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How to Stay Up on Consumer News and Issues

Newsletters, blogs and podcasts are great ways to stay informed about consumer issues. Photo: American Ratings Corporation, 2017

Like most of you, I subscribe to a variety of news feeds, blogs, email newsletters and podcasts, both for entertainment and so I can learn about things I’m interested in. I’m a big fan of Flipboard, my news feed for politics, cooking and music. For local restaurant openings and news, I enjoy reading tablehopper.com, and my favorite podcast right now is “On Being” with Krista Tippett, which I learned about from a colleague at Diamond Certified. When it comes to consumer news and issues, here are a few of the resources I use to stay informed.

This website from the publishers of Consumer Reports magazine requires a subscription for detailed product ratings. However, it also has a lot of free content with general buying advice. Continue reading “How to Stay Up on Consumer News and Issues” »

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Managing Your Kids’ Internet Use

Chris B high res crop copyMany parents want help teaching their children about using technology safely, so Google has created a Family Safety Center to address that need. One section explains Google’s safety tools, including “Safe Search,” which allows you to eliminate sexually explicit content from search results. You’ll also find a detailed explanation about sharing controls and privacy settings for YouTube, Google Talk and Picasa Web Albums.

My favorite part of the site is “Tips From Parents at Google,” where engineers, executives and other employees talk about their own challenges managing their kids’ Internet use. Here are two suggestions: Keep your home computer in a central place so you can monitor your children’s online activity, and encourage your kids to view content with a critical eye by teaching them how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources. The website’s resource section contains advice on cyber bullying, malware, meeting strangers online and sharing too much personal information. Check it out.

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The Risks of Radon

Major health organizations agree that radon causes many preventable lung cancer deaths every year. Radon is an odorless radioactive gas that comes from the uranium in rock, water and soil, and it’s especially dangerous for people who smoke. It can be found in every part of the United States and in any type of building, but elevated radon levels in your home are the greatest concern.

Radon levels can vary from home to home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the best way to tell if your home has a radon problem is to perform a short-term test. Low-cost, do-it-yourself radon test kits are available at hardware stores or through mail order. Short-term tests last anywhere from two to 90 days, depending on the device you’re using. The EPA’s website (www.epa.gov) has a “Citizen’s Guide to Radon” that will answer most of your questions about radon.

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How to Use Small Claims Court

Chris Bjorklund, The Savvy ConsumerIf you have a dispute that can’t be resolved through mediation, you might need to go to Small Claims Court. For example, you might file a case against a landlord who won’t return your security deposit or against someone who damages your car and won’t pay for the repairs. This special court is designed to help people resolve problems quickly and inexpensively without lawyers or a jury.

How much can you sue for in California? Any individual or business owned by an individual can file two cases per year for up to $10,000 each. You must file where the contract was signed, where the person being sued lives, or where the business being sued is located. The filing fees are based on the amount of your claim. When you go to court, be sure to bring evidence that supports your claim, including receipts, contracts, repair estimates, bills or photographs that show property damage.

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Getting Safe Manicures and Pedicures

Because sandals can be worn almost all year round, local nail salons are always full of customers. If you’re going to treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure, make sure you choose the salon carefully. All manicurists have to be licensed with the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, but some licensed operators don’t maintain the highest standards. If you encounter a dirty salon, report it to www.barbercosmo.ca.gov.

The best salons clean and disinfect all instruments after every client. Some safety experts recommend bringing in your own sterilized instruments to avoid the possibility of infections. Any items that aren’t disinfected (emery boards, buffers, drill bits) should be thrown out after every use. Manicurists should wash their hands after every client. While many salons cut cuticles, dermatologists say it’s better to leave them alone. Ask your manicurist to trim your nails straight across and round the edges to keep them strong.

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Keeping You and Yours Safe

Chris Bjorklund, The Savvy ConsumerWe hear about so many consumer product recalls on the news that it’s easy to tune them out. But defective products injure and kill thousands of people every year, which is why the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was created in 1972. The CPSC’s job is to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death caused by thousands of consumer products under its jurisdiction. The agency is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that can injure children or pose fire, electrical, chemical or mechanical hazards. It also works with manufacturers to recall defective products and redesign them to make them safer.

The CPSC now has a searchable product database (www.saferproducts.gov) where you can learn of recalls before buying products. You can also easily report an accident or product defect by using the online report form or calling the CPSC at (800) 638-2772.

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The Worst Unlicensed Contractors in California

Picture a previously convicted unlicensed contractor who pled guilty to six felony charges, including elder abuse, grand theft and diversion of construction funds. Does this sound like someone you’d want to hire to work on your home? Of course not…but the man described above currently has an active arrest warrant for failure to appear in court, which means he’s still at large and could potentially prey on vulnerable, unsuspecting homeowners.

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is helping consumers avoid the worst unlicensed contractors in California by posting their pictures, physical descriptions and criminal records on its website (www.cslb.ca.gov/generalinformation/newsroom/mostwanted). If you see any of these people on the street or have information on their whereabouts, the CSLB requests that you call your local police of sheriff’s department.

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Some Pointers on Prepaid Cards

Prepaid cards are an alternative to debit and credit cards. They differ in many ways, but the most significant difference is that you load them with a set amount of money before using them. Prepaid cards are growing in popularity among people without bank accounts and those trying to better manage their spending. Recently, the nonprofit group Consumer Action compared 28 prepaid cards from 11 different financial institutions to help consumers make the right choice. For a copy of the survey and an educational booklet, go to www.consumer-action.org/prepaid.

Consumer Action’s key shopping recommendations are: 1) Choose a consumer-friendly card with fraud protection and free customer service; 2) Choose a card that fits with how you plan to use it (e.g., some cards add a fee for every transaction); 3) Adjust your buying habits to avoid as many fees as possible (e.g., if checking your balance online is free, don’t check it at the ATM).

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How to Shop for a New Credit Card

Chris B high res crop copy

The good news for consumers is that it’s much easier to shop for credit cards than it used to be. First, consider how you plan to use the card. Most cards fall into one of three categories: cash back, travel and low interest. If you pay your balance in full every month, you should consider a cash back card with a higher interest rate. If your goal is to rack up frequent flier miles, get a travel rewards card, and if you can’t pay your balance in full every month, shop for a card with the lowest possible interest rate.

While I haven’t found an objective review of credit card comparison sites, you might look at these: lowcards.com, bankrate.com and comparecards.com. A friend recently recommended a new site called nerdwallet.com—it’s easy to navigate and claims to compare 1,714 credit cards at once. Make sure you check several sources before picking your new credit card.

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