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!

 

Covered California Open Enrollment Ends January 31

covered-california-jpgOpen enrollment for Covered California, the state’s marketplace for the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ends on Tuesday, January 31. For coverage to begin on March 1, 2017, you must enroll by this deadline.

Depending on different factors such as your family size and income, you can qualify for:

Consumers interested in learning more about their coverage options should go to CoveredCA.com or call (800) 300-1506.

And remember, if you’ve experienced a life-changing event, you may be able to sign up for a health plan during Special Enrollment even after the open enrollment period ends. Visit http://bit.ly/1BMTca1 for more information.

Weighing Out Diet Scams

weight-lossThe first month of 2017 is almost history, but a few of the resolutions you may have put on the list for this year may still not be crossed off—or started, for that matter. Getting more organized and saving money are goals that are easy to plan, while losing weight—a resolution that is at the top of many people’s lists—is one of the hardest to start.

Losing weight is a healthy and rewarding goal, however, beware of quick-fix weight-loss products and plans. Like other scams, if they sound too good to be true, they probably are.

At best, “miracle” weight-loss products won’t help at all and will only cause you to lose money. At worst, they can cause health issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that hundreds of dietary supplement products contain hidden active ingredients that may be advertised as “natural” and “safe.” As a result, the FDA has received numerous reports of increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, stroke, seizure, and even death as a result of taking these supplements.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), beware of weight-loss ads with tag lines like these:

  • Lose weight without diet or exercise!
  • Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!
  • Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!
  • Just take a pill!
  • Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!
  • Everybody will lose weight!
  • Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!

The FTC says the best way to lose weight is to cut about 500 calories per day, eat a variety of healthy foods, and exercise regularly. Also, before beginning any weight-loss plan, consult your healthcare professional. To check the status of a doctor’s license, visit the Medical Board of California website at www.mbc.ca.gov.

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.

Glaucoma Awareness Month: Guard Your Vision

Glaucoma. It’s called the “sneak thief of sight” because it can strike without symptoms and lead to permanent blindness.

The good news is that blindness from the disease is preventable. January is Glaucoma Awareness Month—a time to understand the disease and take important steps glaucoma-awareness-monthto guard yourself from its serious effects. Although there is no cure for glaucoma, if detected early, it can be treated with medication or surgery to slow down or prevent further vision loss.

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), as much as 40 percent of a person’s vision can be lost without noticing—that’s why regular eye exams from a licensed optometrist are key. The GRF says these five tests are part of a thorough comprehensive glaucoma exam:

The inner eye pressure Tonometry
The shape and color of the optic nerve Ophthalmoscopy (dilated eye exam)
The complete field of vision Perimetry (visual field test)
The angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea Gonioscopy
Thickness of the cornea Pachymetry

Anyone can get glaucoma, but there are those who are at higher risk:

  • African Americans over age 40
  • Everyone over age 60, especially Hispanics/Latinos
  • People with a family history of glaucoma

You can learn more about glaucoma by visiting the GRF’s website at www.glaucoma.org and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/features/glaucoma-awareness/index.html. To check the license and license status of an optometrist, visit the Board of Optometry’s website at www.optometry.ca.gov.

Beware of the Imposter IRS

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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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Male Contraception Study Cut Short

syringeA male contraception study, cosponsored by the United Nations and commissioned by the World Health Organization, was recently stopped after it was concluded that the drug caused too many side effects.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, tested the safety and effectiveness of a contraceptive shot that was administered every eight weeks to 320 healthy men in different countries around the world. The trial was initially considered successful after it significantly decreased sperm counts. However, after Stage II of the three-stage trial, a number of men dropped out of the study, citing side effects such as acne, mood swings, depression, muscle pain, and increased libido. Researchers decided to stop the trial early in the interest of patient safety. A survey of patients who didn’t drop out found that most would use the product if it were available.

The premature halt of the study has caused some experts to draw comparisons with the side effects experienced by those women who use female birth control. It has also caused some raised eyebrows from women, who have been dealing with the side effects of FDA-approved birth control methods for decades. To learn more about contraception options and their possible side effects, women should talk to a qualified health care professional. (You can check the license of a doctor at the Medical Board’s website at www.mbc.ca.gov or a pharmacist at the Board of Pharmacy’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.)

Despite the sudden halt to the male contraception study, there are still plans to successfully bring a male contraceptive drug to the market. According to an NPR report, future trials with different, safer levels of hormones, as well as possibly alternative ways to administer the drug, such as via a gel or an implant, are in the works.