How to Avoid the Con Game After a Disaster

California is in the middle of fire season. Already this year, thousands of acres have burned and hundreds of homes and structures have been damaged or destroyed, leaving some facing the huge task of rebuilding and trying to salvage what was lost.

Fortunately, having to rebuild after a disaster is not something that’s done everyday. Unfortunately, scams run as rampant through disaster areas after the fires as the flames did while the fires were burning. Fake contractors and cons are counting on the shock of the emergency and the desire to rebuild as soon as possible to take the money and run.

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Signs posted by CSLB staff at the Erskine fire in Kern County warn consumers and cons alike. The fire damaged approximately 250 structures. —Photo courtesy of CSLB

Little do the cons know they are being watched—by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). CSLB is one of the first state agencies to arrive on the scene after a natural disaster, meeting with consumers and providing them with educational materials and information that will help them spot and avoid a scam. Besides in-person meetings, CSLB posts signs around the disaster area like the ones in the photo above, warning consumers to check the license and telling unlicensed contractors that they are not welcome.

CSLB utilizes many different methods to assist disaster victims, including public service announcements for local television and radio stations, undercover sweeps and sting operations, participating in local assistance centers, and more.

Consumer information and assistance is also available in many different formats on the CSLB’s Disaster Help Center. There, consumers can access audio podcasts, watch the CSLB video Rebuilding After a Natural Disaster, and access several different publications dealing with disasters and scams, and tips on how to choose a contractor. The website also hosts one of the most important tools for consumers—instant license check. Consumers can also check the license and obtain information by calling CSLB’s toll-free number, (800) 321-CSLB (2752).

New Video Released from Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists

The California Department of Consumer Affairs Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists has released a new video titled, “How to File A Complaint.”

The video clarifies the process for those wishing to complain to the Board about unprofessional services received from any of the professionals the Board licenses or an unlicensed person who has performed services without being properly licensed.

The Board protects the public’s safety and property by promoting standards for competence and integrity through licensing and regulating the Board’s professions, which include professional engineers, land surveyors, geologists and geophysicists.

View the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHKfHa3uzvQ and visit the Board’s website for more information at http://www.bpelsg.ca.gov/ .

 

Women Warned Against Using Ovarian Cancer Screening Tests

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The FDA is warning women and their physicians not to use ovarian cancer screening tests because test results are not reliable and may cause delays in treatment.

Currently, there is no safe and effective ovarian cancer screening test because none are sensitive enough to reliably screen for ovarian cancer without a high number of false results.

False-negative test results cause a woman who actually has ovarian cancer to not receive needed treatment. False-positive results cause a healthy woman to undergo more testing or unnecessary surgery with risks for complications for a cancer that doesn’t exist.

Several companies have marketed tests that claim to screen for and detect ovarian cancer. In a recent safety alert warning about these tests, the FDA said “women and their physicians may be misled by such claims and rely on inaccurate results to make treatment decisions.”

There are also fears that women at high risk for the disease may rely on inaccurate testing instead of working on prevention.

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which are reproductive glands found only in women. Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in or near the ovaries grow and form a cancerous tumor.  Symptoms rarely appear until the cancer has spread and early detection is difficult.

In the U.S., ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women. The National Cancer Institute says that in 2016, more than 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Those at highest risk are women who have reached menopause, women who have a family history of ovarian cancer and women with specific genetic mutations.

Women are encouraged to talk to their doctors about ways to reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer, especially if there is a family history of ovarian cancer or they have BRCA genetic mutations.

Physicians are asked not to recommend or use tests that claim to screen for ovarian cancer in the general population of women because testing higher-risk patients for ovarian cancer has no proven benefit and is not a substitute for preventive actions that may reduce their risk.

Physicians are instead asked to consider referring at-risk women, including those with BRCA mutations, to a genetic counselor or gynecologic oncologist or other appropriate health care provider for more specialized care.

The Medical Board of California shared the FDA safety alert with its licensed physicians.

“The Medical Board’s primary mission is consumer protection and this type of information is extremely valuable in achieving that goal,” said Kim Kirchmeyer, Medical Board executive officer.

The California State Board of Pharmacy also helped spread the word to licensed pharmacists.

“We believe women who are considering such tests should review the concerns of the FDA,” said Virginia Herold, Board of Pharmacy executive officer.

To view the FDA safety alert, click here.

 

 

SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL PREPAREDNESS MONTH

The time to prepare for the next natural or man-made disaster is now.

National Preparedness Month is an annual nationwide campaign that encourages Americans, including the young, old, people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, to plan ahead because a disaster can strike at any time without warning.

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Spearheaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, states participate and tailor preparedness messaging to the disastrous challenges distinctive to their region.

In California, the range of disasters can include a mixed bag of events that vary from natural happenings such as earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, mudslides, tornadoes and floods to acts of domestic terrorism.

Be Prepared California is a website sponsored by the California Department of Public Health.  This site includes information on how Californians can protect themselves, their family and community by preparing in advance for when – not if – the next emergency will occur.  Some suggestions are listed below:

This year’s theme “Don’t Wait, Communicate. MakeYour Emergency Plan Today” was carried over from 2015, since it was so successful and clearly communicated the The logo for National Preparedness Month 2016 with space to customize for regions/states logos.primary goal of encouraging citizens to prepare in advance for the inevitable.

Initially launched in 2004 as an effort by the federal government to increase the country’s preparedness capabilities, National Preparedness Month has grown into a pivotal reminder to mobilize Californians and all Americans to become proactive and prepare now and throughout the year, for the types of emergencies that could affect us where we live, work and visit.

For more preparedness information resources, please visit http://www.caloes.ca.gov/.

Considering a Private College? Do Your Homework

higher-educationWhen choosing a postsecondary school, basic factors such as location, areas of study, and cost are all important to consider. However, in light of last week’s nationwide shutdown of ITT Technical Institute schools, as well as the high-profile collapse of Corinthian Colleges in 2014, other crucial factors should be considered before making a commitment.

If you’re considering a private college, know what category it falls under—nonprofit or for-profit. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), nonprofit institutions receive funding primarily from student tuition and endowments and, in general, follow the leadership of a board of trustees. Nonprofits may receive some governmental support but operate mostly on private support. For-profit colleges, however, are run by companies that operate based on the guidance of investors and stockholders, and are run, at least partially, to earn money for their owners. For-profit colleges can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from federal student aid.

Prospective students of private institutions, especially for-profit entities, need to do thorough research before enrolling. The Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) provides tips to consider, such as:

  • Investigate a school by interviewing students already in the program.
  • Thoroughly review the enrollment agreement to understand all binding terms, conditions, costs, and student disclosures.
  • Contact the agency that the school claims to have accreditation from and verify the claims.
  • Check to make sure the school’s program qualifies you for the state licensing exam or degree you’re seeking.
  • Check BPPE’s website for a list of California-approved schools.
  • Request to see the school’s student completion and job placement rates.
  • Carefully review and verify advertising claims.
  • Know the amount and types of financial aid you’ll need.

In addition, NCAC encourages students to ask about the school’s loan default rate and whether credits can be transferred to a public institution. Also, be on high alert if a school recruiter is using high-pressure sales tactics, rushing you to commit and enroll.

Despite recent closure news, don’t be discouraged from achieving your higher education goals—instead, use them as cautionary tales. Not all private colleges are “diploma mills,” but before signing on the dotted line, take the time to know exactly what you’re getting into.

“Achieving your educational goals is an investment of your mind, time, energy, and money,” said BPPE Bureau Chief Joanne Wenzel. “Make it worth your while.”

Resources:

Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education: www.bppe.ca.gov

U.S. Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency Center: https://collegecost.ed.gov

U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard: https://collegescorecard.ed.gov

Respiratory Care Board President Honored with Fellowship

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Respiratory Care Board President Alan Roth has been elected to a Fellowship in the American College of Chest Physicians.

According to its website, the American College of Chest Physicians is the global leader in advancing best patient outcomes through innovative chest medicine education, clinical research and team-based care. The group’s mission is to champion the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of chest diseases through education, communication and research.

President Roth has worked in the field of respiratory care and rehabilitation for more than 30 years. He has directed programs in community hospitals and academic medical facilities. President Roth earned a Master of Science in Management and a Master of Business Administration from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He received his training at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, has multiple credentials and is a Fellow of the American Association for Respiratory Care.

With his doctoral studies complete, President Roth is currently writing his dissertation on Ethics and Decision-Making in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. He has published more than 30 articles in the field of respiratory care and contributed to a book on complex humanitarian emergencies.

Beyond his academic and professional achievements, President Roth is also a philanthropist who represents respiratory care as a member of an international pediatric congenital heart team that sets up training programs to establish heart institutes around the world.

He was a member of a Federal Tier 1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team that was deployed to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. He has also volunteered in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, China, Cambodia, Russia and the Philippines.

Domestically, President Roth has participated in local community programs for asthma education and outreach, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) awareness and community transformational grants for smoking cessation and has served on the Respiratory Care Community College Program advisory board.

Stephanie Nunez, executive officer of the Respiratory Care Board, said President Roth is an inspiration to his fellow board members and board staff.

“By his example, President Roth has demonstrated leadership in raising the education and professionalism of the respiratory care profession. His goal has always been to provide the absolute best care for patients.  He is a true advocate for the health and welfare of consumers,” Ms. Nunez said.

 

The Story Behind Those Pesky Pillow and Mattress Tags

Law tagIf you’re still going to bed at night with that scratchy tag stuck on your pillow, here’s some good news: You can take it off without getting in trouble.

Although consumers don’t break any laws if they remove the tag, manufacturers and retailers do. If they remove the tag, or don’t attach one to their product, they’re breaking the law.

“It is important for manufacturers to comply with labeling requirements,” says Justin Paddock, Chief of the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BEARHFTI). “These labels ensure consumers know if the products they are purchasing are new or used, contain added chemicals, may pose a risk to family members with allergies, and that products meet basic flammability requirements. In short, these labels protect the health and welfare of households.”

The labels are there to tell you about what you can’t see—namely, what’s inside that sofa, chair, pillow, mattress, or other item that has filling that is not visible. The two labels consumers may be most familiar with are law and flammability labels. California law requires manufacturers to attach these labels to every piece of new upholstered furniture they sell. All new bedding products such as pillows, comforters, etc. must also have a law label. All new mattresses must have a white law label, which includes the finished size, weight of the filling materials, and the Federal flammability label. Used mattresses and box springs must be sanitized by Bureau-approved methods before they are resold and bear a yellow sanitization label.

Mattress labeling requirements in California began in 1911, in response to the fires following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. At that time, there were no set standards for letting consumers know what materials were used in the making of mattresses, allowing unscrupulous manufacturers to use unsafe materials. It was discovered that those shoddy mattresses contributed significantly to the fires following the earthquake. In response, the Bureau of Home Furnishings was created to regulate the mattress industry in the state. The Bureau’s jurisdiction was later expanded to include the regulation of home furnishing products.

The law and flammability labels must be white with black print and attached to the items so they are easily visible. Labels must also be printed on material that is not easily torn (that’s why they’re so scratchy).

If you want to see examples of what the labels look like, what they are required to have on them, and explanations regarding the law and it requirements, take a look at BEARHFTI’s latest brochure, California Upholstered Furniture and Bedding Laws, online at http://www.bearhfti.ca.gov/forms_pubs/labeling_brochure_v6.pdf.

What does this all mean? It means you can get a good night’s rest knowing that what you’re sleeping on is safe. Plus, the next time you buy an upholstered or filled item or piece of furniture in California, you can tear off the tags with confidence. Once you buy it, it’s up to you.

 

Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education Orders ITT to Stop Accepting New Students in California

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SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) has issued an Emergency Decision requiring ITT Educational Services, Inc. (ITT) to stop accepting new students at its 15 California locations.

To read the full release, click here.

Don’t Kick That Recall Notice to the Curb

In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recalled 51.3 million automobiles in the United States.  That’s an all-time record and almost three times the number of cars that were sold during the year. These recalls included everything from defective ignition switches and steering wheels, to acceleration issues and worn out suspension parts.

Auto recalls occur when a manufacturer (or the NHTSA) determines that a car model (or several models) has a safety-related defect or does not comply with a federal safety standard.iTunesArtwork@2x1

One of the largest automotive recalls this year (2016) that continues to dominate the news involves more than 29 million defective Takata airbag inflators. According to the NHTSA, these airbags have been prone to explode during collisions, resulting in shrapnel flying throughout the vehicle and wounding—and in some cases killing—the driver and or occupants.

Not all automotive recalls consumers receive may pose an imminent threat or danger. Some may be for issues like an annoying rattle or noise emanating from the vehicle or other non-safety issues such as a faulty radio or air conditioner.

Dan Povey, the Deputy Chief of Field Operations & Enforcement for the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) recommends that consumers who receive automotive recall notices shouldn’t ignore them.

“It’s important for consumers to take the notices seriously and read them very carefully,” says Povey. “Follow the instructions and contact your local dealer as soon as possible.”

Recall notices usually contain the following information:

  • A description of the defect.
  • The potential risks and hazards of the problems including the type of injuries that may arise from the defect.
  •  A list of possible warning signs.
  •  Steps the manufacturer will take to fix the issue(s).
  • The estimated time to complete the repair.

While recall notices don’t have expiration dates, there can be an expiration date for work to be completed at no cost on vehicles more than 10 years old.

In addition, recall repairs should only be done by dealer representatives that have agreements with vehicle manufacturers to perform these repairs, which also have the expertise to repair the make of a vehicle being recalled.

Manufacturers that initiate vehicle recalls have agreements with dealers to perform recall repairs. Consumers may have recall repairs done by any dealer representative, regardless of where the vehicle was originally purchased. For example, a Honda purchased at Mel Rapton Honda may have a recall repair done by Maita Honda, Folsom Honda or Auto Nation Honda.

Most importantly, consumers should make sure that the dealerships that perform their recall and warranty repairs are registered with BAR as an Automotive Repair Dealer (ARD).

If a consumer believes the work on their vehicle hasn’t been done properly or feels they’ve been treated unfairly by an ARD, they should file a complaint with BAR (www.bar.dca.gov) as well as contact the vehicle manufacturer with complaints about dealer representatives.

Consumers can call the NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Complaint Hotline at 800.424.9393 for more information on vehicle recalls/complaints.  To check for active recalls on your vehicle, it’s best to visit the manufacturer’s website or www.nhtsa.gov.

Be an Informed Patient:  Check up on Your Doctor’s License

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The Medical Board of California urges consumers to take a minute or two to check up on their doctor’s license. A license checkup is simple and helps consumers make informed choices when choosing a doctor.

To check a doctor’s license, go to the Medical Board’s website at www.mbc.ca.gov. If you don’t have access to a computer, you can call (800) 633-2322 and someone at the Medical Board will assist you in looking up the doctor.

To use the website to search for a license, click on “License Search” on the homepage. Then, under “Physician and Surgeon” click “Search by Name.”

Enter the doctor’s last name and first initial. If it is a common last name, enter the entire first name. Make sure the names are spelled correctly. Then click “Search.”

When a list of names comes up, click on his or her name. Review the license details and scroll down to determine whether any disciplinary or other public actions are listed at the bottom of the page.

A tutorial here takes consumers through the steps of the license search.

Recently, the Medical Board of California was rated best Medical Board in the nation by Consumer Reports for website access to information about physicians. According to the May 2016 issue, “Consumer Reports and the Informed Patient Institute, a nonprofit patient group, analyzed the websites of boards in all 50 states to see how complete the information was and how easy they were to use, and rated them on a 1-100 scale.”

The Medical Board of California topped the “Best Five” list, with a score of 84. Others in the best five included New York (79), Massachusetts (78), Illinois (76), and North Carolina (76).

“In these days of social media, consumers need to know they can get a significant amount of information about their doctors on the Medical Board’s website,” said Executive Director Kim Kirchmeyer. “The information will assist patients in making an informed decision about their doctor.”

Ms. Kirchmeyer noted that of the 132,370 physicians licensed by the Medical Board to practice in California, only a fraction has disciplinary action by the Medical Board.

“But to a consumer, it is important to know if your doctor is in that group,” she said.

She added that along with the Medical Board’s disciplinary action, the website also has information on certain misdemeanor convictions, malpractice information, hospital disciplinary actions, as well as felony convictions and action taken by another state or federal agency.

If you have any questions regarding your doctor’s profile, please contact the Medical Board at (800) 633-2322 or discuss them with your doctor.