For Immediate Release - March 12, 2014

Insurance, Debt Companies, Scams Top Massachusetts Consumer Issues of 2013

BOSTON – Today Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Barbara Anthony was joined by representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, the Better Business Bureau, and the U.S. Postal Inspectors Service to announce each agency’s “Top 5” consumer issues of 2013 at a press conference in downtown Boston.

Insurance, telephone service, cable service, home improvement contractors, and auto issues including lemon laws topped the list in 2013 for calls and e-mails received by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR).  In 2012, the top issues for OCABR were auto insurance, health insurance, home insurance, home improvement contractors, and the Massachusetts lemon laws.

“These top five issues are no surprise given the consumer climate in 2013,” said Undersecretary Anthony. “We continue to see age old scams top the list, along with our mainstays of loan modification complaints and lemon law questions. We did see a spike in telecommunications complaints, possibly because of the digital age we live in.”

The top issue for consumers contacting OCABR and its agencies in 2013 was insurance-related questions and complaints. Over 9,500 people contacted OCABR and the Division of Insurance (DOI) with questions about various insurance products, insurance adjusters, denials of claims, claim delays and more. 

Attending the press conference was John Schall, the owner of Fire & Ice in Harvard Square, Cambridge, who contacted DOI after his restaurant suffered significant interruption and loss of business following the events surrounding the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April 2013.

“Without the efforts of the hard working employees of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, my legitimate business interruption insurance claims for the Monday and Friday of the Marathon bombing week would have never been paid,” said Schall. “Many Massachusetts heroes were on display that entire week, and by advocating for my and many other Massachusetts businesses, thus helping to minimize our lost income, the Commonwealth’s employees at the Division of Insurance deserve to stand among them.”

Consumers can find out more about auto, health, and other insurance by calling the Office of Consumer Affairs’ Hotline at (888) 283-3757, or the Division of Insurance at (617) 521-7794, or by visiting www.mass.gov/consumer.

Another consumer in attendance was Ana Hay who contacted the Attorney General’s Office about her experience with a law group that did not provide loan modification services as agreed.  The AGO was able to get Hay a full refund of $1,500 through its voluntary mediation program.

“Our office continues to see many deceptive foreclosure and loan modification scams preying on borrowers who are desperately trying to save their homes,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “As always, we encourage consumers to do their homework, be cautious about sharing personal information, and make sure that they are dealing with a reputable entity before making purchases or investments.”

The Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley continues to focus significant resources on mortgage lending issues and foreclosure prevention.  Consumers with foreclosure issues are encouraged to contact the HomeCorps Hotline at (617) 573-5333 and the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry and Assistance Center Hotline at (617) 727-8400 for general consumer issues.

Glen Mullen, a consumer from CITY, spoke about working with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service after realizing his elderly aunt Kitty was the victim of a sweepstakes scam.  Kitty’s local Post Office was instrumental in interceding and stopping a suspicious $5,000 transaction.

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service cautions consumers that lottery and sweepstakes fraud cost Americans millions every year. When one family member is harmed, the impact can be monumental.  Entire fortunes, inheritances, and retirement security can be wiped-out,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Shelly Binkowski.  “Most, if not all, foreign lottery come-ons sent to U.S. addresses through the mail are bogus and illegal. They don’t come from foreign government agencies or licensees. Instead, they come from con artists who take your money and give you nothing in return.”  

“This should be a cautionary tale that even the most business savvy person can be caught up in these scams as they get older,” Mullen said. “While no one can stop anyone from spending their money as they see fit, it is up to the front line people such as the postal clerks to recognize that something is not right and alert the proper authorities of these activities.”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service recommends that all consumers learn how to protect themselves from lottery, sweepstakes, and other types of fraud scams by visiting its dedicated fraud prevention website, www.deliveringtrust.com.

For more information on these issues and others, visit the agencies at their websites, and follow them on Twitter:

Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation: www.mass.gov/consumer (and on Twitter @Mass_Consumer)