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.

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.

DCA’s Umbrella Has You Covered

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

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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.

Don’t Miss the Latest Issue of Consumer Connection!

In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalled 51.3 million autos in the United States. The recalls included everything from defective ignition switches and consumer-connection-winter-2016steering wheels to acceleration issues and airbag and seatbelt defects. If you receive a recall notice, don’t ignore it. The winter 2016 issue of Consumer Connection walks you through what to do if you receive one.

This edition of DCA’s magazine continues its regular feature highlighting Department leadership. This issue includes an interview with the Executive Officer of the Board of Registered Nursing (Board), Joseph Morris. Mr. Morris discusses his background, long-term goals for the Board, and the Board’s challenges ahead.

The issue also explores a variety of other interesting topics, including recognizing a flood-damaged car when shopping for a used vehicle, fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the recently launched California State Athletic Commission’s campaign to prevent and treat concussions.

Visit the DCA website to download or read the magazine. You can also pick up a printed copy in the DCA Headquarters lobby at 1625 North Market Boulevard in Sacramento. Or, to have it mailed to you at no charge, call (866) 320-8652 or send an e-mail request to consumerconnection@dca.ca.gov. Get connected!

 

Cervical Health Awareness Month: Get Checked and Vaccinated

Start the new year by taking care of your cervical health. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which highlights the importance of proactive healthcare in the prevention of a possibly deadly cancer.

nccc-posterThanks to the Pap test, the human papillomavirus (HPV) screenings, and the HPV vaccination, cervical cancer has largely become a preventable and treatable disease. The HPV vaccine can protect against four types of HPV—the most common cause of cervical cancer—and should be administered before becoming sexually active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the shot for not only girls and women ages 11 to 26, but for boys and men as well.

Cervical cancer can be serious and even fatal—that’s why taking advantage of the early detection tools and the vaccine are so important. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), nearly 13,000 U.S. women are diagnosed each year with cervical cancer and more than 4,000 die from the disease.

Talk to your healthcare provider about getting screened and about your or your child’s eligibility to receive the HPV vaccine. In California, licensed medical professionals and pharmacists can administer the vaccine. To verify the license status of a doctor, visit the Medical Board of California; to verify the license status of a pharmacist, visit the State Board of Pharmacy. More information on cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine is available on the NCCC website.

California’s New Laws for 2017

scalesIn 2016, Governor Brown signed into law 898 pieces of legislation. Here’s a sampling of some of the new state laws:

Barbering and booze: Under Assembly Bill (AB) 1322, Board of Barbering and Cosmetology-licensed beauty salons and barbershops can serve up to 12 ounces of beer or 6 ounces of wine to customers without having an alcoholic beverage license or permit. The businesses cannot charge for the alcohol.

Building construction: Senate Bill (SB) 465 requires the California Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to tell the Contractors State License Board when the state punishes disobedient contractors.

Gun laws: SB 880 and AB 1135 ban the sale of semi-automatic, centerfire rifles or semi-automatic pistols that do not have a fixed magazine. AB 1511 outlaws most gun loans.

Sexual assault: AB 2888 mandates a prison term for sexually assaulting unconscious individuals. This legislation is the result of a reaction to the jail sentence of a Stanford student who assaulted an unconscious woman and received a jail sentence in June 2016, but was released in September.

Distracted driving: Under AB 1785, drivers cannot hold or operate their devices for any reason. Exceptions are functions that require only a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger, as long as the phone is mounted in the car.

Car seats: AB 53 requires that children under 2 years old be put in rear-facing child safety seats, except for kids who are at least 40 pounds or 40 inches tall. Children under 8 years old must ride in the back seat of a car.

Voter registration and ballots: AB 1436, which passed in 2012 but takes effect January 1, allows people to register on the day of an election. SB 450 allows voters to return mail ballots at any county elections office in the state, not just the county that issued the ballot.

Dogs in cars: AB 797 allows good Samaritans to help free animals showing signs of distress in a hot car. They must first contact law enforcement and wait for them to show up.

Gender-neutral bathrooms: AB 1732 requires that all single-toilet restrooms in schools, businesses, and public places be designated as gender neutral.

Minimum wage increase: SB 3 raises the minimum wage for workers at businesses that have 26 or more employees from $10 to $10.50 per hour. Yearly increases under the law will bump the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.

Uber/Lift background checks: Under AB 1289, drivers for ride-booking companies will have their entire driver’s record checked.

Terminally ill and the “Right to Try”: AB 1668 allows terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs that have not yet had full federal approval for clinical trials.

For more details on California’s new laws, visit the Governor’s website at www.gov.ca.gov. For a list of all the new laws, go to www.leginfo.ca.gov/pdf/BillsEnactedReport2016.pdf.

 

 

 

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.