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.

 

Holiday Stress: Tips to Help You Cope

shutterstock_115997017

 

The holidays are here—and so are the squeeze of time constraints, budget-busting shopping, and being over-obligated. Travel can also add to the stress of the season. But, there are steps you can take to turn down the pressure gauges so you can relax and experience a joyful time with family and friends. Here are some suggestions from WebMD:

  • Know your spending limit and stick to it. American consumers plan to spend an average $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year, according to a National Retail Federation survey conducted by Prosper Insights. That’s a LOT. Don’t buy gifts that you’ll spend the rest of the year trying to pay off or saddle yourself with credit card interest charges.
  • Give something personal. You can show love and caring with any gift that is meaningful and personal. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. It could be homemade goodies! Or use words instead of an expensive gift to let people know how important they are to you. Make a phone call or write a note and share your feelings.
  • Get organized. Make lists or use an appointment book to keep track of tasks to do, events to attend and mailing deadlines for cards and packages.
  • Share the tasks. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Share your “to do” list with others. Spend time with friends and family while you share tasks like decorating, wrapping gifts, and preparing the holiday meal.
  • Learn to say “no.” It’s okay to say “no” to events that aren’t important to you. This will give you more time to say “yes” to events that you do want to attend. Consider having flowers or a gift basket sent to those whose invitations you must turn down.
  • Be realistic. Try not to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday for your family. Focus instead on the traditions that make holidays special for you. And remember that family problems don’t go away just because of the time of year. If you have a hard time being around your relatives, it’s OK to set limits on your time at events and visits.

It’s also important to make sure you care for yourself during the holidays the same way you do the rest of the year—eat right, get enough sleep and exercise. If the stress gets to be too much, 12-28-09 ornaments083.jpgemployee assistance programs at your place of work may provide access to confidential, no-cost counseling services and resources (check with your human resources department). If you need professional help, remember to check the provider’s license first with the Board of Psychology and Board of Behavioral Sciences. These two sites also offer links to mental health resources, such as the American Psychological Association’s page on stress. If you’re on the road this season, you may want to access the State Board of Pharmacy’s Traveling Medicine Chest fact sheet to help ensure your good times or travel plans are not affected by minor illnesses.

Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation Chief Lori Ajax Serves on Emerald Cup Government Agencies Panel

The Government Agencies panel fields questions from attendees of the 13th Annual Emeral d Cup

The Government Agencies panel fields questions from audience members at the 13th Annual Emerald Cup

Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation Chief Lori Ajax participated in the Government Agencies panel at the 13th Annual Emerald Cup, held recently at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif.

The Emerald Cup bills itself as California’s premier outdoor organic medicinal cannabis competition for growing and breeding. The two-day event boasts thousands of attendees who hear industry leaders in panel discussions and interact with innovative vendors.

With a booming industry and changing regulation, the panel provided a clearer picture of the current regulatory climate, not only for the end consumer but also the cultivators and workers within the industry.

Chief Ajax was able to share her perspectives having spent most of her career regulating the alcohol industry. She began her tenure with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as an investigator in the field and worked her way up through the ranks to Chief Deputy Director, gaining valuable experience to apply to another heavily regulated product, cannabis.

Other panel members included Assemblyman Jim Wood, who authored the Marijuana Watershed Protection Act which serves as the environmental cornerstone in California’s Medical Marijuana Regulations and Safety Act; Fiona Ma, a certified public tax accountant and Chairwoman of the California Board of Equalization; California Department of Pesticide Regulation Director Brian Leahy, a pioneer in organic and biodiversity farming; and Nathaniel Arnold, Assistant Chief of Law Enforcement from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Participating in industry events like this helps us answer questions from the public and inform them about the bureau’s regulations development activities and gives bureau staff the opportunity to hear the industry perspectives,” said Chief Ajax.

To learn more about the regulations process and how to get involved, visit http://bmcr.ca.gov/meetings/materials/fact_sheet_regulations_process.pdf.

Annual Furnace Tune-ups Can Help Improve Comfort and Efficiency

As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling, so makingshutterstock_70184671 smart decisions about your home’s heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills and your comfort, according to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.

That’s why caring for your HVAC system is an important step to help avoid costly repairs or complete breakdowns at inopportune times, such as when everyone’s over for a holiday dinner. A cleaned, lubricated, and properly adjusted furnace runs more efficiently and uses less energy, and 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 says a typical maintenance check-up should include the following:

  • Checking thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
  • Tightening all electrical connections and measuring voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
  • Lubricating all moving parts to prevent friction in motors, which increases the amount of electricity you use.
  • Checking and inspecting 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.
  • Checking controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation, and checking the starting cycle of the equipment to ensure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Checking 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.

DIY maintenance includes inspecting, cleaning, or changing air filters once a month in your furnace and/or heat pump—ask your HVAC contractor to show you how if you don’t already know. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.

If it’s time to replace your equipment, 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. And 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.