Letter from the Undersecretary
Dear Massachusetts Consumer,
As we get ready to say goodbye to summer, I hope everyone took time for themselves to spend with family or loved ones. Hopefully you were able to stay cool too. August, like the rest of the season, was hot. In addition to the heat, the Commonwealth experienced lower than normal rainfall over the last seven months. This has left much of our state in Level 3 critical drought status, as announced by Secretary Bethany Card of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) on August 24.
We are all responsible when it comes to the consumption and use of water both outdoors and indoors. The minimal rainfall and high temperatures put our beautiful state at risk for wildfires and other environmental hazards. It has also caused extremely low streamflow in all regions, decreasing levels in reservoirs, dry streambeds, ponding, and diminished extent of streams in many watersheds.
It is more important now than ever to be conscious of our daily water use. As of today, watering restrictions include a ban on non-essential outdoor watering in all Level 3 drought areas, and a limit to hand-held hoses or watering cans, before 9:00 am or after 5:00 pm, in Level 2 significant drought areas of the state.
Fortunately, water supplies remain high enough that most communities are not restricting indoor water use, but we can all do our part to conserve. If you own a home and have experienced a leak that you are unable to repair yourself, be sure to hire a registered home improvement contractor. Landlords and business owners can have a water audit performed on large building to identify any potential leaks and water conservation opportunities. It’s the little things that we can do that will make the biggest difference, like collecting rainwater for outdoor use or shutting off the faucet while brushing our teeth.
According to the EEA, “water conservation measures will aid in the reduction of water use and safeguard water for essential needs, such as drinking water, fire protection services, habitat recovery and environmental needs, and sustained water supplies.” So, let’s join together as Massachusetts residents and consumers in practicing better conservation habits to protect ourselves, the Commonwealth, and our future.
Finally, the Labor Day holiday is right around the corner. I want to take this time to acknowledge all the contributions and achievements of Massachusetts workers. As the writer and Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, Pearl Buck said, “to find joy in work is to find the fountain of youth.” Take pride and find the joy in your work. The Commonwealth would not be successful without each and every one of you.
Please stay informed with all the latest consumer advocacy and updates across our agency by following OCABR on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and our brand new Instagram account, or by checking out our most recent posts on the Mass Consumer Affairs Blog on Mass.gov/OCABR.
Edward A. Palleschi
Undersecretary, Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
Back to School for Consumers
Summer is coming to an end, and that means back-to-school season is right around the corner! For both students and parents throughout the Commonwealth, it’s time to start shopping for school supplies. Whether you are buying online or in-store, it is important to understand your consumer rights before you start a shopping spree.
In Massachusetts, retailers must follow certain rules when doing business. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) empowers consumers to make informed decisions. To that end, OCABR gathered the below information for when you’re shopping for essentials ahead of the new school year.
- False Advertising. Retailers must provide correct information about the prices and stock of goods to consumers. If a merchant advertises a price that is not offered, they are obligated to honor the advertised price until a correction has been made indicating the actual cost. In addition, a salesperson or promotion cannot state that an offer is available for a limited time only if it is not true.
- Returns. There are no set laws about return policies in Massachusetts, but there are protections in place if a store allows returns. Retailers may decide on their own return policy as long as it is clearly posted or disclosed to the customer prior to the transaction.
- Defects. Any merchandise with a defect must be accepted for a return, and an option to either repair, replace, or refund the item must be available. If you have defective merchandise, bring it back to the seller and ask what the retailer is willing to do to rectify the situation.
- Shipping. If your item is being shipped to you, the company you bought it from must ship it in the timeframe promised. If no timeframe is provided, merchants have 30 days to ship an order, unless you agree to delayed delivery. If you do not receive your order within the agreed upon timeframe, and do not have a new date, you can cancel your order and request a refund.
For more information about your rights when shopping for school supplies, or for anything else, visit the Office of Consumer Affair’s Massachusetts Consumer Guide to Shopping Rights.
Don't Be Scammed Moving
Moving is a stressful process, and now scammers are targeting individuals relocating at a rapid rate. Fraudsters are creating fake moving companies, holding belongings hostage, and stealing personal information and money from unsuspecting consumers. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) specifically experienced a 63% increase in moving scam reports from 2020 to 2021, with 376 moving related scams complaints in 2021 alone.
While bad actors are always updating their scam tactics, there are some steps you can take to keep your possessions and wallet safe. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation compiled the below tips to consider when moving.
- Initiate your own change of address with the post office. Ensure that the website you are visiting is that of the official United States Postal Service (www.USPS.com/move).
- Verify the licenses of moving companies with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) by visiting www.protectyourmove.gov, or calling (202) 366-9805. You can also confirm insurance details with FMCSA by calling (866) 637-0635.
- Request an on-sight inspection of your house in order to receive a cost estimate. Avoid sight-unseen estimates and suspiciously low pricing.
- Do not sign partial or blank contracts. Carefully read documents and make note of pickup and drop-off dates and any extra fees.
- Use a credit card to pay for costs associated with your move. If you encounter a scam, it will be easier to dispute related charges with your credit card company.
Additionally, movers are required by federal law to provide customers with a booklet called “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” at the beginning of the process. Beware if you do not receive this resource. Finally, read consumer reviews on reputable websites and with the BBB, or consult trusted friends and family for moving company recommendations.
Inflation And Scams That Come With It
Inflation is at an all-time high, and fraudsters are taking advantage of struggling consumers. With the cost of living on the rise, everyone is looking for ways to save or increase their income. It has become almost impossible to avoid seemingly once in lifetime opportunities that are often difficult to turn down, especially for those living paycheck to paycheck.
While average consumers are hard at work earning a living to keep up with inflation, scammers are busy rebranding schemes to make a quick buck. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation compiled information about common inflation related scams to watch out for.
- Debt relief. Millions of Americans have dug themselves in deep credit card debts in order to pay bills. In desperation, some may turn to a debt relief “specialist” offering to renegotiate or reduce debts for just a fee. These bogus companies don’t provide the services advertised, and instead pocket your money and steal your personal information.
- Government Grants. Beware of all government grants with the exception of COVID relief stimulus checks. These fraudulent grant opportunities require your bank account information to receive funds via direct deposit. However, a deposit never comes, and your account is quickly drained by the con artist.
- Fake Coupons. Social Media advertisements may seem to appear on behalf of national corporations, offering coupons, vouchers, and other giveaways. These illegitimate ads include links leading you to malicious websites with the goal of stealing your personal and financial data.
- Work from Home. With the shift to remote working, scams offering high-paying work from home openings have drastically increased. Oftentimes, these advertisements require no previous experience, and state that all equipment and training materials will be provided for a fee once you are hired.
Always remember to take your time and be cautious of anything that seems too good to be true. If you believe you were a victim of an inflation scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.reportfraud.ftc.gov or call 220-326-2222.
Tips to Avoid Debt Collection Scams
Whether you are a consumer paying off credit card bills, a parent paying for your child’s medical expenses, or a recent college graduate paying off student loans, debt is likely a sore point of stress. According to the Federal Reserve, American consumers owed over $4.5 trillion worth of debt to creditors. As debt collectors set out to recoup owed balances, scammers have long identified debtors as a prime target of exploitation and scams.
If you have received a collection call about an unrecognized outstanding debt, make sure you take the following steps:
Identify the Collector: Before engaging in further conversation, be sure to collect the caller’s name, the name of the collection company, the collection company’s address, and phone number.
Ignore Threats: Scammers often threaten the immediate arrest or use of criminal violence if debt remains unpaid. If this happens to you, report the collector immediately to the FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov.
Verify the Debt and Creditor: Verify the debt balance and original creditor with the caller. If they refuse to do this, hang up and report the caller. Don’t owe debt? Contact the original creditor to verify whether the debt is yours, the balance is accurate, and the true identity of the collection company.
Dispute the Debt: In the case that you believe the debt is incorrect, reach out to the collector in writing as soon as possible. If no dispute is filed in 30 days, collectors may assume that the debt is valid.
Debt Collection Scam Red Flags Can Include:
Threats of Immediate Arrest or Violence: Scammers may apply psychological pressure in the form of threats. Debt collectors can never threaten immediate violence on nonrepayment, though long term outstanding balances may result in arrest.
Ambiguity: Scammers will often refuse to provide details of the debt. If they do divulge information, it will often be unusually vague or inaccurate.
Threats to tell third parties: Debt collectors are not usually authorized to share information about your debts to family, friends, or employer.
If you are experiencing issues with a Massachusetts based collector or creditor, file a consumer complaint with the Division of Banks at https://www.mass.gov/consumer-complaints.
OCABR Licensee Recognized: A. P Michaud Insurance Agency, Inc.
Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi had the pleasure of visiting and presenting sisters Tricia Sabulis CISR, CIC, AAI-M and Kate Henderson of A. P Michaud Insurance Agency, Inc. in Methuen with the OCABR Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence recently.
Licensed through the Division of Insurance, Michaud is a family-run and operated agency that has provided quality service to its customers for over 40 years. Their values and mission extend beyond the company through their leader's commitment to serving the entire Methuen community through volunteer work and community service.
OCABR on the Move
Follow Along: OCABR Is Now on Instagram!
|Date published:||August 31, 2022|