7 On Your Side looks back at 2018

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As 2018 fades into history, events of the year are still shaping our lives. That includes much of the work by ABC7's Michael Finney and 7 on Your Side.

RELATED: Top stories of 2018 on ABC7News.com

We took a look back at seven of the most memorable 7 on Your Side stories of 2018, beginning with the plight of North Bay wildfire survivors.

Many of those who lost everything were just finding out last year that they did not have enough insurance to rebuild their homes.

Brad Sherwood of Santa Rosa said he had been assured previously that his house had adequate coverage. Now, he's short more than $100,000 to rebuild.

RELATED: North Bay Fires force insurance problems to the forefront for some homeowners

"And our big question is, 'How can that me? When (the house) is only four years old and we're $100,000 or more under insured?"

Many homeowners were short by hundreds of thousands more. After 7 On Your Side's reports, many homeowners and consumer advocates are demanding broader coverage and more disclosures from their carriers.

7 On Your Side received multiple complaints last year about shocking bills for data use on cellphones. None was more shocking than one received by Vivian Chung of San Jose.

She returned from a trip to Southeast Asia to find a bill for $13,400 for data roaming on her son's cellphone, for what she says was less than an hour's time in Vietnam.

"We were like whoa, what is happening?" Chung said.

RELATED: San Jose family billed $13,470 by T-Mobile for half-hour of iPhone internet

Her son, Nicholas, admits he was playing games on his phone during the flight - but only downloaded games that don't require data. And he is certain he was in airplane mode, which blocks data use.

"I was confused and scared,'' Nicholas said. "I mean, $13,000 is a lot of money!"

T-Mobile couldn't explain how that might happen. But experts said airplane mode may not be the safest way to prevent data use, since it's easy to tap a button accidentally and switch it off. The safest selection is to turn off "cellular data" in the settings tab.

However, after we contacted T-Mobile about their plight, the company agreed to cancel all those charges.

"Yay, wow I can't believe it!"

And remember those long lines outside the DMV? Carl Clem of Gilroy sure does. His driver's license was about to expire, he needed to take a written test and a vision exam. But there were no appointments available at any of the nearby DMV offices.

RELATED: Gilroy man travels 168 miles to get DMV appointment

"The first appointment was the day after my license expired,'' he recalled.

Clemm ended up driving 168 miles down the coast to the town of San Luis Obispo to get an appointment.

Even then, the DMV never sent his license. He contacted 7 On Your Side, and we found a holdup at the Department of Homeland Security. The paperwork was pushed through, and Clemm got his license right before it would expire.

RELATED: New laws that went into effect in 2019

Since that story aired, by the way, many consumers contacted us saying they traveled even further from home to get their DMV business done.

7 on Your Side also got multiple complaints last year from users of Zelle, the new peer-to-peer payment app and website. It's so easy to send money by typing in either a phone number or email of the recipient. But one wrong digit and the money goes to the wrong place.

Some complained phones and emails were connected to wrong accounts. And users said banks could not help get the money back; it's like a wire transfer.

"Where's my $2,500?" Loni Frankland of Livermore asked Wells Fargo Bank. Her daughter had just sent her first two months' rent to a new landlord via Zelle, but accidentally switched the landlord's first and last names. So the $2,500 went to a complete stranger in New York and she couldn't get it back. 7 on Your Side found the New York man who said he thought he was being targeted by a phishing scam. We also contacted Wells Fargo which helped us out - and Frankland's daughter got her money back.

RELATED: East Bay woman loses thousands of dollars in an instant with bank transfer typo

In another case, an East Bay man, Ric Sheldon, said he received a $100 money transfer from Zelle with a note saying "Happy Birthday." Turns out it was sent to him by mistake. Sheldon just wanted to give the money back but could not find any way to reverse the transaction via Zelle, or his bank.

The money sat there. 7 on Your Side found out it was sent to him by mistake by a man in Illinois trying to send his daughter a birthday gift. We connected Sheldon and the man in Illinois, got more help from Wells Fargo - and that $100 got to the right place.

We also told the story of Judy Neuhaus of Sonoma County. She was devastated when she saw a photo of her beloved Corgi, "Abby,'' on a website offering Abby for sale. But her dog is dead. The scammer apparently lifted the dog's image off Neuhaus' Facebook page.

RELATED: Photos of dog who died used in online scam

"Losing Abby was horrible,'' she said as the sight of it made her relive her grief. A friend contacted the website operator asking to buy the dog - just to see what happened. She said the perpetrator was ready to take $800 for the non-existent Corgi.

7 on Your Side uncovered plenty of other phony websites selling dogs that don't exist -- except in pictures.

And in West Contra Costa County, we found residents outraged that their garbage company was charging customers a $26.60 "fee" for recycling the wrong way. The company, Republic Services, had begun auditing recycle carts on garbage day, peering inside, and putting blue "contamination" stickers on the errant carts. Residents complained the stickers never indicated what they did wrong or how to correct it. The company said customers could call and find out specifically what was found.

However, when Art and Michelle Perrin called, customer service said it was "a non recyclable item" and a "soiled recyclable item."

RELATED: Richmond residents upset about fines for 'contaminated' recycling

"OK, so what was it?" Michelle Perrin asked. "And they couldn't explain that."

The company claims customers are dumping garbage in the recycle carts and China is no longer buying contaminated materials.

However, residents tell ABC7 they are putting only items they believe are recyclable. That raised many questions since the complexity of packaging and materials in the marketplace make it difficult to discern what can go in the bin and what can't.

Also many residents said their cans are not marked with an address, folks can dump items in someone else's cart, and the company failed to give enough detail on what constitutes a violation.

7 On Your Side found out the company has no authority to issue fines as law enforcement agencies do. The city of Richmond and the county issued "desist" letters asking Republic to stop citing customers and refund everybody's money. However, the city of Richmond may authorize those fines when it updates the company's trash collection agreement later this month.

Finally we told the story of the Mercedes truck that was converted into a "farmer's market on wheels." The Marin Agricultural Institute wanted to use it to bring fresh foods to the elderly and others with limited mobility.

RELATED: Rolling Marin County farmer's market stopped by dangerous airbag

They had shipped the truck all the way to France to have it reconfigured, complete with refrigeration, plumbing, and a convertible side wall to act as an open-air market. The one thing it didn't have? A safe airbag.

The group got it back from France only to find out the Mercedes had one of those dangerous, recalled Takata airbags. It could explode, shoot out shrapnel, possibly kill someone. And with millions of airbags under recall, there aren't enough safe ones to go around. Mercedes could not provide a new airbag for the food truck.

It sat idle in a parking lot for nearly two years.

"Let's see if 7 On Your Side can help,'' said then-director Bridget Moran.

We got Mercedes to search the globe, find an airbag. and now the market got on the road this fall.

"I got green beans, onions, tomatoes,'' said Peggy Brackett of San Rafael, one of the first customers of the mobile market. The group had covered the black truck with colorful depictions of fruits and vegetables, calling the market the "Rollin' Root,'' and rolled out across Marin this fall.

"Oh, they finally got the airbag?" another customer said. "Oh, you (ABC7) got it? Thank you Channel 7!"

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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