Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs Hosts National Consumer Protection Week Conference
Senior Scams, Online Reviews Take Stage at 24th Annual Conference
BOSTON - Today the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) hosted the 24th annual National Consumer Protection Week conference at Suffolk University Law School. This year’s conference focused on the notion of consumer trust, including whether consumers can trust online reviews and the reasons why seniors are popular targets of scams.
“The economy relies on trust in the marketplace. Consumers expect to get what they pay for and businesses must present their products honestly. In turn, businesses expect a level playing field among competitors,” said Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Barbara Anthony. “With so many consumers turning to the Internet for shopping, the consumer-business relationship must be fostered through trust, fair service and honest feedback.”
The conference drew over 100 attendees from local consumer programs, state and local government agencies, consumer advocates, and interested consumers. The conference was sponsored by OCABR, Suffolk University Law School, and ConsumerWorld.org.
Undersecretary Anthony delivered welcoming remarks and provided an overview of the OCABR’s fake scam website initiative - www.TopMassachusettsDeals.com - developed to educate consumers about common Internet scams and to provide consumers with educational information about where to actually find the help they are seeking.
Tod Marks, senior projects editor at Consumer Reports, presented an evaluation of service review websites, such as Yelp, Amazon, and TripAdvisor. Marks also gave the audience a historical look into the Consumer Reports quality testing labs.
“This annual conference is a wonderful opportunity for consumer professionals to learn about the latest issues so they can better serve the public,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org and a conference co-sponsor.
The first segment of the conference focused on online reviews. Michael Luca, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, gave an overview of online reviews, distinguishing real reviews from fake and promotional reviews. Mona Barber, program manager for e-commerce at Staples.com, discussed how the company manages the integrity of product reviews through technology filters and the company’s authenticity team. Kathleen Engel, professor at Suffolk University Law School, discussed the legal implications surrounding fake online reviews as they relate to the poster, the business and, ultimately, the consumer.
Clark P. Russell, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Internet Bureau for the New York State Office of the Attorney General, addressed the audience via webcam to discuss the indicators of fake reviews, such as suspicious account information by the poster. Russell also gave an overview of enforcement actions taken by the NY Attorney General’s Office in 2013 against 19 companies, which led to over $350,000 in penalties.
The second segment of the program focused on seniors and scams, specifically why seniors are more trusting and therefore are more vulnerable targets. Carol Lewis of C.S. Lewis Consulting, who also served as the conference moderator, spoke about her experience with her elderly parents who are regularly preyed upon by scammers over the telephone, through the mail and even in person.
“For many of us, the parents who taught us not to talk to strangers, to trust but verify, and to use our common sense seem to have thrown caution to the wind. Trying to convince them that there is no such thing as a free lunch is no easy task,” Lewis said in her presentation. “Seniors tend to be incredibly trusting, and unfortunately, many have lost lots of money to these con artists. I’m fortunate that my own parents always check in with me to prevent that from happening.”
Eric S. Giroux, staff attorney at the Boston Regional Office for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, spoke about elder profiling and persuasion involved in investment fraud, and the prevention efforts taken by the SEC. David M. Reardon, Supervisory Postal Inspector for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, discussed popular mail scams, including sweepstakes and lottery scams, which are cheap for the scammers but often cost seniors hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For additional information about today’s conference, including PowerPoint presentations from several speakers, please visit consumerworld.org/ncpw2014/.
The Patrick Administration’s 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. Visit the Office’s website at www.mass.gov/consumer. Follow the Office at its blog, on Facebook and on Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.