the family caregiver of the patient’s discharge or transfer to another facility. They also must provide information and counseling regarding the post-hospital care needs of the patient, but only if the patient has consented to the disclosure of this information.
  •  SB277—Child Vaccinations—This new State law requires that schoolchildren must be fully vaccinated to attend public or private school, regardless of their parents’ personal or religious beliefs. Parents can no longer demand “personal belief exemptions” from immunization after Jan. 1.
  • SB270—Grocery Store Bags–Under SB270, plastic bags will be phased out at checkout counters at large grocery stores and supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016. The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers. However, it does allow grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.
  •  AB10–Minimum Wage Law– California’s minimum wage went up from $9 to $10-an-hour. State lawmakers passed the minimum wage increase in 2013, raising it to $9 in July 2014 and $10 beginning January 1, 2016.

 

 

Translating prescription drug labels—it’s the law

Among the California pharmacy law changes that took effect January 1 is AB 1073, which requires pharmacists to translate prescription drug labels upon request into five languages.

PharmacyLogoThe Board of Pharmacy-backed bill, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will assist limited-English proficient (LEP) patients who are at risk for misinterpreting prescription medication label directions. 

AB 1073 requires that all California pharmacists provide either their own translations or use the state Board of Pharmacy’s 15 standardized directions such as “take one pill at bedtime” or “take one pill in the morning,”
which are available in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Previously, pharmacists have only been required to provide oral translation services over the phone.

As Statewide healthcare becomes more accessible through Covered California, it’s increasingly critical that LEP prescription drug users are able to accurately follow label directions to take their medications safely.

More on AB 1073 and other pharmacy laws that took effect January 1 is available on the California Board of Pharmacy website, www.pharmacy.ca.gov.

 

Should you really have a yearly furnace tune-up?

In a word, yes.

Proper maintenance of your heating system performed by a qualified heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) contractor is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent future problems, according to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency. Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating and cooling system inefficiency and failure.

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A cleaned, lubricated, and properly adjusted furnace runs more efficiently and uses less energy, and regular maintenance and inspections can help prevent more costly repairs later on. Furnace manufacturers typically include language in their product warranties requiring proper maintenance to ensure coverage. Most importantly, an improperly working system could be a safety hazard. Energy Star recommends having a qualified HVAC technician come in and do at least the following:

  • Check all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion, and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.
  • Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components. Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increase the amount of electricity you use.
  • Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to assure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Check thermostat settings to ensure the system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.

Maintenance you can do yourself includes inspecting, cleaning, or changing air filters once a month in your furnace and/or heat pump. Your HVAC contractor can show you how to do this. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.

Ask neighbors, friends, and family for HVAC contractor recommendations. Check the contractor’s license before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov. HVAC contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it’s best to check the heating system in the fall, but it’s never too late.

What is a Professional Fiduciary?

New brochure provides the answers

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The Department of Consumer Affairs’ Professional Fiduciaries Bureau has created a new brochure which explains what a professional fiduciary is and describes the important services provided by these individuals.

According to Julia Ansel, bureau chief of the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau, many people don’t understand the duties and responsibilities of professional fiduciaries.

“The Bureau’s role is to license and regulate fiduciaries. Most consumers are unaware of what a professional fiduciary is, much less the important services they are able to provide their clients.  Given our aging population, it is vital that California consumers are aware of this profession,” Ansel said.

The Professional Fiduciaries Bureau protects consumers through licensing, education, and enforcement by ensuring the competency and ethical standards of professional fiduciaries.

A professional fiduciary is someone who takes care of the property or estate of another person or has power of attorney for them. Often, these duties are done by family members, but in California anyone who does this for a person they are not related to must be licensed with the state by the bureau.

Professional fiduciaries are neutral, objective parties who serve vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those who can no longer care for themselves. If a person becomes incapacitated or dies, the fiduciary can manage their estate. Sometimes professional fiduciaries serve independent, productive people who need assistance in making sound financial, health care and day-to-day decisions.

Services provided by professional fiduciaries include banking, paying bills, cash flow management, daily care, housing, estate management and administration, tax preparation and payment, and household maintenance and upkeep.

They can also manage services such as medical care, insurance needs, investments, real estate, personal property, public benefits and assets and distribution.

The bureau licenses different types of fiduciaries including trustee, guardian, conservator and agent under durable power of attorney.

Before hiring a professional fiduciary, it is important to verify that the person is licensed.

To verify a license, click here  or go to www.fiduciary.ca.gov and under Quick Hits, click on License Verification.

To learn more, check out the new professional fiduciary brochure here.

Warriors ‘Splash Brothers’ Show Support for State’s Save Our Water Program

splash brothersMaking it rain on the court is one thing, but making it rain enough in California is another, says NBA MVP Stephen Curry and All-Star guard Klay Thompson of the NBA champion Warriors in a recent Save Our Water public service announcement (PSA). The “Splash Brothers” urge Californians to conserve water, despite recent rain, during our historic five-year drought.

“If we’re going to take on the drought we need some defense,” Curry continues. “We know California is in a serious drought and our hope with this PSA is to help raise awareness to encourage more Californians to conserve water,” adds Thompson. “As a community we all need to do our part to help the cause.”

Curry and Thompson earned their Splash Brothers nickname from their reputation as one of the best shooting backcourt duos in the NBA.

Comcast Sports News Bay Area partnered with the Warriors and the State’s water conservation program Save Our Water to produce the PSA. Save Our Water’s website, which is available in English and Spanish, has tips, tools, and news to inform about new and creative ways to conserve.

Home Safety Tips for Fireplaces and Chimneys

In all the flurry of the holiday season, you may not be thinking about your chimney, but it’s important not to neglect this area of your home. Here’s why:

The latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report on residential structure fires shows that more than 21,000 unwanted blazes were attributed to fireplaces, chimneys, or chimney systems in 2012. The report, issued in 2015, also said that fires involving fireplaces, chimneys, or chimney connections resulted in 20 deaths in 2012, 60 injuries, and an estimated $93.6 million in residential property loss. Confined fires—those fireplace_44148973confined to chimneys, flues or fuel burners—accounted for 84 percent of home heating fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, an entity of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, which recommends having your chimney or fireplace professionally inspected—and cleaned if necessary—every year to prevent these catastrophes.

Major causes of chimney fires include overloading the fire, damage to the fireplace such as missing bricks, obstructed flues, ignition of nearby combustibles, and flying sparks.

Prevention of chimney fires is only one—although critical—reason to keep up fireplace maintenance. You also want to ensure that it continues to vent properly to the outside and blockages (including bird nests) are removed that could cause carbon monoxide to enter your home rather than going up and out through the flue. Almost all heating appliances, whether they burn gas, oil, wood or coal, rely on the chimney to safely carry toxic gases produced by the heating system out of the house.

Prolonged water exposure can also be an issue, resulting in cracks or gaps in chimneys where creosote can collect and increase the risk of fire or where noxious gases can escape into your home.

When hiring a professional chimney sweep to maintain your chimney, ask neighbors, friends, and family for referrals and check the company’s status with the Better Business Bureau. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends using a certified chimney sweep, because these professionals have passed an intensive examination based on fire codes, clearances and standards for the construction and maintenance of chimneys and venting systems. CSIA maintains a database—searchable by zip code—to help you find local qualified chimney sweeps (www.csia.org/search). CSIA is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to chimney and venting system safety and certifies industry professionals.

Remember that a chimney sweep who performs only cleaning and inspection does not need to be licensed by the Contractors State License Board. However, if an inspection reveals that your chimney needs bricks replaced or any other repair, the person who does the repair work does need to be licensed. Check the contractor’s license before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov.

Time To Prepare Your Home For Winter

homeguttersleavesBy now we’ve all heard the warnings from weather forecasters that this winter could be the wettest and harshest yet for California due to the “El Niño” phenomenon.

But just what is “El Niño” and how will it impact Californians?

According to Mark Finan, Chief Meteorologist at KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento, there are a few misconceptions people have about “El Niño.”

For starters, “El Niño” isn’t a storm,” said Finan. “There’s no such thing as an “El Niño” storm.  “El Niño” is really a climate pattern. When water is warmer or colder than average, it alters the jet stream and can increase the chances of a wet winter.”

Finan added that while drought-stricken California needs a “wet winter,” there’s just no way of knowing exactly how much precipitation the Golden State will get.

“Southern California has a better than average chance–nearly 90 percent–of having a wetter winter this year”, said Finan. “It’s an area that is also prone to major mudslides. The Sacramento area and Central Valley is much different.  We have to contend with flooding.”

Whatever the course, Finan maintains consumers shouldn’t underestimate the threat of “El Niño.”

In other words, be prepared.

“Take the same precautions to protect your home and property like you’d normally do each winter,” said Finan. “That means clean out the gutters, downspouts, insulate exposed pipes, seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors, trim overgrown trees and inspect your roof for loose or missing shingles.”

And by all means, don’t wait until the last minute. The time to act is now, especially since several roofing companies and gutter repair businesses say they are swamped with service calls from anxious consumers.

However, don’t panic and rush into hiring just anyone to do work around your home.  Be aware of unlicensed, fly-by-night, handyman services. They may be looking to take advantage of homeowners who need to have repairs done quickly and they may do shoddy work or no work at all.  Remember, by law, repairs that cost more than $500 must be performed by a licensed contractor. Don’t be left out in the cold. To protect yourself and your property, always hire a reputable, licensed contractor.

The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) is a great resource that allows consumers to check the status of a contractor’s license by either calling the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-CSLB (2752) or logging online to www.cslb.ca.gov.

Here are some additional tips to help prepare your home for winter.

  • POWER UP: Invest in a back-up generator, particularly if you live in an area that’s susceptible to power outages.
  • KEEP AN EMERGENCY KIT HANDY: It should contain flashlights, blankets, bottled water, insurance documents (stored on a thumb drive) and other family contact information.
  • CONSIDER PURCHASING FLOOD INSURANCE: Even if you don’t live in a “Flood Risk” zone, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

 

2015 Legislative Update for Real Estate Licensees

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The California Bureau of Real Estate has released its 2015 Legislative Update.  The legislative summaries provided are of recently signed bills that affect real estate licensees and subdividers.  Read it here.

The Bureau’s 2016 Real Estate Law book will be available online January 1.  The hard copy, along with accompanying CD, is expected to be available for purchase by early February for $25.  To order, download a Publications Request Form from their website at www.bre.ca.gov.

 

 

Real Estate Fraud Could Rob You of Your Home or Property

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Do you own a home or property free and clear or have a large amount of equity in it?

If so, you could become a victim of real estate fraud.

In this scheme, criminals fraudulently record a lien against the property or illegally transfer the deed to the property to themselves or a third party. Depending on what county you live in, the fraud may not even be uncovered until the property goes into foreclosure or a property owner attempts to sell or refinance their property.

Unfortunately, elderly homeowners and non-English speakers are often targeted for this type of fraud. With seniors, criminals create a fake Promissory Note showing that the senior owes the crook money and then a fraudulent Deed of Trust is created that secures the Promissory Note. The fraudulent documents may not surface until the senior dies.

Wayne Bell, California Bureau of Real Estate Commissioner, said, “White-collar criminals are using a variety of fraudulent deed schemes to steal properties from their owners in order to re-sell or rent those properties, borrow money against those properties, or obtain lien rights that will be paid off upon the true owners’ death.”

Warning signs of deed fraud

If you receive a mailed notice or become aware of:

  • A recorded document on your property where you never signed the document and your signature was forged;
  • A recorded document on your property where ownership or a portion of ownership in your property was transferred or sold to another party without your knowledge;
  • A recorded document on your property where the signer of the document was deceased at the time of execution of the document;
  • A loan was taken out on your property without your knowledge; and
  • Changes or alterations were made to a recorded document after you signed it.

Or if you:

  • Stop receiving your property tax bill or notices;
  • Receive a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee’s Sale when you own your home free and clear of a mortgage loan, or when you have a mortgage and you are not late on your loan payments;
  • Receive loan documents in the mail for a loan that was obtained without your knowledge; and/or
  • Receive real estate documents in the mail for a transaction on your property that you didn’t know about.

What to do if you become a victim

You must act immediately.

  • Gather and collect all of the information, documents and other evidence you have.
  • Contact the police, sheriff’s department or law enforcement agency where the property is located.
  • Contact the City and District Attorney’s Office where your home/property is located.
  • Contact the office of the recorder in the county where your property is located.
  • Contact your local city or county department of consumer affairs.
  • Contact your title insurance company. A title insurance policy may have been purchased on your property when you first bought your property and you may have insurance against forged deeds. A title policy with forgery protection may be able to help you get the fraudulent deed removed from the record via civil litigation and/or to cover certain costs up to the policy’s coverage limits.
  • Contact the California Secretary of State, Notary Public Section at (916) 653-3595 or sos.ca.gov/business/notary/.
  • Contact the California Bureau of Real Estate at bre.ca.gov if a real estate broker or salesperson, or unlicensed person purporting to be a real estate licensee, is involved in the forging of any deed or fraudulent recording of a false, fictitious, or forged deed. The Bureau has a Consumer Recovery Fund that may be able to compensate you (up to statutory limits) if you meet certain requirements.

How do you fix it?

Because of the “cloud” on your home title created by fraud, an action in court must be started to “quiet” title to the property. That is the legal term which refers to cleaning, cleansing or clearing the title to the property’s official records by invalidating the forged, fraudulent and improperly recorded deeds and documents.

Sometimes a city attorney or district attorney may be able to obtain a court order quieting the title in connection with a criminal prosecution of the criminals or fraudsters for forgery, grand theft and other criminal counts.

If that is not a possibility, you should contact, meet with and hire a knowledgeable California attorney to bring a quiet title action. If you cannot afford a civil litigation attorney, you should call the State Bar of California or a local county bar association and ask for a referral to a public interest law firm.

The important thing is for you to act immediately to protect your ownership rights.

Deed fraud can scam you out of your home or property, so stay informed about the status of your property title and records. Property owners should periodically check title to their property, the same way they check their credit report. Also, if you are purchasing a property, ask the title company about protections and risks covered under their policy.

This post was based on a California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) alert titled “Consumer Alert: What Should You Do If You Learn that a Forged and/or Fraudulent Deed Has Been Recorded Against Your Real Property” written by Commissioner Bell and attorney Summer Bakotich. To view the document, click here.

 

 

Say ‘Ho-Ho-NO’ to Holiday Scammers

Scams_textingWe all want to give this season, but consumer protection organizations want to warn you to be leery of unintended recipients.

Here’s a roundup of common year-end cons designed to steal your money, your identity, or both:

Fake websites: These often promote amazing online deals for popular merchandise, but only exist to collect your payment card or personal information, which scammers use to purchase merchandise elsewhere or commit identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests doing a price-check on conventional online retailers (such as Amazon) before entering payment information on what looks like a too-good-to-be-true item. Look at the “contact us” information: If no phone number is listed or it doesn’t work, that’s not a good sign. Also check the site’s registration details at WHOis.net. It should provide phone numbers for administrative and technical contacts so you can verify the site is real.

Bogus charities: Scammers will prey on your generosity with donation requests via e-mail, phone, social media, and texts. Ask for contact information, and before you give, check the legitimacy of the charity on sites like the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB’s) Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator. Pay by credit card if you can—if the charity turns out to be a scam, you can dispute the charge.

Gift card fraud: Fraudsters copy the codes on gift cards and place them back on the rack for an unsuspecting person to buy. They then periodically check online or by phone to find out if the cards have been purchased and loaded with funds. When they get a hit, the scammers will use the codes to drain funds from the cards. The FTC says avoid buying cards with signs of tampering—scratches on the card or exposed PIN numbers. Be careful buying gift cards on online auction sites—they are known to be used by scammers to peddle counterfeit gift cards. Keep receipts for all of the gift cards you purchase. If you find out later that funds have been deducted from the card improperly, having a paper receipt can help you recover lost funds.

Chip card scams: Many credit issuers and banks are issuing credit and debit cards that contain chips designed to reduce fraud. Watch out for scammers posing as the card issuer and asking for personal information via e-mail in order to send you your new chip card—there’s no reason for it, says the FTC. The issuer can just send you a new chip card. If you’re contacted in this way, call the phone numbers listed on your actual credit card to ensure it’s for real.

Social media gift exchange: Buy one gift and send it off to a stranger and get back many more. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? But the BBB warns it’s just a variation of a pyramid scheme and it’s illegal.

Home delivery scams: These operate in a couple different ways. In one method recently reported by the FTC, scammers send you a “delivery failure notification” via e-mail. It says you missed delivery of a package but if you download an attached form or click on a given link, you can provide the information or fill out the form, and you’ll be able to retrieve your package … except there isn’t one. And by clicking these links or downloading attachments, you’ll likely infect your computer with a virus or install malware on it. Other signs it’s a scam include requests to take immediate action or to provide personal or financial information. In another version, you get a call saying a delivery is on its way. The doorbell rings, and the courier claims to not know who the sender is, demands a “verification fee” to leave the package, and pulls out a handheld credit card scanner to enable the fraudster to steal your information. Don’t provide your card or pay anything. If someone you know were trying to surprise you with a gift, that person would use an established delivery service.

For more holiday scam warnings, visit the BBB’s list of common holiday scams. Also check out its newly launched Scam Tracker, which provides consumers across North America with a place to report scams and fraud, and to warn others of malicious or suspicious activities. Users can search using different filters to see what scams are happening in their area, track a particular type, and report scams that they hear about.

Also check out the DCA website, where you can learn more about protecting yourself from fraud through resources like our Senior Scam Stopper Seminars and our award-winning Consumer Connection magazine.