CELEBRATE EARTH DAY – APRIL 22, 2017

Earth Day 2017

April 22, 2017 will mark the 48th year of Earth Day.  The first Earth Day was observed on April 22, 1970, and what began as a grassroots effort has today blossomed into a global event celebrated every year on April 22 by millions of people worldwide.

To honor the planet and to raise public awareness about the environment, events are planned throughout the months of April and May in communities throughout the state. If you’re interested in participating and celebrating this great planet of ours, the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery has compiled a list of planned statewide Earth Day festivities.  Events range from family-friendly activities to community service projects.  For more information on these events and to learn more about reducing our carbon footprint, visit their website at www.calrecycle.ca.gov.

To do our part, the California Department of Consumer Affairs will host its fourth annual Earth, Safety and Wellness Day event on May 11, 2017.  This year’s event will focus on how to protect and preserve the environment, the property re-use program, as well as provide information on safety and wellness.  Non-profit organizations and certified small business vendors will also be on site.  

This event is open to anyone who wishes to attend. Come join us in learning how to protect and preserve our environment for generations to come!

 

 

Keeping Track of Your Pets With Microchips and GPS Smart Collars

When dogs or cats go missing–whether they run away or are stolen–it can be devastating for both pet and owner.

According to the National Humane Society, more than 10 million pets are lost each year. Only 26 percent of dogs and less than 5 percent of cats who come into shelters as strays are reunited with their owners.  An even more alarming fact is that 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats in these shelters end up being euthanized.

As a pet owner, even if you haven’t experienced such a loss, there is always the possibility you could.  However, there are also some preventative measures you can take to help keep your pet safe.

While embedding microchips in pets has become an increasingly common procedure for veterinarians and is a good tool for reuniting lost pets with their owners, they’re not foolproof. In order for a microchip to be effective, pet owners must register the chip with the manufacturer. If they don’t, when a pet is brought into an animal shelter or veterinarian’s office and the chip is scanned, no contact information will be associated with the pet and microchip, making it much more difficult to unite the animal with its owner.

GET SMART— The Smart pet collar is the latest innovative technology designed to give pet owners peace of mind. It’s a GPS tracker collar for your pet that works almost like an iPhone. It allows you, via an app on your phone, to not only communicate and send messages to your furry friend, but also monitor and alert you to its whereabouts.

So if Fido or Fluffy wanders too far away from the backyard, a notification is immediately sent to your phone. If the animal does manage to run away, the collar will automatically flash the message “I’m lost” along with your phone number to alert anyone who may come in contact with the animal.

Remember, regardless of how careful you are with your pets, they can still get lost. Providing your pet with a GPS collar as well as a microchip can go a long way to ensure a happy and healthy reunion if ever your pet strays from home.

If you’re planning to microchip your pets, be sure to take them to a licensed veterinarian.  To verify the license of a veterinarian, contact the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Veterinary Medical Board at (916) 515-5220, or visit their website at vmb@dca.ca.gov.

 

Dealing With the High Cost of Dying

103407746-gettyimages-471349769-1910x1000Let’s face it. No one enjoys discussing death or dying, much less planning a funeral for a loved one or even for themselves.

However uncomfortable the subject may be, if you don’t plan in advance, it could cost you both financially and emotionally.

Shopping around for the most suitable and affordable funeral goods and services is an important step in the right direction.  However, with so many funeral homes and services to choose from, it can be a daunting process.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, which licenses, regulates, and investigates complaints against California funeral establishments and nearly 200 fraternal and private cemeteries in the State, offers a booklet titled, “Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases,” which contains information that will help consumers make informed decisions throughout the process.  It provides extensive information on the legal requirements involving disposition arrangements such as home death care, retail casket sellers, embalming and cremation, as well as coroner fees and a host of other important and useful information.

consumer-guide-coverThe “Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases” is available online in both English and Spanish at the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau’s Web site, www.cfb.ca.gov.

Additional help for consumers may also be on the way. Two groups, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America, recently filed a petition with the FTC seeking requirements for  funeral homes to fully disclose their prices for burial products and services online. Some establishments currently list pricing for services online; others do not.

If the requirements are approved, the change would update a 1984 FTC rule that currently requires price disclosure, but only in person or over the phone. Many consumer advocates maintain the new online guidelines—if implemented—would make planning for funerals much easier and convenient for consumers who could access funeral information with the click of a mouse and in the comfort of their homes.

Remember, once you’ve decided on a funeral home and arrangements have been made,  you’re entitled by law to get an itemized statement with the final cost so there are no surprises and you know exactly what you’re paying for.

Most importantly, the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau recommends consumers make sure that the funeral establishment, funeral director, crematory, crematory manager, or cemetery they choose are licensed by the State and in good standing.  You can verify the license online on the Bureau’s website at http://www.cfb.ca.gov/consumer/lookup.shtml

(NOTE: The State does not license cemeteries operated by religious organizations; cities, counties, or cemetery districts; the military; Native American tribal organizations; or other groups. If you don’t know who regulates the cemetery you’re interested in, ask the cemetery manager.)

If you need help with a cemetery or funeral issue, visit the Bureau’s Web site at www.cfb.ca.gov or call the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Information Center at (800) 952-5210 or the Bureau directly at (916) 574-7870.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Men Discovering Pedicures Are “Man-Tastic”

male pediIn case you haven’t noticed, pedicures aren’t just for women anymore. A growing number of men—both young and old and who aren’t even Hollywood celebrities—are taking the pampered plunge. They’re discovering what women have known all along: Getting a spa foot treatment can be a luxurious experience that not only makes you look great, but feel great, too.

Kristy Underwood, Executive Officer for the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, discussed this growing trend and how some traditional women’s salons are stepping up to cater to their male clientele, particularly since barbershops don’t offer these services—not yet, anyway. Underwood also talked about what men should look for when choosing a salon, as well as some of the changes on the horizon for the nail/spa industry.

Q. Kristy, can you talk about the trend of men getting spa pedicures? What do you attribute it to?

A. Yes; this service is growing in popularity for men. Many salons even have side areas with foot spa chairs for men to get the service in a little more privacy. I have heard from men who say they find it relaxing, but also that it’s just good upkeep on their nails.

Q.  As men gravitate toward women’s salons, is it likely we will see barbershops start offering spa pedicures as part of their services?

A. I don’t think so. The barbershop has an image, and I think it’s a long way off from offering nail services. We’re actually seeing barbershops going back to more traditional settings. For example, the traditional shave and a haircut is being marketed to men and is becoming more and more common. But you never know, maybe pedicures have a future in the barbershops.

Q. If barbershops ever do make nail care a part of their services, what sort of guidelines and procedures would need to be established to do so, and would they be similar or the same as those regulations at women’s salons?

A. They would simply have to hire manicurists. Barbers are not licensed to do nails whereas cosmetologists are.

Q. What should men who want to try the whole foot spa experience look for when choosing a salon?

A.  First and foremost, valid licenses and a clean establishment. And they should make sure the establishment doesn’t use illegal tools. For example, some consumers think a razor is needed to remove calluses, but it’s illegal to use in a shop and removing calluses can be done perfectly safely with a proper smoother.

Q. What about people with diabetes who may have feet issues—should they get spa pedicures?

A. We get this question a lot. Licensees should ask their clients if there are any health concerns they need to be aware of. Lots of elderly consumers receive pedicures and are fine, but if they have a compromised immune system, we highly recommend they talk to their doctor before getting a service. I would also suggest that the pedicure be received in a transportable foot tub as opposed to a foot spa chair. And again, they should never allow someone to use a razor on their feet.

Q. There also seems to be a trend, perhaps more in the south and on the East Coast, for nail salons to use plastic liners in the foot spa. Are these used for sanitary/health reasons and is the usage becoming more prevalent in California salons as well?

A. In July of last year, we set regulations that allow for the use of liners. It really cuts down on the amount of chemicals used to clean [the whirlpool spas] and often makes the client feel safer. We will likely see more salons in California using liners as well.

Q. What are some changes and trends you see coming to the manicure/pedicure profession?

A. Green products. There is a lot of talk about trying to make nail services safer not only for the client, but for the licensees as well. I think more manufacturers will be putting out safer products. We also expect to see an increase in the use of liners in the foot spa.

For more information on the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, visit www.barbercosmo.ca.gov.

 

 

Tax Scams Are On The Rise

tax pic

For many consumers, the tax filing season is “taxing” enough without having to worry about whether they’re being scammed during the process.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), they are seeing a surge of scam artists impersonating tax agents, contacting taxpayers by phone and demanding money from them.

“There are a couple of things that should set off red flags for taxpayers,” said Franchise Tax Board (FTB) spokesperson Jacob Roper. “The first is beware of anyone calling and asking you to pay your due balance via pre-loaded debit cards. The second is threatening to send the local police to your home to arrest you if you don’t comply.”

Roper adds that scammers also prey on the elderly knowing that their “strong sense of civic duty” will often scare them into paying.

“When consumers receive a call from an FTB employee, generally it will be only after they have received one or more notices,” adds Roper. “The best way for consumers to avoid these scams is to know the scammers schemes and keep your guard up.”

Unfortunately, being vigilant against these scammers isn’t always easy. The callers are aggressive and threatening. Remember, neither the IRS nor FTB will ever:

  • Call and demand immediate payment and threaten arrest.
  • Call without giving consumers an opportunity to discuss a potential tax dispute.
  • Call and ask for your credit card numbers.
  • Call and ask for payment via pre-paid debit cards.

Additionally, before the FTB calls a taxpayer, Roper says the agency mails notices to those with tax issues. These notices not only provide consumers the opportunity to voluntarily resolve outstanding tax liability, they also inform them of their legal rights and responsibilities.

Consumers, who believe a call is a scam, should hang up the phone immediately and report the scam to the IRS. You can also call 800.852.5711 to inquire about the status of your account or to verify if the caller is indeed an FTB employee.

The IRS website at www.irs.gov has additional information to help consumers recognize scams as well as tips on avoiding becoming a tax scam victim.

The Department of Consumer Affairs’ California Board of Accountancy is also a good tax resource for consumers. Did you know that California is one of the few states that has mandatory requirements for professional tax preparers?

State law requires anyone who prepares tax returns for a fee to be either an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), a California Tax Education Council (CTEC) registered tax preparer (CRTP) or an enrolled agent (EA).

Choosing a tax preparer who is not one of those four professionals may prevent you from legal recourse against any type of tax fraud. It may also increase your chances for additional taxes, interest and fines. Always verify the legal status of a tax preparer before handing over your private tax information.

For more information about the California Board of Accountancy, visit their website at www.dca.ca.gov/cba.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Avoid Gift Card Scams This Holiday Season

 Gift Cards

 By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs

Gift cards are convenient to give at any time of the year, but they are especially popular during the holidays and top many consumers’ Christmas wish lists.

According to Cashcard.com, in 2014, gift cards accounted for more than 25 percent of holiday purchases. That number is expected to increase considerably in the coming years.

In addition to their convenience, another reason why people like giving and receiving gift cards is because most gift certificates and gift cards sold by retail stores don’t have expiration dates or a service fee, including a fee for dormancy.

However, thieves like gift cards too. In fact, they have become pretty savvy at finding ways to rip you off before your gift card is even activated.

One of the most common fraudulent practices among criminals is stealing gift cards from an open store rack display, recording the numbers on them and then placing the cards back among the others. Once a consumer buys one of the tampered gift cards, the scammer takes that recorded number to access the dollar amount and can call the number on it or the retailer to see if it’s been activated and then use it to purchase goods for themselves.

So, how can you avoid getting scammed when purchasing gift cards this holiday season?  Here are a few precautions to consider.

  • AVOID BUYING GIFT CARDS OPENLY DISPLAYED IN STORES– These can be easily tampered with. Ask the store manager to sell you gift cards from behind the customer service counter and ones that are pre-packaged.
  •   THOROUGHLY EXAMINE GIFT CARDS FOR SIGNS OF TAMPERING– If the PIN number is faded/scratched or part of the activation sticker is missing or not firmly affixed, don’t buy the card and immediately bring it to the attention of the store manager.
  • BUY DIRECT FROM THE SOURCE—As tempting as it might be to save a few dollars somewhere else, always purchase your gift card directly from the issuing store. This way you can have the cards scanned and activated at checkout and have the salesperson verify your balance prior to leaving the store.
  • TREAT THE GIFT CARD LIKE FAST CASH—Try to spend your card as soon as possible. Although gift cards don’t have expiration dates, it’s best not to leave them sitting around for months and risk losing them and have them get in the hands of someone they weren’t intended for.
  • HOLD ON TO RECEIPTS—Most retailers can track where cards are purchased, activated and used.

 

BEWARE OF UNLICENSED CONTRACTORS

If you’re considering doing renovations on your home, it pays to do some research on the company you plan to hire. We’ve all heard the horror stories about people who have had bad contractor experiences, whether it’s sloppy workmanship, cost overruns or even worse, a contractor who takes your money upfront and doesn’t return to do any work whatsoever.

contractor blog photo

What can you do to protect yourself from phony contractors and not get ripped off?

The first and most important thing, says Steve Breen, a spokesperson for the Contractors State License Board, is to hire a licensed contractor. “You’re at a greater risk of being exposed to shoddy or even dangerous work by hiring an unlicensed contractor,” Breen says. “So we really warn consumers—especially seniors who are often targeted–to not just take a contractor’s word that they are licensed, but to also check their credentials thoroughly.”

Breen says contracting without a license can carry a penalty of up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail for first-time offenders. Contractors who also fail to mention in advertisements that they are licensed can be fined up to $1,000.

The Contractors State License Board’s website, cslb.ca.gov, provides consumers quick and easy access to check a contractor’s credentials and license history .

Here are a few additional tips to consider when hiring a contractor.

    • NO PRESSURE—Watch for contractors who use pressure tactics such as “limited time offers” that require you to make hasty decisions and hire them on the spot.
    • SAY WHAT? –Never enter into a verbal agreement with a contractor. Get all the work you’re requesting in writing just in case disputes arise. You should never pay a contractor the total amount for services up front. In California, contractors are only entitled to deposits of 10 percent of the total cost of the job or $1,000—whichever is less—unless the contractor has a special bond.
    • KEEP YOUR CASH–If a contractor insists you pay with cash, beware. Always pay for your services with a check or credit card. This protects you in case the contractor botches the job and or fails to complete the work. In addition, you can call your bank and put a stop payment on a check and depending on your bank/credit card provider, cancel the payment and have it refunded back to you.
    • CLICK OR CALL CSLB–For more information about hiring licensed contractors, check out the CSLB website or call 1- 800-321-CSLB (2752). You also can sign up for CSLB email alerts.