State Office of Consumer Affairs and Its Agencies Save Consumers and Businesses over $5.1 Million in 2013
BOSTON – March 13, 2014 – In a continuing effort to champion consumer rights and recover money for taxpayers, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) and its agencies today announced they secured over $5.1million for Massachusetts citizens through awards, settlements, and refunds in calendar year 2013.
“Dedicated staff at each of our agencies work hard to protect the rights of every Massachusetts resident,” said Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Undersecretary Barbara Anthony.“We are in the business of consumer protection and advocacy, which means keeping not only consumers safe, but their wallets too.”
OCABR oversees the Division of Banks, Division of Insurance, Division of Professional Licensure, Division of Standards, and the Department of Telecommunications and Cable. The recoveries are a direct result of the agencies’ responses to over36,500consumer inquiries and complaints on issues such as home improvement contractor registration, new or used car lemon laws, insurance and banking issues:
- OCABR’s Lemon Law program received128 complaints into the new and used car arbitration program in 2013, which resulted in more than $337,932 in awards and settlements to consumers.
- The Division of Insurance received nearly 10,000 consumer inquiries in 2013. The Division’s market conduct unit settled with five companies for a total of over $2 million in monetary penalties. Companies that agreed to monetary settlements in 2013 included CIGNA Group, UNUM Group, ING Group, TIAA Family Group, and Transamerica. Additionally, the Division's Special Investigations Unit assessed over $132,000 in enforcement fines and penalties against insurance sellers for unethical conduct and violating state law. The Division’s consumer services unit addressed over 1,000 consumer complaints,assisting in recovering nearly $1 million from insurance companies. Recoveries resulted from issues such as delays in claim processing, inappropriate denials, and improper agent claim handling. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the Division’s consumer services unit dealt directly with one individual and seven businesses, providing information to help three of the businesses settle with their insurance companies, and helping to recover over $10,000 for two businesses.
- The Division of Banks responded to over 6,340 consumer inquiries in 2013, resulting in over $559,000 recovered from financial institutions and licensees. Consumer complaints included payday loan, deposit account, debt collector, and rate lock issues as well as mortgage loan servicing complaints. With the funds collected from loan originator fees and penalties, the Division awarded $1.1 million in grants to regional foreclosure centers and counseling agencies during.
- The Division of Professional Licensure oversees 31 boards of registration, which license and regulate more than 370,000 individuals and businesses to practice over 50 different trades and professions. In 2013, DPL’s Boards received and investigated a total of 3,807 complaints, resulting in 1,490 fines totaling approximately $630,950. Additionally,these Boards took 536 other enforcement actions against licensees, including 163 license suspensions, 127 license revocations, 75 voluntary surrenders, and 17 stayed suspensions. The Boards also placed 125 licenses on probation and also issued 29 reprimands or verbal warnings.
- The Department of Telecommunications and Cable ’s consumer division responded to 3,337 inquiries and investigated 3,375 complaints in both regulated and unregulated industries. The majority of complaints concerned quality of service or billing disputes for landline or wireless telephone service. In 2013 the DTC authorized over $118,000 in refunds and credits to consumers’ bills, over twice the amount authorized in 2012.
- The Division of Standards received nearly 6,400 consumer complaints, including licensing issues, weights and measures violations, and item pricing complaints involving overcharges.In 2013, the Division issued civil citations for various weights and measures and licensing violations totaling over $17,000. The Division returned $11,600 to consumers from licensees’ bonds following consumers’ small claims actions. The Division’s compliance officers and local weights and measures officials saved consumers and merchants over $20 million by correcting device measurement errors.
- OCABR’s Home Improvement Contractor arbitration program , which was created to resolve disputes between homeowners and registered contractors, awarded nearly $416,000 to 17 homeowners and $35,538 to four home improvement contractors in 2013. The Home Improvement Contractor Guaranty Fund , a separate but related program, paid over $273,500 to 70 homeowners in 2013. The Guaranty Fund was created as a fund of last resort for consumers who have an unpaid final judgment against a contractor. The Guaranty Fund is funded by a one-time fee that contractors are required to pay at the time of registration.
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 Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.