DCA Sounds the Alarm on Fraudulent Alarm System Company Practices

They are out there, and they may be knocking on your door soon. During this time of year there is usually an upswing in alarm companies sending out their employees to canvass neighborhoods, trying to sell alarm systems. While selling alarm systems door-to-door is legal if required permits and licenses are in place, there are some unscrupulous companies that have their agents use tactics that violate the law, which can result in consumers paying excessive costs for alarm services or entering into a new alarm contract for what they believe involved an upgrade to the alarm system on their current alarm contract.
Here are some tips DCA’s Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) wants you to know:

Sales agents must be licensed
BSIS licenses and regulates alarm companies and their employees, alarm agents. Alarm agents sell, install, and service alarm systems at homes and businesses. They must carry proof of licensure and present it when asked.

Verify the license and check the company
Before doing business with any door-to-door alarm company salesperson, ask to see their BSIS Alarm Agent Permit to confirm that individual is currently licensed.

If the salesperson claims to be there to update your current alarm system, also ask for proof of the name of the company he or she works for and the company’s BSIS alarm company license number. You should verify the sales agent’s license and, if applicable, the alarm company’s license using the “License Search” button at www.bsis.ca.gov.

Read the contract before you sign  
Before the work to install any alarm system begins, a copy of the full contract signed by an agent of the alarm company must be provided to the consumer. Alarm company contracts must be in writing and must include the following information:

  • The alarm company’s name, business address, telephone number, and BSIS alarm company license number.
  • The alarm agent’s BSIS registration number if an agent solicited or negotiated the contract.
  • The approximate dates your scheduled work will begin and be substantially completed.
  • A description of the alarm system to be installed, including what work is necessary to install the system, the materials that will be used for installation, and the cost of the system and services.
  • A description of other services (e.g., alarm system response or monitoring services) to be provided by the alarm company after installation of the alarm.
  • A clause stating the alarm company will teach the buyer how to properly use the system after it is installed.

If the total value of the contract exceeds $250, it must also include a schedule of payments and information about the permit fees charged by local governments. (NOTE: A down payment may not exceed $1,000 or 10 percent of the contract price, excluding finance charges—whichever is less.) The contract must also disclose if monitoring services are being provided. Also, never sign a blank contract.

The Federal Trade Commission’s “Cooling-Off Rule” gives you three business days to cancel the deal if you sign the contract in your home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. You don’t have to give a reason.

Beware the automatic renewal
Alarm system monitoring contracts may contain an automatic renewal clause that binds a consumer to the contract for an extended period after the expiration of the initial contract term unless the consumer cancels the contract as specifically outlined in the contract. Effective January 1, 2017, consumers must be provided a written notice if the alarm contract presented to them includes an automatic renewal provision that renews the contract for a period of more than one month. Prior to signing the contract, the consumer is to acknowledge receipt of the disclosure by signing or initialing it. If written acknowledgement is not obtained from the consumer, the automatic renewal provision in the contract is invalid.

Don’t be pressured
If you’re not interested, say so. If the salesperson won’t leave, call the police.

If you are interested in an alarm system, ask for referrals from friends and family members who have had successful experiences with an alarm company. Also, get an estimate from more than one BSIS-licensed alarm company.

The BSIS “Consumer Guide to Alarm Companies” details important information about alarm companies and their employees, purchasing an alarm system and/or alarm system monitoring services, and how to file a complaint against an alarm company or one of its employees.

To file a complaint against an alarm company or an alarm agent with BSIS, visit www.bsis.ca.gov or call (800) 952-5210.

Celebrating Diversity and Showing the Path to Licensure in Two New Videos From DCA

Did you know that the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (BBC) offers assistance and materials to consumers and licensees in Korean, English, Spanish, and Vietnamese?

Did you know there are four easy steps on the path to obtaining professional licensure with the Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists (BPELSG)?

You can learn about one—or both—of these subjects by watching two new videos available on the Department of Consumer Affairs’ YouTube channel.

BBC Celebrates Diversity” highlights the board’s recognition of California’s diverse population and its continuing efforts to provide meaningful access to its services, programs, and activities to all of its consumers and licensees. Its expanded language accessibility includes interpreter services via a toll-free language phone service as well as specialized training for board staff.

Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists—Apply for EIT or LSIT” provides a step-by-step roadmap for students on the four components necessary for obtaining a certificate as an engineer-in-training or land surveyor-in-training—both essential in the path to licensure.

Visit the Department of Consumer Affairs’ YouTube channel for a variety of instructional videos, public service announcements, webcasts, and much more, then subscribe to be notified when new videos are available.

Mark Your Calendar: Medical Cannabis Public Hearings Are Just Days Away!

Public comment period open

DCA’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR) recently announced the release of proposed medical cannabis regulations which include general provisions applicable to all bureau licenses, distributors, transporters, dispensaries, and testing laboratories. Part of BMCR’s regulations announcement includes the news of  public hearings to collect public comment on the proposed regulations.

The bureau encourages all interested stakeholders to review the proposed regulations and attend a hearing near you to provide feedback. Hearing dates and locations are as follows:

June 1, 2017
10 a.m. – 1 p.m. (dispensaries, transportation and distribution regulations)
1 p.m. – 3 p.m. (testing lab regulations)
Adorni Center
1011 Waterfront Drive, Eureka, CA 95501

June 8, 2017
10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (dispensaries, transportation and distribution regulations)
1 p.m. – 3 p.m. (testing lab regulations)
Junipero Serra Building
320 W. Fourth Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013

June 9, 2017
10 a.m. – 1 p.m. (dispensaries, transportation and distribution regulations only)
Department of Consumer Affairs, Hearing Room, S-102
1625 North Market Boulevard, Sacramento, CA 95834

June 13, 2017
1 p.m. – 4 p.m. (dispensaries, transportation and distribution regulations)
4 p.m. – 6 p.m. (testing lab regulations)
King Library, Second Floor
150 E. San Fernando Street, San Jose, CA 95112

June 20, 2017
10 a.m. – 12 p.m. (testing lab regulations only)
Department of Consumer Affairs, Hearing Room, S-102
1625 North Market Boulevard, Sacramento, CA 95834

To review the medical regulations for licensing dispensaries, distributors and transporters, visit the BMCR website at http://bmcr.ca.gov/laws_regs/mcrsa_ptor.pdf; Proposed testing laboratory regulations can be found at http://bmcr.ca.gov/laws_regs/mcrsa_lab_ptor.pdf. Links to all key bureau regulations information can be accessed on BMCR’s website home page, including the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and the Initial Statement of Reasons. You can also find these documents and more valuable information by visiting the new Cannabis Web Portal, www.cannabis.ca.gov.

Get involved!

Can’t make a meeting but still want to give feedback? Get involved in the regulatory process by following the steps listed on BMCR’s website at www.bmcr.ca.gov/about_us/documents/17-065_public_comment.pdf. This includes what to include in your public comments as well as how and when to submit them.

For additional information about BMCR, or to subscribe to email alerts to hear about updates as they become available, please visit http://www.bmcr.ca.gov/.

Beat the Summer Heat by Keeping Your Cool

Many people don’t realize this, but maintaining your air conditioning system is important to help avoid costly repairs or breakdowns at times when it matters the most, like when the temperature is in triple digits outside. Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating and cooling system inefficiency and failure. That’s according to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and improve energy efficiency. To ensure efficient system operation, it’s important to perform routine maintenance beyond simply changing the filter every month.

You can do this by calling in a licensed contractor to do annual pre-season check-ups. Ask neighbors, friends, and family for HVAC contractor recommendations. Check the status of the contractor’s license with the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov. Contractors get busy once summer comes, so it’s best to check the cooling system in the spring. Energy Star recommends the following typical maintenance efforts:

  • Check thermostat settings to ensure the cooling system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
  • 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 and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels. If plugged, the drain can cause water damage in the house, affect indoor humidity levels, and breed bacteria and mold.
  • Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to ensure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Clean evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils. Dirty coils reduce the system’s ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
  • Check your central air conditioner’s refrigerant level and adjust if necessary. Too much or too little refrigerant will make your system less efficient, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
  • Clean and adjust blower components to provide proper system airflow for greater comfort levels. Airflow problems can reduce your system’s efficiency by up to 15 percent.

And remember—don’t be pressured into buying a new system, especially if it’s unnecessary. CSLB has issued warnings about upselling scams. Before replacing your system, read CSLB’s guidelines. For more tips on how to heat and cool efficiently, visit https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_hvac.

Safe Sandal Season Brings Awareness to Potential Dangers of Pedicures

Proper salon cleaning procedures are essential to avoid serious diseases

A pedicure can be a great way to pamper yourself, but did you ever think you could get a life-threatening infection from one? It’s possible if the salon isn’t using proper cleaning and disinfection techniques. Lurking in the depths of a foot spa basin may be bacteria, fungal strains, and other dangerous microorganisms that thrive in warm, moist environments. Any break in the skin—like insect bites, scratches, scabs or razor cuts—are gateways for those microorganisms to cause infections. Whirlpool foot spas must be cleaned and disinfected after each use, at the end of each day, and every week.

California’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology licenses and regulates salons and the people in them that provide the services, and has established cleaning and sanitation procedures that are required by law for infection control.

Watch this quick video before your next salon visit—it shows what has to be done and why it’s critical (some graphic content):

The board also offers these pre-pedi safety tips:

  • Don’t shave or wax your legs 24 hours before a pedicure. If you have broken skin or lesions on your lower legs, don’t get a pedicure until they have healed.
  • Always verify the licenses of anyone working on you. Current licenses are required to be posted on the wall in plain sight. You can verify licenses through the board’s website and check to see if your salon or cosmetologist has been disciplined for rules violations.
  • Ask how the salon cleans and disinfects its pedicure equipment. You also have the right to see the pedicure cleaning and disinfection log. Wiping out the tub between clients isn’t enough. For example, in the case of whirlpool foot spas and air-jet basins, special disinfectant must circulate through the equipment for 10 minutes between patrons.

As for those “fish pedicures,” you won’t be finding Nemo in any California salons—the practice is illegal statewide. Among other reasons, fish can’t be properly disinfected between customers. Learn more here: www.barbercosmo.ca.gov/forms_pubs/publications/fish_peds.pdf.

To learn more about salon safety or to file a complaint, visit the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology’s website.

Was Your Car Repaired After An Accident? Was it Done Right?

For safety’s sake, DCA’s Auto Body Inspection Program will find out

After you’ve had some types of repair work done on your car, it’s pretty hard for the untrained eye to see if it was all done right, isn’t it? Well, if you’re a California consumer, you can get some assistance by getting a free auto body inspection from experts at the DCA’s Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR).

Why have an inspection?

This sport utility vehicle had its door repaired by a California auto body repair shop. Afterward, the owners took it through a car wash and it leaked profusely. BAR inspectors discovered that the seam next to the Post-it note should have been welded together. It leaked where the work had been done and had no structural integrity. The proper weld would have created rigidity necessary to prevent crumpling of the passenger compartment. Another collision could have led to serious injury – or worse – for the occupants.

Because most collision repairs are hidden by the vehicle’s panels, it can be hard to tell if the repairs were performed correctly, or done at all. Undetected deficiencies could reduce the structural integrity of the vehicle and could put the driver and passengers at risk. BAR officials have seen cases where consumers who have had collision repairs done paid for parts they didn’t receive or labor that wasn’t performed. In some cases, the vehicle may be left unsafe. Or, consumers may be set up for further mechanical problems down the road. This quick video shows how one consumer was helped: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCxs4OdA13U

How does the inspection program work?

Call BAR’s toll-free number at (866) 799-3811 to schedule an appointment, and have ready a copy of the auto body repair invoice listing the repairs performed. On the scheduled date, a BAR inspector will come to meet you to inspect your vehicle. The Bureau’s inspectors check your vehicle to determine whether the auto body repairs were performed properly and match the work listed on the invoice. That’s how easy it is, at no cost to you!

If BAR inspectors find no discrepancies, they’ll just document the result. When BAR officials do find problems, they will help get the shop to make corrections. You can also:

  • Have the inspector open a complaint that will be investigated by a BAR field representative.
  • Contact your insurance company for a follow up with BAR.
  • Choose not to pursue the issue.

BAR experts say that most of the time when a problem is found, it’s simply the result of an oversight on the body shop’s part, but the State will take action if it’s believed fraud is involved.


This vehicle is missing a shield in the bumper cover that protects the components behind it—in this case the windshield washer fluid container—from road damage. The shield also directs air back into the engine to assist with cooling. It’s minor, and likely an oversight by the body shop, and the consumer can choose to seek remedy or not.

Although BAR will not inspect mechanical work, the Bureau will still take a complaint about it. Visit www.bar.ca.gov and click on the “Consumer” tab for information on how to file a complaint as well as more details about the Auto Body Inspection Program.

DCA is Here to Help All Year Long

Just because National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) has ended doesn’t mean you aren’t protected. As #NCPW2017 wraps up, DCA wants to remind consumers that our resources and programs are available any time of year. This past week, we’ve shared details on many of them.

An informed consumer is a protected consumer: consider yourself empowered! Learn more at www.dca.ca.gov.

Also, see our complete list of free publications at www.dca.ca.gov/publications/publications_list.shtml, subscribe to our award-winning magazine, Consumer Connection, and follow us on Facebook and on Twitter @DCAnews.

State Cannabis Regulators Announce Application Deadline for Advisory Committee

The California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR) has just announced the deadline of March 17, 2017, for submitting Cannabis Advisory Committee applications.

This committee will advise the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation and the other two licensing authorities—the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing and the California Department of Public Health’s Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety—on the development of cannabis regulations that protect public health and safety, while ensuring a regulated market that helps reduce the illicit market for cannabis.

Committee members will be selected by and will serve at the pleasure of the director of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The committee will consist of representatives from diverse backgrounds, including the cannabis industry, labor, state and local agencies, public health experts, representatives from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control who have expertise in regulating intoxicating substances for adult use, individuals with expertise in the medicinal properties of cannabis, and representatives from communities who have been disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policy, among others.

Those interested in serving on the committee can access the online application here: bmcr.ca.gov/about_us/documents/commitee_application.pdf

For additional information about BMCR or to subscribe to their email alerts, visit the BMCR website: bmcr.ca.gov/

DCA’s Umbrella Has You Covered

National Consumer Protection Week spotlights free resources, programs to help consumers

ncpw-social1

Consumers: Do you feel empowered? You will after this week!

The California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is proud to be a partner during the 19th annual National Consumer Protection Week (#NCPW2017), a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. This year, it runs from March 5 through 11, so stay tuned to this blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for great tips all week!

Here are some of the ways DCA helps:

Licensing for protection

We all know someone who’s had a bad experience with an unlicensed or unscrupulous contractor who does sloppy work, lacks proper insurance or takes money upfront and disappears or leaves the job incomplete. That’s why you’ve heard our mantra “check the license” repeatedly, because this is one way consumers can help protect themselves from frauds, scams and financial harm. Licensing tells you that the person you are dealing with has met certain qualifications and levels of competency and offers a remedy if a service is not delivered or work is not acceptable. Through its boards, bureaus, committees and other entities, DCA regulates many industries and the people licensed to work in them.

Check a license or file a complaint against a licensee by calling our Consumer Information Center at (800) 952-5210, or visit www.dca.ca.gov.

Consumer education, enforcement and special programs

Through award-winning consumer publications, social media, blogs, Senior Scam StopperSM events from the Contractors State License Board and other special programs like the Auto Body Inspection Program from the Bureau of Automotive Repair and the Veterans Come First Program from the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, DCA staff educates consumers by giving them the information they need to avoid unscrupulous or unqualified people who promote deceptive or unsafe services.

DCA also advocates consumer interests before lawmakers and enforces consumer laws. Our enforcement staff works with the California Attorney General’s Office and local district attorneys to fight fraud in the marketplace. In fact, many investigations are initiated by consumer complaints. If DCA determines wrongdoing, it can place licensees on probation, or suspend or revoke licenses.

Dispute resolution

When a dispute arises between a customer and a business in certain industries under DCA’s jurisdiction, alternative methods are available for resolving complaints without going to court in which the involved parties can work out a solution with the help of a mediator.

Who we are what we do

Learn more on our website at www.dca.ca.gov or get our publication titled, Who We Are & What We Do. For a free printed copy, call the DCA Publications Hotline at (866) 320-8652. Find more consumer resources at https://oag.ca.gov/, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/, www.ncpw.gov and #NCPW2017.

Beware of the Imposter IRS

shutterstock_93790930

Inevitably, tax season comes, and with it some new form of scam to watch out for.

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued an alert to taxpayers and tax professionals to be on guard against fake emails purporting to contain an IRS tax bill related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Generally, the scam involves an email that includes a fake CP2000—a notice commonly mailed to taxpayers through the U.S. Postal Service—as an attachment. In reality, this document is never sent as part of an email to taxpayers—the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or through social media. Here are some other ways to spot the scam:

  • The CP2000 notice appears to be issued from an Austin, Texas, address
  • The tax issue is related to the ACA and the notice requests information regarding 2014 coverage
  • The payment voucher lists the letter number as 105C.

The fraudulent CP2000 notice includes a payment request for a check made out to “I.R.S.” be sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a post office box address. This is in addition to a “payment” link within the email itself. Don’t do it!

Frequent fakes:

 The IRS website (www.irs.gov) lists some of the most prevalent IRS impersonation scams, which include:

  • Demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax.”
  • Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed by paying with an iTunes or other type of gift card
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals
  • Attempts to “verify” tax return information over the phone such as Social Security or bank account numbers
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry

Remember, neither the IRS nor the California Franchise Tax Board (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.

If you get a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or personal information, do not give out anything. Hang up immediately. You can always call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040 if you think you owe taxes. FTB urges taxpayers to report any suspicious emails or phone calls received from tax scammers through its website at www.ftb.ca.gov, which also has additional fraud protection tips. FTB will contact a taxpayer by mail—often several times—prior to calling directly. FTB also uses an automated dialer program and a copy of that program’s message can be found on FTB’s website.

If you go with a pro:

California is one of the few states to have set requirements for professional tax preparers, according to the California Tax Education Council (CTEC). State law requires anyone who prepares tax returns for a fee to be either an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), CTEC registered tax preparer (CRTP) or enrolled agent (EA). Choosing a tax preparer who is not one of those four professionals may prevent you from legal recourse against 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. To verify whether a person or firm is currently authorized to practice public accounting in California, check the license on the California Board of Accountancy’s website at www.dca.ca.gov/cba/ and visit its “Tax Resources” and “Consumer Assistance” sections for more information.