volume seven | edition two summer 2011
is it happening to
someone you love?
Also in this issue
small claims court: basics
is your older home safe?
Controlling your digital afterlife
contents | summer 2011
2 On the cOver
Elder financial abuse
Is it happening to someone you love?
1 Acting Director’s message 10 Is your pre-1978 home safe? 18 Roundup of current scams
It could have lead or asbestos • Osama Bin Laden e-mails
6 Bank on California • Windshield bullies
A chance for a better future 12 The Internet never forgets • Text scams
Preserving your digital afterlife
8 Spy cam crime 20 Small claims court
Does your computer have 14 Update on service animals New version of handbook
eyes? Miniature horses allowed
21 Money Smarts
Student financial aid
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Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011 is produced by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Publications, Design & Editing.
If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail us at email@example.com.
It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy, so problem of elder financial abuse. Esti We tell you how to find these individuals
the song goes. But with gas prices rising, mates say seniors are being bilked to the and provide access to publications you
home values falling, and incomes staying tune of $2.6 billion every year. California can download that explain how to protect
stagnant, it may seem to you like getting is home to more than 4 million people yourself and others when tackling home
by is growing more difficult. Equally chal over age 65, a number that continues to maintenance and remodel projects.
lenging is protecting what’s already yours. grow. These seniors often have accumu
Fraudsters and con artists never take a lated assets such as home equity, savings, In addition, one of our most popular
holiday, and that’s why DCA is never and pensions that make them targets for booklets has been updated for 2011 –
complacent about helping you become a abuse. We tell you what to look for and The Small Claims Court: A Guide to its
savvy consumer. actions to take if you suspect shady deal Practical Use. See the article for high
ings by a caregiver or family member. lights, and call (866) 320-8652 to have a
Part of being a smart consumer is manag free copy mailed to you.
ing your money wisely. For most people, Another disturbing scam that’s come to
the first step toward financial security is our attention is the “spy cam” case that Finally, you don’t have to wait for
opening a bank account. That’s where the made headlines this summer. Fuller Consumer Connection to keep abreast of
State’s Bank on California program can ton police recently arrested a computer consumer issues. Visit California Con
help. Through this program, you can get technician suspected of installing spyware sumer Connection on Facebook for daily
access to free and low-cost accounts with on victims’ laptops that allowed him tips and news at www.facebook.com/
participating credit unions and banks. to remotely take photographs of the CAConsumerConnection. We’re also on
You need a valid ID, but many forms are unsuspecting users through the machines’ Twitter: www.twitter.com/dcanews.
accepted, including passports, California Web cameras. We tell you how to protect
IDs, Mexican Matricula cards, and oth yourself.
ers. Without a bank account, the average
person will spend 5 percent of his or her Here’s another topic sure to affect many
income at check cashers each year. Hav of you: New Federal regulations were
ing a bank account has a lot of benefits. enacted last year covering renovations of Brian J. Stiger, Acting Director
Read about them on page 6. houses built in or before 1978. Contrac California Department of Consumer Affairs
tors who work on these homes must have
In other money matters, actor Mickey special training and equipment to handle
Rooney’s recent testimony before lead and asbestos – materials commonly
Congress gave renewed attention to the used in construction during that time.
Department of Consumer affairs 1
It’s devastating —
2 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
I t was March 2, 2011, in Wash
ington, D.C. The setting was a U.S.
In its report to the Committee, the Gov
ernment Accountability Office (GAO)
Senate hearing room. An elderly cited a study that estimated 14.1 per
man sat at a table facing the panel cent of noninstitutionalized older adults
of committee members. He started had experienced physical, psychologi
to speak: cal, or sexual abuse; neglect; or financial
exploitation. However, current studies
My name is Mickey “likely underestimate the full extent of
Rooney and I want to elder abuse,” according to the report,
Stronger Federal Leadership Could
thank you for the
Enhance National Response to Elder
opportunity to testify Abuse. “Most [studies] did not ask
today. We are here today about all types of abuse or include all
on a very critical issue types of older adults living in the com
– preventing the abuse, munity, such as those with cognitive
neglect, and financial impairments.”
exploitation of seniors.
Elders who watched the hearing may
Unfortunately, I am
have wondered: “Can it happen to me?”
testifying before the Firm statistics are hard to come by, but
Committee today not just experts say as many as 1 million elders
as a concerned citizen, are exploited each year and lose a total
but also as a victim of $2.6 billion dollars. Some estimates
myself. put the number of reported cases in
California at 200,000 a year. The Elder
With that introduction, the former Financial Protection Network (www.
actor, now age 90, choked up as BeWiseOnline.org) estimates that only
he described to the Senate Special one in 100 incidents is reported to
Committee on Aging how he was authorities. In 60 to 90 percent of
financially exploited by someone cases, perpetrators are adult children
close. or other family members of the victim.
“I was eventually and completely What exactly is
stripped of the ability to make even
the most basic decisions about my
life,” Rooney said. “I felt trapped, and who does it
scared, used, and frustrated. But happen to?
above all, I felt helpless.”
State law defines financial abuse as
occurring when a person who has care
In opening the hearing, Chairman
or custody of or who stands in a posi
Herb Kohl of Wisconsin said that
tion of trust of an elder or dependent
“the physical, mental, and financial
adult takes or appropriates that person’s
abuse of our nation’s seniors is all
money or property “to any wrongful use
too common. These crimes are
or with the intent to defraud.” It can
being committed by people
also include “undue influence,” such as
because their victims are often
persuading an elder to turn over assets,
fragile and their chance of getting
even bank accounts and deeds to prop
caught is slim.”
erty, to someone else.
The problem is not new, but it has troubled adult child or grandchild, trustees, and agents under durable
been gaining more attention as the who may be addicted to drugs or power of attorney. The Bureau
number of elders (defined as age 65 alcohol. (The report is available currently licenses approximately
and up) grows. According to 2008 online at www.metlife.com.) 500 professional fiduciaries. More
Census Bureau data, California information is available from the
One type of elder financial abuse
is home to more than 4.1 million Professional Fiduciaries Bureau at
that men fall victim to is the
people over age 65 (nearly two- www.fiduciary.ca.gov.
“Sweetheart Scam.” In this scam,
thirds are women). That number is
a younger woman “befriends” an There have also been reports that
expected to jump to more than
elderly widower, and soon he is money paid by seniors to a preneed
9 million by 2030.
giving her money, expensive gifts, funeral trust were misused. The
In addition to their growing the keys to his car, and maybe even Cemetery and Funeral Bureau,
numbers, elders often have the deed to his house. another entity of the Department
accumulated assets. Home equity, of Consumer Affairs, has sued
Family members and caregivers
investments, savings, and even one trust company for $14 million.
are not the only ones who are
military or civilian pensions may Consumers who opt for a preneed
exploiting vulnerable elders. In
make elders targets for financial trust should weigh the decision
some cases, the person stealing the
exploitation or abuse. carefully. More information is
elder’s money is the same person
available from the Cemetery and
The people committing these who was appointed by a judge to
Funeral Bureau, www.cfb.ca.gov.
crimes against the elderly are oversee it.
typically not strangers, experts say. What is being done
A few years ago, several cases
They are often family members,
caregivers, or someone else who
of court-appointed conservators about the problem?
stealing from their clients came
has gained the victim’s trust. Studies show that most victims of
to light. Experts urged greater
A 2009 Met Life Mature Market In oversight. The result was a State elderly financial abuse do not report
stitute study, Broken Trust: Elders, law which created the Professional it. The reasons vary, but in many
Family, and Finances, includes this Fiduciaries Bureau to license and cases, the victims don’t report the
description of the typical victim: regulate professional fiduciaries crime because they don’t want the
Between 70 and 89 years old, (also called conservators). The guilty adult child or grandchild to go
female, frail, and mentally impaired. Bureau, part of the Department to jail, they feel responsible for what
She is trusting of others and may of Consumer Affairs, oversees happened, they don’t think anyone
be lonely or isolated. She may be nonfamily professional fiduciaries, will believe them, or they think
someone financially supporting a including conservators, guardians, they will be placed in an institution
because they can’t handle their
own financial affairs. In some cases,
the elder does not believe financial
abuse has occurred.
Whether reported or not, financial
abuse of the elderly has a lasting
effect on the victims, their families,
and society at large. The crime
puts enormous emotional stress on
the elders, according to the Met
Life study, increasing their risk of
depression. The loss of money may
impact the elder’s ability to afford
basic necessities such as food and
medications and may rob them of
their independence, and maybe
even their home.
4 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
• A caregiver expresses exces
sive interest in the amount of
money being spent on the older
• Belongings or property are
• Suspicious signatures on
checks or other documents.
• Absence of documentation
about financial arrangements.
• Implausible explanations
given about the elderly person’s
State and Federal laws require What are the finances by the elder or the
certain professionals to report warning signs of caregiver.
suspicions of financial and other
financial abuse? • The elder is unaware of or
types of elderly abuse. Mandatory does not understand financial
reporters in California include No single indicator can be consid arrangements that have been
physicians, home health care ered proof that a senior is being made for him or her.
providers, mental health service financially abused or manipulated.
Source: National Committee for the
providers, law enforcement authori Concerned family and friends
Prevention of Elder Abuse
ties, and representatives of financial should look for patterns or clusters
institutions. Concerned relatives, of indicators that suggest a
What should you do if
neighbors, or others can also report problem. For example:
suspicions of elder abuse.
you suspect financial
• Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or
notices to discontinue utilities.
abuse of an elder?
As Mickey Rooney told the Senate
Committee, “If we all stand strong • Withdrawals from bank ac Contact one of the following:
and speak up, we can begin the counts or transfers between • Adult Protective Services.
necessary steps to end the cycle of accounts that the older person Check your phone directory or
elder abuse.” cannot explain. go online to www.cdss.ca.gov/
• Bank statements and canceled agedblinddisabled/PG2300.htm
How can seniors checks no longer mailed to the for a list of addresses and phone
prevent problems? elder’s home. numbers. Each county has a
24-hour abuse hotline.
• Stay organized. Keep track of • New “best friends” who never
your possessions; handle your leave the elder’s side. • Law enforcement. If the person
own mail; complete and sign is in immediate danger,
• Legal documents, such as
your own checks. call 9-1-1.
power of attorney, which the
• Stay informed. Consult with older person didn’t understand • Long-term care ombudsman. If
an attorney about your future at the time he or she signed the elder resides in a long-term
plans including power of them. care facility, call (800) 231-4024
attorney; review your will. to find a long-term care om
• Unusual activity in the older
budsman in your area.
• Stay alert. Do not sign any person’s bank accounts
document unless someone you including large, unexplained • District attorney or city
rust reviews it. withdrawals, frequent transfers attorney; check your phone
between accounts, or ATM directory for the office near you
Source: Met Life Mature Market
withdrawals. or go online to www.cdaa.org
Institute, A Study on Elder
for a roster of district attorneys
Financial Abuse Protection, • The care of the elder is not in
and city attorneys in each
March 2009 line with the amount of money
in of his/her estate.
Department of Consumer affairs 5
Bank on California:
A chance for a As part of its mission to empower
California’s consumers, the Department
better future of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is helping
make it easier for low- and middle-
income people to open checking and
savings accounts at financial
DCA is now administering the Bank on Banks and credit unions are also expanding the types
California campaign, which in the past of acceptable identification needed to open an
two years has helped more than 200,000 account. In addition to driver licenses, acceptable
primary identification may include California State ID,
people open low-cost savings and checking
passport, military ID, Mexican or Guatemalan
accounts. Bank accounts build credit, Consular ID, or permanent resident (green) card.
save money, and create access to loans, Some banks or credit unions ask for secondary ID,
credit cards, and other financial services. too. You should check with the bank or credit union
ahead of time about specific ID requirements.
“We are pleased to join Bank on California in reaching
those who have been especially marginalized by the Under the Bank on California model, government
economy,” said DCA’s Acting Director Brian J. Stiger. entities, financial institutions, and community-based
organizations collaborate to promote the benefit of
Roughly 11 percent of California’s households do not bank accounts. Many community organizations also
have a checking account; nearly half have no savings offer financial education classes to help people learn
account, according to a Brookings Institution report. how to manage checking accounts, set up household
That’s 5.7 million people with no savings account, budgets, and build credit.
and 1.2 million with no checking account. Most of
them are young, minority, and low income. The campaign is operating in seven major California
cities (Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento,
People without bank accounts are more likely to use Santa Ana, San Francisco, and San Jose) with more
check cashers and payday lenders, and to pay high to come. Financial institutions participating include
interest charges and high fees for those services. In Bank of America, Bank of the West, Chase, Citibank,
fact, without a bank account, a consumer will spend Redwood Credit Union, Safe Credit Union, Visa, Wells
an average of $800 a year to cash checks and pay Fargo, and others.
bills. In addition, consumers without bank accounts
are not building credit histories that could help them For more information on participating banks and
secure car loans, credit cards, and even home credit unions in your area, or for help opening an
mortgages. account, call 2-1-1 from your home or mobile phone.
For a list of participating partners, educational
Overall, about a third of the households considered classes, savings calculators and more, visit the Web
“unbanked,” say they don’t have bank accounts be site of the participating city near you:
cause they don’t have enough money. Nearly half of
those with household incomes under $50,000 a year • Fresno: http://www.bankonfresno.ca.gov
give that reason. That’s why the financial institutions • Los Angeles: http://bankonla.org
participating in Bank on California offer free or low- • Oakland: http://www.bankonoakland.ca.gov
cost accounts, some of which can be opened with as • Sacramento: http://www.bankonsacramento.
little as $1. Many of the accounts have no minimum ca.gov
balance and limit overdraft and other fees. These are • San Francisco: http://bankonsf.org
called “starter” accounts. “Second-chance” accounts • San Jose: http://uwsv.org/indephp?pr=Bank_
may be available for people who’ve had problems in on_San_Jose
the past with overdrafts and bounced checks. The • Santa Ana: http://www.bankonsantaana.
accounts vary by financial institutions. ca.gov
Bank on California. Everyone is welcome.
Department of Consumer affairs 7
Do you ever get the feeling
someone’s watching you?
unfortunately, it can happen
in places you least expect it –
and don’t want it.
Does your computer have eyes?
8 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
Case in point: Recently, Fullerton police arrested a Other steps to protect yourself include:
man accused of planting a type of “spyware” on
numerous laptop computers which allowed him to • Password protect any sensitive information. Use
remotely activate each machine’s Web camera and strong passwords with at least eight characters in a
take photographs of the users. combination of letters, numbers, and symbols that’s
easy for you to remember, but hard for others to guess.
In a news release dated June 8, 2011, police said the If your computer will be out of your possession, transfer
man worked for a computer service company – personal data to an external drive that remains in your
Rezitech, Inc. – that provided residential computer control and remove it all from the computer’s internal
service to users with Macintosh computers. He also drive, if possible.
worked on friends’ computers. Shortly after users
picked up their “repaired” computers, they received an • Regularly run an anti-virus program from a reputable
on-screen message that stated, “You should fix your in security software company to reduce the chance of
ternal sensor soon. If unsure what to do, try putting your having unwanted programs installed or activated. Keep
laptop near hot steam to clean the sensor.” In response the anti-virus program running at all times and perform
to the message, many of the victims took their laptops frequent scans to look for and isolate suspicious pro
into the bathroom while showering. Still images, videos, grams.
and cell phone videos of women taken surreptitiously
were all seized from the man’s computer. • Perform frequent backups of your hard drive.
The Orange County District Attorney said there were • Use a firewall to help protect your system from
six victims of this scam, all of them adult females. The potential hackers.
case came to light in the summer of 2010 when a Ful
lerton resident contacted police about suspicious mes • Check with the computer manufacturer if you are
sages that were appearing on his daughter’s computer. given any direction (such as from a pop-up message)
Authorities said the suspect – a computer science on what to do with your computer. Representatives can
student – was charged with 12 felony counts of com tell you whether or not it is a standard system message
puter access and fraud with sentencing enhancement or if you should be concerned. They should be able to
allegations for committing a crime for sexual gratifi provide advice on what to do in many situations.
cation. Fullerton police said potential victims should
search the “Library/WebServer/Documents” directory • Be wary of downloading any types of programs
on their laptop for “CamCapture,” which is the program online – there are spyware, malware, and tracking
they said the suspect used. software programs that are marketed as protection for
your computer, when in fact their purpose is to gather
So, how do you prevent this from happening personal information, induce you to buy more products,
to you? or potentially cause harm to your hardware or data.
Research outside of the software vendor’s Web site to
First, businesses that provide computer repair service check the credibility of the company and its products.
must be registered with the Bureau of Electronic and There are many independent computer publications
Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insu that rate and recommend software.
lation. To check registration status, go to www.bearhfti.
ca.gov and click on the tab “License Verification.” Still worried about who’s watching you from your com
puter’s camera? Consider blocking it with a piece of
Don’t respond to any type of message on your com painter’s tape or similar screening object until you’re
puter that cannot be validated or makes what seems to ready to use it.
be a strange request. Also, if the computer is equipped
with a video camera, make sure it is not on (usually For more information, visit the Web sites for the Cali
there is an indicator light), unless you’ve intentionally fornia Office of Privacy Protection www.privacy.ca.gov
turned it on. and the Federal Trade Commission www.ftc.go.
Department of Consumer affairs 9
Was your home built in or before 1978? if so, it might contain lead-
based paint and asbestos. these materials were used extensively
in construction until the u.s. environmental protection agency (epa)
restricted their use, so many buildings have them. When they are
disturbed during remodeling or demolition, they can create dust and
expose workers and building occupants to potential health hazards.
10 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
Lead-based paint was used in more demolition will still disturb the lead aSbeStOS
than 38 million homes until it was paint underneath, potentially harm- Another concern in many older
banned for residential use in 1978, ing workers and consumers. For structures is asbestos. This
according to the epa. Laws are in example, the amount of lead dust naturally occurring mineral fiber
place to help prevent exposure to that can cover a three-by-five-inch was commonly used in construction
these dangerous substances. Here card can poison a 1,500-square- and many other industries because
are some basics you should know. foot house or apartment, and cause of its durability and resistance to
it to fail a lead safety inspection, heat and chemicals. It can be
Lead says the EPA. found in wall insulation; paint;
As of April 22, 2010, contractors sprayed- or troweled-on surfacing
remodeling or demolishing more That’s why it’s critical to contain the materials; ceiling and flooring
than six square feet indoors or work area, use work practices that materials; pipe, boiler, and duct
20 square feet outdoors must be minimize dust, and clean up insulations; cement filler; and a
trained and certified for lead safety thoroughly. variety of other products.
by the EPA to work in homes, child
care facilities, or schools built in The EPA says lead paint poisoning By law, any project 100 square feet
or before 1978. They must also affects more than 1 million children or more that involves asbestos-
follow specific work practices to today. Scientific studies show chil- containing construction materials
prevent lead contamination. To find dren with high levels of lead in their must be performed by a
a database of contractors who are bodies can potentially suffer from: contractor registered with the
licensed by the Contractors State California Department of Occupa-
License Board and lead-certified, • Damage to the brain and tional Safety and Health (DOSH).
visit http://cfpub.epa.gov/flpp/ nervous system To find an appropriate contractor,
searchrrp_firm.htm. • Behavior and learning visit DOSH’s Asbestos Registrants
problems Database at www.dir.ca.gov/data
If you plan to do your own reno- • Slowed growth bases/doshacru/acrusearch.html.
vation work, you’re exempt from • Hearing problems
certification requirements but you • Headaches For more information, including
should educate yourself about safe general guidelines for handling
practices. The EPA recommends A blood test is the only way to products containing asbestos,
that you call your local health de- determine if an individual has lead see A Consumer Guide to As-
partment for advice on reducing or poisoning. Call your doctor or local bestos from the Contractors State
eliminating exposure to lead-based health department to arrange for a License Board. Visit www.cslb.
paint dust. You may also want to blood test. ca.gov or www.dca.ca.gov, or call
consider having a lead inspection. (866) 320-8652 for a copy.
Visit the EPA Web site www.ePa. Contractors could face fines of up
gov or call (800) 424-LEAD (5323) to $37,500 for not complying with Exposure to asbestos can cause
to locate a certified inspector. More Federal regulations aimed at pro- several types of serious diseases,
information is available in the EPA’s tecting them and consumers from including asbestosis, lung cancer,
booklet, Renovate Right at exposure to dust from lead-based and mesothelioma. The likelihood
www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renova- paints. If you see a worker who you of developing asbestos-related
terightbrochure.pdf. (Contractors think is not following procedure or disease depends on the amount of
are required to provide homeown- doing something unsafe, the EPA asbestos you are exposed to, the
ers and tenants with a copy before recommends that you: length of time, and the number of
work begins.) times you are exposed. The greater
• Direct the contractor to the total exposure, the greater the
The main conduit for lead poison- comply with regulatory and chance you will become ill. The
ing is dust. Lead dust comes from contract requirements. best way to protect your health and
deteriorating lead-based paint and • Call your local health or the health of your family is to limit
lead-contaminated soil that gets building department; or exposure as much as possible.
tracked into the structure. Although • Call the EPA’s hotline at
the lead-based paint may have (800) 424-LEAD (5323).
been covered by nontoxic paints in
subsequent years, remodeling or
Department of Consumer affairs 11
You’ll have to look elsewhere for
evidence of a spiritual afterlife, but
we can say this about the digital
afterlife: It exists, and it remains
long after you’ve joined the ranks
of the dearly departed.
12 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
What should happen to all those musicians, photographers, and network sites, for example, will
e-mails, photos, videos, online others who store their work allow families to create a memo
dating profiles, blogs, social online, there are legal issues sur rial page for their loved one. Each
media pages, domain names, rounding intellectual property or site will also have instructions on
and other elements of your online personal brand. For the rest of us, how family members can access
identity when you’re no longer the digital evidence of who we your account. It can be difficult,
around? are and what we said or liked or requiring death certificates and
took pictures of is something to other documentation. An easier
It became an issue recently pass to friends or relatives or be way to handle the matter is to
among the young and the techie deleted. In the absence of spe leave a list of your accounts and
after the untimely deaths of a cific instructions and passwords, the login and password informa
couple of popular bloggers. But, family members may be unwilling tion. Include instructions on how
as older folks become more – or unable – to act. If that hap you want the material handled.
computer savvy and younger pens, part of your identity, your
folks grow older, the topic gains digital footprint, floats out there in If that seems like too much to do,
urgency. In fact, a diverse and cyberspace, maybe forever. there are businesses that can
loose-knit group of professionals help. Several companies have
in information technology and the Another factor is family history. recently sprung up that handle
death care industry held an online Grandma saved letters, scrap personal digital archiving. For a
Digital Death Day “unconference” books, and pictures in her hope fee, these companies can provide
recently in the Bay Area to call chest, Mom kept shoeboxes of an automated system to store
attention to the issue. More family photos in her closet. Your passwords and instructions on
events are planned. Find details photos, letters, and other materi handling your digital accounts.
at http://digitaldeathday.com. als probably exist only online. Some online accounts are simply
You may even have hundreds of permission to use a particular
Another resource is a blog written digital photos that were never Web site and will expire after
by Evan Carroll and John Romano printed. If you don’t make your death. Other accounts may
called The Digital Beyond arrangements for someone to be considered assets. You may
(www.thedigitalbeyond.com) handle them after you’re gone, want to consult an estate planning
which has been featured in sev the images of little Lucy’s first attorney about including digital
eral publications including the steps may never be seen by her assets in your will.
New York Times. It is described grandchildren.
as a “think tank for digital death If you’re considering backing
and legacy issues.” The pair have Digital material can have histori up your online material onto a
also written a book, Your Digital cal significance, too. Experts who storage device, think about the
Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr, study popular culture use technology you’ll use. Today’s
and Twitter Are Your Estate, pictures, letters, journals, and technology may not be relevant
What’s Your Legacy? (www.your other documents to connect or even usable in a generation’s
digitalafterlife.com). In an everyday people to their times. time. Today’s flash drives or CDs
interview on National Public We could be the generation that may become as obsolete as
Radio, the authors suggested loses those tools. yesterday’s floppy disks or
naming a “digital executor” to Super 8 movies. Storing your data
handle your digital belongings. So, what should you do? First, online (and sharing the password)
review the policy of the social could be the safest approach for
The issue is important on two network or other sites where keeping your life-affirming digital
levels. For professional authors, you have accounts. Some social collection. After all, the Internet
Department of Consumer affairs 13
What qualifies as
a service AnimAl?
ADA updates its definition
We’ve all seen guide dogs, but people who are blind or have
guide horses? That’s right. On low vision use dogs to guide and
March 15, a number of changes assist them with orientation. Many
to the Federal Americans with individuals who are deaf use dogs
Disabilities Act (ADA) went into ef to alert them to sounds. People
fect, including a new definition of with mobility disabilities often use
what qualifies as a service animal. dogs to pull their wheelchairs or
New language also allows for the retrieve items. People with epilep
use of miniature horses. sy may use a dog to warn them of
an imminent seizure, and individu
The ADA is a civil rights law that als with psychiatric disabilities
prohibits discrimination against may use a dog to remind them to
people with disabilities and opens take medication.
doors for their full participation in
all aspects of everyday life. The The revised service animal defini
new rules not only affect users tion excludes animals used for
of service animals, but also the emotional support, well-being,
hospitality industry, retailers, and comfort, companionship, or crime
other businesses that accommo deterrent. Guide dog advocates
date the public. Service animals hope the new regulations will
are allowed anywhere the public help eliminate the fraudulent use
is allowed to go. of service animals.
The updated regulations now de The final rule does not actually
fine a service animal as a dog that include miniature horses in the
is individually trained to do work definition of “service animal.”
or perform tasks for the benefit Instead, it requires public places
of an individual with a disability, like restaurants, hospitals, and
including a physical, sensory, psy government buildings to make
chiatric, intellectual, or other men “reasonable modifications” in their
tal disability. For example, many operations to permit the use of
14 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
Department of Consumer affairs 15
clear whether the dog (or minia
ture horse) is not actually a ser
vice animal, the business owner
can ask only two questions:
• Is the animal required
because of a disability?
• What task has it been trained
That’s it. Businesses cannot ask
about the disability itself, or
require proof or medical
documentation as a condition
for entry. The Federal law is the
baseline – if a local or State law
gives more protection for indi
viduals with disabilities, it takes
precedence, and vice-versa.
These changes were the focus of
trained miniature horses, subject ADA advocates say you’re not a comprehensive panel discus
to certain limitations. This allows likely to see many guide horses sion in February hosted by the
flexibility in situations where using and they are not for everyone. State Board of Guide Dogs for
a horse would not be appropriate. But according to the Guide Horse the Blind in Sacramento. Attor
Foundation, a nonprofit founded neys from the U.S. Department of
To consider whether reasonable in 1999 that trains and provides Justice and Disability Rights Cali
modifications in policies, prac guide horses, there is a strong fornia addressed these revisions
tices, or procedures can be made demand for them among blind and what they mean to members
to allow a miniature horse into horse lovers, those who are of the public, law enforcement,
a specific facility, a public entity allergic to dogs, and those who and the business community in
must consider: want a guide animal with a longer California. They provided clar
lifespan. ity on what fits the definition of a
• The type, size, and weight of service animal and fielded ques
the miniature horse and Under the ADA, service animals tions from the audience. View the
whether the facility can must be harnessed, leashed, or archived webcast of the gathering
accommodate those features. tethered, unless doing this would at www.dca.ca.gov/publications/
interfere with the service animal’s multimedia/webcast_archive.
• If having the horse there work or the person’s disability shtml.
compromises legitimate prevents it. In that case, the
safety requirements animal must be controlled through For more information, visit the
necessary for safe operation. voice, signal, or other effective ADA Web site at www.ada.gov,
means. or call (800) 514-0301 (voice) or
Just like a service dog, the horse (800) 514-0383 (TTY).
must be housebroken and under Public entities may exclude a
the control of its handler. The care legitimate service animal only if it
or supervision of a service animal is out of control or is not house
is solely the responsibility of his or broken. In cases where it’s not
16 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
The State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind licenses and regulates guide dog programs
in California, making sure that instructors are qualified, training is standardized, and
schools are well-managed. California is the only state in the nation to require licensing
of guide dog instructors and schools.
Guide doG facts:
• Nearly 2,000 Californians use guide dogs.
• Almost 20 percent of all guide dog handlers
live in California.
• The handler uses about 20 different
commands to direct the dog. The dog,
trained through repetition and praise, will
disobey a command and signal through its
rigid harness when it’s unsafe to proceed.
• You should never pet a working guide dog
without asking the handler’s permission.
• Puppy raisers are volunteers who care for,
train, and socialize guide dog puppies. A
puppy lives with a puppy raiser for 15 to
• Guide dogs spend six months in training
before meeting their human partners. Blind
handlers spend about one month training
with their dogs.
• Like all dogs, guide dogs enjoy playing
when they’re not working.
• Guide dogs work for about six to ten years.
They usually start working at the age of
• Dogs that don’t succeed as guide dogs are
“career change” dogs. They become family
pets, service or therapy dogs, or search and
Department of Consumer affairs 17
If you have a small crack or chip in your windshield,
be on the lookout for this scam. Windshield “bullies”
hang out at gas stations, car washes, office build
ing complexes, and even go door-to-door looking for
customers. They tell you they can fix that windshield
crack or chip onsite and cheaper than going through
your insurance company. Their sales tactics are very
aggressive but there is no guarantee the work will
be done correctly. If the repair fails, you could end up
spending more getting it fixed right.
If you have a cracked or chipped windshield, con
Osama Bin Laden e-mails tact your insurance company first. An adjuster will
estimate your out-of-pocket costs to repair or replace
The FBI is warning computer users not to open any
the windshield. Ask yourself, “Is it better to get the job
e-mail claiming to have photos or video of Osama
done cheaply or get it done right?” Before you choose
Bin Laden’s death. It’s likely to contain malicious to do business with a windshield bully, consider both
software known as “malware.” the financial and safety consequences of inferior work
he or she may perform.
If you open one of these e-mails, it will embed itself
into your computer and corrupt your hard drive.
From there, it could take control of your computer to
steal information such as bank account and Social
Security numbers, tax records, and other personal
information. Not only is there risk to your computer
and personal information, it could also spread to all
individuals on your e-mail contact list.
18 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
Airport travel: Keep an eye on your valuables
Recently, a few security agents confessed to stealing money and
valuables from airline passenger bags as the bags passed through
security. To avoid becoming a victim, follow these suggestions:
• Whenever possible, carry cash or valuables on you.
• Never allow luggage or personal items out of your sight while they
get inspected and scanned.
• Take equal precaution with the bin in which you place your shoes,
keys, wallet, and purse as it’s going through the scanning device.
Individuals most likely to become victims aren’t aware about this type
of crime. Awareness is the first line of defense; taking proper action to
avoid becoming a victim is the second.
Scammers using text messaging
Scammers first began by calling your land line, then moved to send
ing e-mail messages, and now they’re sending text messages to your
phone. The scams remains the same. The message may look official
and seem like it’s coming from your bank or credit card company,
asking you to verify account numbers or passwords. In reality, these
are scammers trying to catch you. Once you reply it’s too late – they
now they have your personal information.
If you get a telephone call, e-mail, or text message indicating your
credit card has been deactivated, be careful. Most likely, it’s a scam
and there is nothing wrong with your card. It’s just an attempt to get
your credit card number. Scammers do this by asking you to verify
your credit card number so it can be “reactivated.” Don’t fall for it.
Call the toll-free number on the back of your credit card to confirm
the card is active.
Department of Consumer affairs 19
SMAll ClAIMS CoURT BAsiCs
If you’re a How do I prove my case?
consumer with a You can prove your claim by almost any kind of evidence:
a written contract, warranty, receipt, canceled check, letter,
dispute to solve,
professional estimate of damages, photographs, drawings, your
and other means own statements, and through witnesses who come to court.
How do I know what to do in court?
small claims Before the hearing, the courtroom procedures will be
court is another explained by the judge, another court officer, or via
Small Claims Court
a g u i d e t o i t s p ra cti ca l u s e option for you. videotape.
It’s easier than How do I collect if I win?
you might think The judge will base the decision on evidence, the law and
– you just have common sense. The judge may rule for either the plaintiff
or the defendant, or may award something to both parties.
to be organized
Sometimes all it takes is a note to the judgment debtor (the
and use your person who the judge said owes you money). If that doesn’t
resources. work, there are many other methods. Most require a special
form from the court, a fee, and assistance from the sheriff.
That’s where our latest publication can help: You can find
nearly everything you need to know about suing and being
• Wage garnishment.
sued in the newly updated booklet, The Small Claims Court:
• Bank levies – money will be taken from the debtor’s
A Guide to its Practical Use, from the California Department
checking or savings account to pay the judgment.
of Consumer Affairs. Updated for 2011, it includes a list
• Abstract of judgment – involves putting a lien on any
of situations in which small claims court might help; tips
land, house, or other building the debtor owns in the
on how to prepare your case, what to do if you’re named
county of the judgment.
a defendant, and how to collect if you win; a checklist,
• Sheriff “till-tap” – if the debtor is a business with a cash
glossary, and much more. Find it online at www.dca.ca.gov/
register, the sheriff can go to the place of business and
take enough money out of the till to cover the debt.
• Sheriff “keeper” – the sheriff will remain in the debtor’s
Here are some basics from the booklet: business and collect funds that come in until the debt
What should I consider before I file? is paid.
Most claims must be filed within a time limit, called a
You can also have the debtor’s driver license suspended for
statute of limitations. You’ll want to establish how much
90 days if the judgment is $750 or less, or indefinitely for
you think is owed to you by the other party, and be able
higher amounts, simply by completing and submitting forms
to prove it. You can get the necessary forms for filing by
Dl 17 and Dl 30, respectively, found at www.DMV.ca.gov.
visiting or writing any small claims court or by accessing the
Call DMV’s civil judgment unit at (916) 657-7573 for more
Judicial Council’s self-help Web site at www.courts.ca.gov.
There are fees associated with filing, but it is possible to
request a waiver using Form FW-001. You should be able to What if I’m the one being sued?
name the defendants correctly when you file your claim. If Never ignore a court summons. If you don’t come to court,
you don’t, the judgment could be difficult to enforce. You the judge may hear and decide the case without you. If a court
can, however, ask the judge to amend it at the hearing, or judgment is issued against you, your wages could be garnished
later after the judgment. If you’re not sure which of several or your property forcibly taken. Your credit record will also
possible defendants is responsible for your claim, name reflect the judgment. Show up in court with any proof that
each one you believe is liable. Get the correct addresses works in your favor, such as receipts, contracts, documented
using telephone directories, U.S. Postal Service records, conversations (such as e-mails) or canceled checks.
Secretary of State records (for business addresses), city and For a free copy of The Small Claims Court: A Guide to
county business records, Internet databases, and, in limited its Practical Use, call the publications hotline at
circumstances, Department of Motor Vehicle records. (866) 320-8652.
20 Consumer ConneCtion | summer 2011
Everyday financial facts to educate, empower, and amuse
the road to college is so much more than just grades, extracurricular activities, and test scores. it’s also about who’s paying
the bill and what the student and parents can afford – to borrow.
in these tough economic times, the choices can be difficult. as with all decisions, however, advance knowledge is helpful.
school counselors are key, but parents and students are better prepared if they educate themselves on college financial
matters, too. Here are some terms commonly used when talking about college financial aid. test your knowledge, then use
our resources at the end to find out more.
1. What is loan forgiveness? 4. What is FaFSa? by private lenders. Instead, all new
a) A Federal program that a) A type of sandwich on pita bread. Federal student loans come directly
rewards college graduates b) The only time you’ll see “free” from the U.S. Department of Education.
for public service and “student aid” in the same Consumer experts say private loans
employment by forgiving a phrase. often have high or variable interest
portion of their loan. c) Free Application for Federal rates; government loans are fixed at a
b) Waiving the fee for a late Student Aid, used by virtually low rate.
payment on your student all two- and four-year colleges,
loan. universities, and career schools to Federal resources
c) A rich uncle stepping up and determine financial aid. www.studentaid.ed.gov
picking up the bill. www.college.gov
5. What is capitalized interest? www.students.gov
2. What is eFC? a) Interest with a capital letter. www.fafsa.ed.gov
a) Extra financial compensation. b) Interest added to the loan www.federalstudentaid.ed.gov
b) Every family’s crisis. balance. www.Finaid.org
c) Expected family contribution. c) Interest that grows over time.
Federal Student aid Information
3. What is free tuition? Answers: 1, a; 2, c; 3, b; 4, c; 5, b. Center
a) A pipe dream. (800)-4-FED-AID or (800) 433-3243
b) A program at a handful of the real deal
schools that offer no-loan Everyone knows college costs are go Resources from the California
packages to students from ing up, but there is some good news. Student aid Commission
low-income families. The Free Application for Federal Fi www.csac.ca.gov
c) See rich uncle in question 1. nancial Aid (FAFSA) has gotten simpler www.calgrants.org
to fill out. Submitting the form online www.californiacashforcollege.org
is even easier. In addition, Federal
student loans are no longer handled
Department of Consumer affairs 21
Department of consumer Affairs
Office of publications, Design & editing
1625 north market Boulevard, suite n-112
sacramento, cA 95834
pDe 11-068 | 6.2011
office of publications, design & editing Edmund G. Brown Jr.
credit HAzEl AlIG AllEN GRIGG AnnA CABAllEro
ARIS BAJAR lISA KINETz Secretary, State and
Consumer Services Agency
JEAN BRICAREllo JIM PYERS
lAUREl GoDDARD CARol SToVER BriAn J. stiGEr
Acting Director, Department of
RAMoNA GoDoY JUNE VARGAS Consumer Affairs
Of cOnSumer Agency StAte infOrmAtiOn
AdminiStrAtOrS OfficerS cOunciL
2009 Winner Ace Award 2009 2008 Award 2011 silver Award
2009 Winner 2008 Winner Ace Award 2008 of excellence 2010 silver Award
2009 silver Award
2007 gold Award