Action Line is written by Blair Looney, President & CEO of BBB Serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties. Action Line is a weekly column written exclusively for The Fresno Bee, where readers’ questions are answered. BBB has permission to republish for use on our website.December 26, 2017: New Year's Fitness ResolutionQuestion: Dear Action Line, The Holidays were wonderful! There were lots of family members around, and way too much food! I have to get started on an exercise program. I'm going to make it a New Year's Resolution. I have got to get fit and in shape. How do i go about finding a fitness club that best fits my needs? Blair Looney: Congratulations on deciding to make your New Year's Resolution this year. Finding the right health club requires a little research on your part. They range from specialized high-tech weight-training facilities to all-purpose gyms. Some facilities are beautiful to look at, while others get the job done with a minimum of frills. Here are some tips to get you started in your search: Click here. December 20, 2017: Online Shopping Question: Dear Action Line, I've done a lot of shopping online this year and my sister keeps telling me that I should be careful. I haven't had any problems yet, but wondered what I should be worried about. Blair Looney: More and more consumers are shopping at their convenience at home or work. In order to shop safely, Better Business Bureau recommends these tips: Click here. December 12, 2017: Heating ContractorsQuestion: Dear Action Line, The weather has gotten colder now. I have not had my heating unit serviced yet and keep trying to put off turning it on. I’m not sure it will make it through another season. Can you help me find a good heating company that I can trust?Blair Looney: First, go to www.bbb.org and check out the company’s Business Profile. You will find customers reviews, complaints, and other information that will be helpful in your decision making. You will usually find information on state licensing as well.If you don’t find licensing on bbb.org, then go to http://www2.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/CheckLicense.aspx. Make sure the company has a license that it is current and active. Check to see if they have workers’ compensation and liability insurance coverage. According to the California State Contractors State Board, if a contractor has employees, he/she is required to carry workers' compensation insurance. The importance of this cannot be overstated. If a worker is injured working on your property and the contractor doesn't have insurance, you could be financially liable to pay for injuries and rehabilitation. Your homeowner's insurance may or may not cover those costs. You should check with your insurance carrier to make sure the workers' compensation insurance coverage being provided by the contractor is adequate. Learn more from the California Department of Insurance, http://www.insurance.ca.gov/.For more tips when hiring HVAC contractors, click here. December 4, 2017: Buying a New Car?Question: Dear Action Line, I\nam looking to purchase a new car. I’ve never had a brand-new one, so I’m a\nlittle nervous about the entire\nprocess. It’s so much money and I don’t want to make any mistakes. Can you offer some advice on what to\ndo when you are buying a new car? Blair Looney: What an exciting event, your first new car! Congratulations! I’m glad you are looking for good information to help you make a wise buying decision. In California, Auto dealers are required to be licensed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.For tips on buying a new car, click here. November 15, 2017: Employment Scams Question: Dear Action Line, I was on a\nwell-known employment website and I posted a resume. Then I received an email\nfrom a person offering a logistics manager job where they ship you goods and\nyou ship them elsewhere. Is this a real job offer?Blair\nLooney: These kinds of offers will generally promise you that you can make\nlots of money. For more tips on employment\nscams, click here.November 8, 2017: Veterans Day Donations Question: Dear Action Line, I want to make a donation to a Veterans organization in honor of my father who served in the Korean War. Can you recommend one? Blair Looney: For some great tips and resources to make sure you are giving wisely this Veterans Day, click here. November 2, 2017: Roof Inspection Question: Dear Action Line, I just bought\na house and I’m not sure I am completely comfortable that my roof is in good\nshape. I don’t know where to start about finding someone that won’t come out\nand just pressure me into a new roof. How do I go about getting a roof\ninspection to make sure that when the rain starts my roof won’t be\nleaking? Blair\nLooney: You’ve\ncome to the right pace for tips on how to find and hire a company to take care\nof your roof needs. For more tips on hiring a\ncontractor, click here. October 25, 2017: Auto Repair Question: Dear Action Line, My car\nstarted making a noise. It only happened when I pressed on the brakes. I took\nit into an auto repair shop close to my home and they told me it was my front\nbrakes and that they needed to be replaced. So, I had them do the repairs. The\ncar was still making the same noise so I took it back...Blair\nLooney: I sympathize with you. There is no\nguarantee that you can get your money back, but you do have options. First, I\nhope you kept your estimate and receipts so you have proof of the repair. You\nshould always give the company a chance to resolve the problem before you file\na complaint. If you did not speak to someone in authority the first time, go\nback and ask to speak to the owner or manager. If they do not want to work with\nyou, then go to bbb.org and file a complaint. You can also\nfile a complaint with the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) at 800-952-5210.\nBAR is the agency in the State of California that licenses and regulates auto\nrepair companies. For\nmore auto repair tips, click here. October 11, 2017: Landlord Tenant Question: Dear Action Line, Recently, I purchased a duplex. I’m going to live in one and rent out the other. Can you give me some advice on screening tenants? I really don’t want to rent to anyone that will throw loud parties or be late on their rent. How can I be sure to get good solid renter?Blair Looney: The link below gives you great information as a landlord. “California Tenants: A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities.”... Keep reading. September 7, 2017: Payday Loans Question: Dear Action Line, I’m recently divorced and have been having trouble making ends meet. I’m waiting for child support payments to come in. So, I’m thinking about getting a payday loan. There are lots of offers online. Is this a good idea?Blair Looney: You may be tempted by some of the ads you are seeing but\nbefore you click on anything, check on the reputation of the company with BBB\nat bbb.org. For more tips on getting a loan, click here.August 23, 2017: Unwanted Mail Question: Dear Action Line, All of a sudden, my\nDad is receiving stacks of mail every day. I’m not sure how it started but it\nhas really gotten out of hand. He has received lottery and sweepstakes mailing. He\nalso receives mail from charities that I have never heard of . . . How do I\nstop it? Blair\nLooney: Your father could have donated to a cause or entered a drawing.\nThe first thing to do is to start by asking each of the senders to remove his\nname from their “list”. To\nstop unwanted mail, you can register with the Mail Preferences Service of the Direct Marketing Association. You can also\nregister for phone calls and email as well. This will help, but will not\ncompletely eliminate the “junk” mail. You also need to allow several weeks to\nsee the progress. I had one consumer tell me that if the “Junk “ mail includes\na postage paid envelope, she takes the contents of the mailing, puts it back in\ntheir postage paid envelope and mails it back to the sender on their dime.If\nyou suspect fraud, contact your US Postal Inspector or\ncall 877-876-2455, the Federal Trade Commission and Scamtracker.If\nyou decide to open it and review the offers, the FTC warns that some con\nartists use the lure of a sweepstakes to convince consumers to send in money to\nclaim a prize they've supposedly won. For more information on sweepstakes\nscams, click here. August 16, 2017: Reverse Mortgage Part 2Question: Dear Action Line, I enjoyed reading your article regarding reverse mortgages. I wonder if you could do a follow up on this subject, given your resources, on something I just heard. Can a property be held up and subject to probate taxes on the death of the property owner, even though a durable power of attorney was in place? Blair Looney: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), states there are 3 types of reverse mortgages. Single-purpose reverse mortgages, proprietary reverse mortgages and home equity conversion mortgages. Keep reading. August 3, 2017: Student Loan Consolidation Question: Dear Action Line, I currently have a\nstudent loan. Last week I received a call out of the blue from a man that told\nme he could get rid of my student loan. My payments are about $100 per month\nand he told me I am paying too much. He said all I need to do is start sending\nhim $39.95 per month and stop making the payments and he could get rid of my\nloan. This sounds like a scam to me. What do you think? Blair\nLooney: Whether you are looking for a new loan\nor thinking of consolidating old loans or trying to get rid of student loans,\nit is crucial that you know who you are doing business with. You also need to\nget information in writing on the terms of the loan. There are good companies\nout there that can provide the service but there are many that are only\ninterested in taking your hard earned dollars and ruining your credit. So here\nare some tips for you: Keep reading. July 20, 2017: Bathroom Remodel Question: Dear Action Line, The kids have\nmoved out.… Finally! Now, I want to take their bathroom and make it my oasis.\nI don’t want to share with my husband anymore. One problem, I have never taken\non a project like this before and don’t know where to start. Can you please\ngive me some guidance? Blair\nLooney: What a great way to celebrate becoming\nan empty nester! I applaud you for embracing this big event. Now let’s get\nstarted. Take your time when choosing a contractor.For\ntips on hiring a contractor, click here.July 12, 2017: Reverse Mortgage Question: Dear Action Line, My husband and I are both recently retired, and in our early 70’s. We are comfortable financially, but are considering a reverse mortgage. We keep hearing about them and we have a couple of friends that are doing it, and they are having a blast using the income to travel. I even saw a television commercial with one of my favorite actors talking about how great reverse mortgages were for people who wanted to really enjoy their retirement. We have a lot of equity in our home and this seems like a way to get some use out of it without paying interest on a loan. Do you have any suggestions about where we can find reliable information? Blair Looney: Congratulations on your retirement and your plans to make the most of your new leisure time. Keep reading. June 28, 2017: Fencing ContractorsQuestion: Dear Action Line, I guess I have spring fever. I look outside and find that my home and yard are both in need of minor repairs and clean up. I have trees that need to be trimmed, the trim on my house needs to be painted and I need a new fence. How do I go about finding a good contractor? Blair Looney: You have started in the right place. Asking questions, researching and finding out what to do next. For more tips on hiring a contractor, click here. June 21, 2017: Painting Contractors Question: Dear Action Line, I recently\nhad the exterior of my house painted. I hired a licensed painting contractor.\nHowever, I am extremely unhappy with the finished product. I paid several\nthousand dollars to have my house painted and they didn’t do any patching or\npriming. What are my options? I thought hiring a licensed professional would\nensure me a quality job.Blair\nLooney: While I am glad you hired a licensed\npainting contractor, the licensing is not the item to be questioned.\n However, the areas of your dissatisfaction don’t really have anything to\ndo with licensing. Not having been able to review your contract, I’m guessing\nthat the details were not included in the contract. You always need to be\nspecific when agreeing to a contract. Keep reading.June 15, 2017: Collection Agencies Question: Dear Action Line, I have a\ncollection agency calling me telling me that I have an unpaid bill from a\ncompany I’ve never heard of. They said the bill that is unpaid goes back to\n1984. Seriously, 1984! They have been harassing me telling me that I need\nto pay the bill right away. They want credit card info. They won’t stop\ncalling and they say if I do not pay they will send the sheriff out to arrest\nme. Can they do that? Blair\nLooney: No, they cannot send someone out to\narrest you. According to the California\nAttorney General’s office, state\nlaw prohibits debt collectors attempting to collect or collecting a consumer\ndebt by using obscene or profane language. A collection agency or its employees\nmust not threaten to do anything that it cannot legally do. It cannot damage\nyour property or physically injure you or others (California Civil Code section\n1788.10) For\nmore tips on collection agencies, click here. June 7, 2017: Elder Financial Abuse Question: Dear Action Line, My mom is 84\nyears old. She has been getting lots of telemarketing calls lately. Callers\nseem to be asking for money regularly. Her mail seems to be increasing as\nwell. I’m concerned that she may be tricked into giving out personal\ninformation she recently gave someone $3,400 though a wire transfer. She\nthought she was paying taxes on winnings from a foreign lottery. I’m very\nconcerned that it may happen again. Of course, there were no lottery winnings.\nWhat can I do to keep her from becoming a victim again?Blair\nLooney: You are right to be concerned about\nyour Mother. The US Census Bureau advises us that the population of citizens over 65 is\nthe largest in terms of size and percent of the population than it has ever\nbeen. Seniors are regularly targeted by scammers who are trying to separate\nseniors from their money. Seniors that are at risk are those that\nlive alone, are at home a lot and have money. These things leave seniors\nvulnerable to financial abusers. The sooner you spot signs of financial abuse\nand doing something about it, the better. Keep reading. June 1, 2017: Buying Ships in a Bottle Kits OnlineQuestion: Dear Action Line, Father’s Day is\njust around the corner. My Dad is one of those people that has everything,\ndoesn’t need anything and gets upset if you spend too much money on him. He’s\ntaken up a new hobby, building ships in a bottle. I found an online site that\nsells kits but I’m not sure if they are a good company. Any tips?Blair\nLooney: The ship in a bottle is actually called\na type of mechanical puzzle according to Wikipedia. A mechanical puzzle is any\nbottle containing an object that does not appear to fit through the mouth of\nthe bottle. You can order online but check out the company first. For more tips\non shopping with online retailers click here. May 25, 2017: Kitchen Remodel Question: Dear Action Line, My husband and I have lived in our house for nearly 30 years and have not updated the kitchen since. I’m really ready for a change. My husband doesn’t know it yet, but this is going to be a total gut job. I want new everything. I have not hired anyone to do work in my home for so long, i‘m not sure how to get started. Could you offer some advice on how to get started?Blair Looney: How exciting for you (hope your husband goes along with\nit)! According to the Contractors\nState Licensing Board, it is illegal\nfor an unlicensed person to perform contracting work on any project for which\nthe combined price of labor and materials is $500 or more. You need a licensed\ncontractor to perform the work, and you should check the validity of the\nlicense before you hire them.For\nmore tips on hiring a contractor, click here. May 18, 2017: Alarm Systems Question: Dear Action Line, I just bought a new house and it does not have an alarm system. There are so many types of security out there, where do I start?Blair Looney: Congratulations on your new home! Having a security system that is monitored is the single most important thing you can do to secure your home from burglars and even fire. Having a security system will trigger an alarm when someone breaks in and immediately alert the authorities. Not only will this protect your home when your away, but will protect you if someone breaks in knowing your inside. Keep Reading. May 10, 2017: AC Repair, Renters Rights Question: Dear Action Line, I moved into to a really great new apartment a few months ago. I have been quite happy until this week. As the weather heated up, so did my apartment and my air conditioning is not working. I called my landlord who told me it would be some time before he would be able to get it fixed. When I reminded him how hot it gets here and that he had to fix it, he informed me that he wasn’t even obligated to provide air conditioning for my apartment in the first place. I think he just doesn’t want to pay to have it repaired or replaced. What can I do to get may air conditioning fixed? Blair Looney: I\nagree it isn’t fun to be hot, but this is the place where I tell you a nice\ncool shower or a dip in the pool may be the thing for you. I’m afraid you are\nnot going to like the answer to your questions. Keep reading. May 3, 2017: Free Offers or Rewards Question: Dear Action Line, A few weeks\nago, I saw an ad in a catalog that said I would get a free gift if I ordered\n$50 worth of merchandise. I actually ordered over $100 worth of merchandise and\nI never received the free gift. I am really angry that people think they can\nlie to consumers and get away with it. When I called to complain, the person on\nthe phone said they were out of free gifts by the time my order was placed and\nthat the offer was good while supplies lasted. Can they do this? Blair\nLooney: Thank you for enclosing the ad so I\ncould see exactly what the offer was. It was helpful in evaluating the offer.\nMost people like free stuff especially if they are going to place an order\nanyway. I am always a champion of truth in advertising, but I have learned the\nhard way to read the fine print. If you read this offer carefully, it says that\nthe free gifts were offered “one to a customer while supplies lasted.”\nUnfortunately, the catalog you ordered from was issued in March and you placed\nyour order this month when the free gift supply was already exhausted. The ad\nstates that the free gift is offered while supplies last. Keep reading. April 26, 2017: LocksmithQuestion: Dear Action Line, I rent out one of\nthe bedrooms in my home. Recently, my tenant move out and I wanted to\nchange the locks on my house. I’ve never felt like I needed to do this\nbefore. Do I need a contractor or a locksmith?Blair\nLooney: If the price quoted to change the locks\non your doors for labor and materials is over $500, you will need a licensed\ncontractor. If it is less than $500, you can call on a locksmith.In\nCalifornia, locksmiths are licensed by the California Bureau of Security &\nInvestigative Services (BSIS). BSIS considers a locksmith to be someone\nthat “installs, repairs, opens or modifies locks or that originates keys for\nlocks. BSIS also sates on their website that, an individual,\npartnership, or corporation seeking a license as a locksmith must specify in\nthe application the individual who will manage the business on a day-to-day\nbasis. (An owner, partner, or corporate officer may serve as the manager, or\nmay hire someone to fill this role.) In order to obtain the company license,\neach individual applicant, partner, or corporate officer must undergo a\ncriminal history background check through the California Department of Justice\n(DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to be evaluated on an\nindividual basis.” Licensing requires a background check, fingerprinting,\nand a fictitious name statement for the business. For an employee,\nbackground check and fingerprinting is required. In both cases, there are\nalso fees involved.For\nmore tips in hiring a contractor, click here. April 5, 2017: Hiring a LandscaperQuestion: Dear Action Line, My elderly father lives alone and he has finally agreed that it would be okay for me to hire someone to take care of his yard. He is very particular, especially about the rose bushes that my mother planted. I want to be very sure that he will be happy having someone else care for his yard at this time in his life. He would want someone to spruce up his yard when the seasons change with new plantings, trimming trees as well as regular grass cuttings. Can you tell me what to watch out for?Blair Looney: What a thoughtful person you are to look after your father. All children should be so good to their parents. BBB has tips on hiring any contractor here and, more specifically, on hiring landscapers here.Here in California, according to the Contractor’s State License Board, if a landscape contractor constructs, maintains, repairs, installs, or subcontracts the development of landscape systems and facilities for public and private gardens and other areas which are designed to aesthetically, architecturally, horticulturally, or functionally improve the grounds within or surrounding a structure or a tract or plot of land, they need a license. As part of that, if a landscape contractor prepares and grades plots and areas of land for the installation of any architectural, horticultural and decorative treatment or arrangement, a license is required. If the work you want done falls into this description, make sure they have a license and check it.For more home improvement tips, check out our Spring Into Home Improvement website. March 15, 2017: National ParksQuestion: Dear Action Line, I read your article on spring break travel tips. I was wondering if you know anything about things to do in our area. Time is limited so we can’t venture too far away but believe me my family needs to get away and relax. Any suggestions?Blair Looney: As a matter of fact, why not stay close to home. Spring and Summer seasons are the best time to get outdoors. Why not visit our National Parks. Your BBB Serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties has 5, count them, 5 national parks within our service area. Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, Sequoia, and Death Valley National Parks are all driving distance. Your BBB is here to help. Use the link below to get valuable information on how to help plan your trip. Keep Reading March 6, 2017: Credit Card usage FeesQuestion: Dear Action Line, I was on a trip recently and wanted to make a purchase with my credit card. However, the store had a sign that said I needed to make a minimum purchase of $10 in order to use my credit card. I only use my cards when I travel but I have seen these signs before. Can merchants require a minimum purchase for credit card transactions? Why do they charge me a fee just to spend money with them? And why is it that I am charged a higher price for using my credit card at gas stations?Blair Looney: According to the agreements merchants sign with MasterCard\nand Visa, merchants are not allowed to place minimum amounts on using a credit\ncard for purchases. Discover keeps its agreements private. American Express\nsays its merchants cannot do anything to discriminate against card users so, in\nessence, merchants can’t require a minimum purchase with AMEX. Keep reading. February 15, 2017: Your Vizio TV May be Spying on YouQuestion: Dear Action Line, I own a Vizio smart TV and one of my friends just told me that they have been tracking what I watch and sharing that info with other companies. Is that true, and how do I stop it? Or is it something I should be concerned about? Blair Looney: It could be true. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that VIZIO agreed “to settle charges that it violated the law when it used its automated content recognition (“ACR”) software in more than 11 million internet-connected VIZIO televisions to determine what people watch – without their consent. VIZIO collected unique data from each household with a VIZIO smart TV that included not only second-by-second viewing information, but also the household’s IP address, nearby access points, zip code, and other information. They also shared that information with other companies. This settlement stops VIZIO’s unauthorized tracking, and makes clear that smart TV makers should get people’s consent before collecting and sharing television viewing information. From now on, VIZIO is required to prominently disclose their data collection and sharing practices and get permission from the TV owners. The company also has to delete most of the data it already collected and put in place a privacy program that also checks their partners’ privacy practices.” So, if your VIZIO is one of those 11 million smart TVs, your information may have been shared. Keep reading. February 2, 2017: Valentine's Day Phishing Question: Dear Action Line, I did some online shopping for my guy for Valentine’s Day. I ordered a couple of things and now I’ve received an email that tells me to click on the “hearts” icon to get my Valentine’s message. I can’t tell who sent it. It looks really cool but I’m afraid that it might not be a legitimate site. How can I find out?Blair Looney: It’s great that you are moving forward with caution. That’s the first right step in this process. During the Valentine’s Day season, we often do see emails that are sent to unsuspecting consumers to offer goods and services or electronic greetings. Those unsuspecting consumers have fallen prey to the scammers that use these types of solicitations to get you to click on an icon to get your Valentines’ message. But what you might be doing is allowing a scammer to download malware onto your PC or other electronic device. Keep Reading. January 25, 2017: 2016 W2 Form Question: Dear Action Line, I'm waiting for my boss to give me my W2 forms so that I can file my taxes. What is the deadline and what happens if I don't get mine? Blair Looney: According to the IRS, every employer engaged in a trade or business who pays remuneration, including noncash payments of $600 or more for the year (all amounts if any income, social security, or Medicare tax was withheld) for services performed by an employee must file a Form W-2 for each employee (even if the employee is related to the employer) from whom:Income, social security, or Medicare tax was withheld.Income tax would have been withheld if the employee had claimed no more than one withholding allowance or had not claimed exemption from withholding on Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate. Keep Reading. January 12, 2017: Earned Income Tax Credit Question: Dear Action Line, Can you tell me what the earned income tax credit is? I keep hearing all about it but still don’t understand what it is.Blair Looney: In checking with the California Franchise Tax Board, They tell us that last year; California began offering its own earned tax income credit to many people who make use of the federal EITC. The CalEITC is refundable, meaning that taxpayers will receive money if the credit is greater than taxes owed. This credit was designed to put money BACK into the pockets of qualifying Californian. If you are eligible all you need to do is file a tax return. Keep reading. ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties which was founded in 1950 and serves Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Mono, Tulare, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.