Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs Hosts National Consumer Protection Week Conference
BOSTON – The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation today hosted the 23rd annual National Consumer Protection Week conference at Suffolk University Law School. The conference highlighted important consumer topics including prepaid cards, data protections and privacy issues surrounding robocalling, and the state’s new item pricing law.
The conference drew over 100 attendees from local consumer programs, regional state banking departments and the financial services industry, as well as interested consumers. The conference was sponsored by the Office of Consumer Affairs, the Division of Banks, Suffolk University Law School, and ConsumerWorld.org.
“There have been many changes in the consumer landscape since the first National Consumer Protection Week conference,” said Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs Barbara Anthony. “New technologies, scams, and a major economic recession have put new faces on the same old issues. Our challenge as consumer advocates is to keep up with these changes in the dynamic marketplace and continue both to empower consumers to navigate through the innovation economy and to ensure a level playing field for all businesses.”
Undersecretary Anthony delivered a proclamation from Governor Deval Patrick, encouraging consumers to take full advantage of their consumer rights and expressing the Commonwealth’s hopes to extend awareness to all consumers through education and outreach.
Susan Wornick, WCVB Channel 5's Consumer Reporter, was the keynote speaker, discussing changes in the marketplace during her experience as a lifelong consumer advocate. Undersecretary Anthony recognized Wornick’s commitment to consumer issues with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Office of Consumer Affairs.
“Consumer advocacy is a dying profession,” said Wornick. “Ever diminishing budgets make protecting and educating people increasingly difficult. Seminars like this are crucial and I was thrilled to be included.”
“This annual conference is a wonderful opportunity for consumer professionals to learn about the latest laws and issues, so they can better serve the public,” commented Edgar Dworsky, Founder of ConsumerWorld.org and a conference co-sponsor.
The topic of the conference was current and future consumer protections surrounding prepaid cards. Over the past decade the prepaid card industry has exploded, with more and more people turning to them for everyday use. The cards are associated with high use-related fees and extra charges for various activities including ATM withdrawals, balance inquiries and merchant transactions.
Joanna Lambert, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Innovation at American Express, and Kathleen Engel, Associate Dean for Intellectual Life for Suffolk University Law School, spoke about the opportunity to reduce costs and increase efficiency with prepaid cards as alterative banking solutions. Marla Blow, Assistant Director of Card and Payment Markets for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gave a presentation on the current and future consumer protections surrounding prepaid cards.
Deborah Marrone, Assistant Regional Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Northeast Regional Office, gave an update on the FTC’s actions and initiatives regarding robocalling and privacy. Robocalls are prerecorded commercial telemarketing calls made to consumers without the consumers’ express written agreement to receive such calls. Robocalls have been prohibited by federal law since September of 2009.
Diane Lawton, Chief of Staff and General Counsel at the Office of Consumer Affairs, rounded out the day by giving a primer on the new Massachusetts item pricing regulations. The law, which became effective at the start of 2013, allows businesses to implement new scanner technologies and opt out of individually pricing each item in a food department or grocery store. The Division of Standards is finalizing these regulations that provide consumer protections for shoppers and seek to maintain the trust that Massachusetts consumers have in the integrity of our marketplace.
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office at its blog, on Facebook and on Twitter @Mass_Consumer.