Consumer Update: December 2021

A newsletter from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. Read the letter from the Undersecretary, Consumer Briefs, and other agency features.

Table of Contents

Consumer Update

Letter from the Undersecretary

Dear Massachusetts Consumer, 

Undersecretary Palleschi

As the New Year approaches, it is the perfect occasion to reflect on everything that has happened over this past year, both good and bad, and remind ourselves that despite the hard times there are many beautiful moments to be thankful for and look forward to.

2021 was without a doubt a beacon of hope, as well as a year of accountability. As the vaccines rolled out, almost at the same pace new variants of COVID appeared, we became responsible for our decisions, not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors as well.

Our society remains in a vulnerable state, not just health wise, but fiscally, and emotionally as well. This leaves us more open to hackers and scammers that are continuing to take advantage of people, ready to attack as soon as somebody lets their guard down.

OCABR even declared unapproved prevention and treatment for COVID-19 as the #1 worst product of 2021 on our “Top Ten Worst Products for Massachusetts Consumers List” for the second consecutive year. As we navigate a new normal and determine which COVID-19 vaccine, prevention, test, or treatment to use, fraudsters will still be working to profit from the pandemic.

But we must remain strong, both personally and as a collective unit, against the threats of COVID-19, cyberattacks, and fatigue of the unknown. We are all tired! Many of us share the same desire to go back to life as we once knew it almost two years ago. There are children now approaching two years old that were born at the beginning of the pandemic learning to talk and walk, that know no other world. They are unaware of a world where smiling at a stranger was something not taken for granted, and mask covering was unheard of.

As Thomas Edison one said, “our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” 2021 was the year we didn’t give, and 2022 will be another year we try one more time to end this virus, restore America’s economy, protect ourselves and neighbors against cyberattacks, and take appreciation of every beautiful moment life gives us, big or small.

Wishing you a safe, healthy, and happy New Year! 

Sincerely, 
Edward A. Palleschi
Undersecretary, Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation

3G Phase Out Coming Soon

At the beginning of 2022, wireless carriers will begin retiring their 3G networks to add bandwidth for faster and more reliable network services, such as 5G. This means that 3G phones and some older 4G phones will no longer be able to use data services or make and receive calls (even to 911).

This transition will enable wireless carriers to use their spectrum more efficiently and effectively so consumers can experience the most robust speeds and capacity.

Certain carriers are starting this process as early as January 1, 2022. Below are the dates that have been announced by the three major wireless facilities-based providers:

  • AT&T will finish shutting down its 3G network by February 2022.
  • Verizon will finish shutting down its 3G network by December 31, 2022.
  • T-Mobile will finish shutting down Sprint's 3G CDMA network by March 31, 2022; Sprint's 4G LTE network by June 30, 2022; and T-Mobile's 3G UMTS network by July 1, 2022. A shutdown date for its 2G network has not yet been announced.

If your carrier is not listed above, that does not necessarily mean you will be unaffected by the 3G shutdown. The shutdown will also affect third-party carriers that utilize the networks of the carriers listed above. Other affected wireless carriers include: Boost Mobile, MetroPCS, Consumer Cellular, Cricket Wireless, Straight Talk Wireless, and other third-party carriers that utilize AT&T's, Verizon's, and T-Mobile's networks. It is also important to note that the above dates are for completing the shutdown, but carriers may begin retiring parts of their networks sooner, which means your service may be impacted before this date.

The shutdown will not only affect mobile phones, but also other devices that rely on 3G like medical devices (including medical alert systems), tablets, smart watches, vehicle SOS services, monitored fire alarms, and home security systems. If your mobile phone is older than an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S4, it will likely require an upgrade before 3G technology is eliminated.

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is educating consumers about this change, carriers are also being proactive in reaching out to their customers. Be on the lookout for text messages, bill messages, or direct mailings from your provider, and even in some instances, re-routed calls to customer service. Many carriers are offering discounted or free phones to those impacted by the shutdown.

We encourage you to be prepared for the shutdown! If you think you may be impacted by the shutdown, contact your mobile provider or check its website as soon as possible for more information about its 3G retirement plan and to find out if your phone or any other device may be affected.

Car Theft Season

Packing your car with presents and goodies this holiday season may put your vehicle on a car thief’s shopping list.  Every year automobile theft increases during the holiday season, and New Year’s Day in particular, is consistently the thieves’ favorite time to steal.  According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a car is stolen every 36 seconds, and last year records show the most car thefts in more than ten years.  This year, resolve to keep you and your vehicle safe.

There are some simple steps you can take to help decrease your risk of car theft, such as locking your doors, keeping windows up, and storing the spare key somewhere other than in the vehicle.  Do not leave valuables in the car, but if you must, it is important that they are not visible from the outside.  These steps may decrease the risk of car theft, but one of the best ways to protect your investment is insurance.  A comprehensive auto insurance policy should cover car theft.  Consult with your insurance provider about your auto coverage to ensure that you are covered if your vehicle is stolen.

If you head out for a ride this New Year’s Day and your car is missing, there are steps you can take that may minimize your loss.  Contact local law enforcement and your auto insurance provider as soon as possible after experiencing a vehicle theft.  You should file a claim with your car insurance within 24 hours of the car being stolen, or as soon as a police report is filed.

The Division of Insurance (DOI), an agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, regulates the insurance industry.  Visit the DOI online for more information on the basics of auto insurance.  If you have an insurance-related problem, you may submit a complaint to the DOI.  The DOI Consumer Services Unit responds to inquiries and intervenes on behalf of consumers to resolve complaints against insurers, agents, and other licensees.

Gift Returns 101

In the aftermath of the holiday season, some gifts may need to be returned ­– despite your best intentions.  The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects holiday sales to reach an all-time high of over $840 billion this year.  This reportedly represents more than an 8% increase in sales from 2020 where roughly 13% of gifts were returned.  If you are getting return requests from your family or friends, find out more about the merchant’s return policy before handing over the gift receipt.

It is important to know that there is no set law regarding return policies in Massachusetts. However, a store’s return policy must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed to shoppers somewhere before completing a transaction. Usually, retailers place signs stating these policies near, or at, the final point of purchase.  If a return policy is only listed on the sales receipt, that is not considered a clear and conspicuous prior disclosure, since it was provided after the completion of the sale.  If you do not see a return policy posted while you’re shopping, ask a store representative for more information.  

In support of the Office of Consumer Affair and Business Regulation’s mission to educate consumers, we have compiled a few tips to help you prepare for unavoidable gift returns:

  • Save your receipts. Stores often provide shoppers with different methods (paper, email, text) to receive a receipt.  It is often more difficult to return items without a receipt and may result in you receiving partial or no credit for the return.
  • Review store policies.  Return policies are different for every retailer.  If you are unsure about how long the return period is or how returns are accepted, always ask before you checkout.  If you are shopping online, contact customer service with these questions when necessary.
  • Keep all delivered package materials. Upon delivery of an order, save all materials that came with your shipment.  Sending items back in good condition and in original packaging might improve your chances of a successful return.
  • Always return defective merchandise. Defective merchandise must be accepted for return regardless of an established store return policy. In the case of damaged or defective items, retailers should give you the option to repair, return, or replace the damaged item.

If you have additional questions, about your shopping rights visit the OCABR website or contact the Consumer Hotline at 617-973-8787, or toll-free in MA at 888-283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9am to 4:30pm.

Holiday Vehicle Purchasing Protection

Every holiday season we are bombarded with advertisements featuring vehicles draped with large bows and ecstatic gift recipients. General Motors reported a 3% increase in sales during November and December last year, and expects to see the trend continue this season.  Also in 2021, the average price of a new vehicle rose nearly 5% to $32,903 according to an American Automobile Association (AAA) study.  The Massachusetts Lemon Laws, administered by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR), help protect your investment if you buy a car in Massachusetts that has a serious defect. 

The Lemon Law has specific eligibility criteria that must apply to the vehicle, including but not limited to, year, mileage, and cost.  For complete details and eligibility information, visit the OCABR Guide to the Lemon Laws.  In the meantime, brush up on the basics of the state’s Vehicle Lemon Law if a new or used car was on your gift list this year.

New Car Lemon Law covers:

  • New cars, motorcycles, vans, or trucks purchased or leased in Massachusetts from a dealer for personal or family purposes;
  • Vehicles with at least one defect that substantially impairs the use, safety, or market value and the car has not been repaired after a reasonable number of attempts; and
  • Vehicles within the “term of protection” — 1 year or 15,000 miles of use from the date of original delivery, whichever is first.

Used Car Lemon Law applies to used cars that:

  • Are purchased from a Massachusetts dealer for at least $700;
  • Are to be utilized for personal or family purposes;
  • Have at least one qualifying defect that impairs its use or safety; and
  • Have less than 125,000 miles on the odometer at the time of sale.

If you purchased a car from a private seller, the Lemon Law offers protections for you as well.  You may cancel the sale within thirty days after discovering a defect that impairs the safety or substantially impairs the use of the vehicle.  However, you must be able to prove that the seller was aware of the defect and did not disclose it.  Visit the OCABR private party used car sales guide for details on the steps you can take to prove the car had a defect that the seller knew about.

The best consumer is an informed consumer.  Wherever you buy your next car, make sure you know your rights before finalizing the deal.

Top 10 Worst Products for Massachusetts Consumers of the Year - 2021

As part of our ongoing consumer education and outreach, OCABR is again sharing its “Top 10 Worst Products for Massachusetts Consumers List” of 2021. The use of the products featured on this list have resulted in legal or legislative action, recalls, and/or other measures to protect the public.

OCABR Licensee Recognized:

Pictured left to right: Keldara Salon and Spa Co-Owner Jeanne Gianino, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, Co-Owner Eileen Casey, and Eileen's son Ken Casey of the band Dropkick Murphys.

Pictured left to right: Keldara Salon and Spa Co-Owner Jeanne Gianino, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, Co-Owner Eileen Casey, and Eileen's son Ken Casey of the band Dropkick Murphys.

This month, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi visited Keldara Salon and Spa in Dedham to present co-owners Eileen Casey and Jeanne Gianino with OCABR’s Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence. Keldara Salon and Spa is a cozy and intimate one-stop-shop for all your beauty needs. They provide everything from waxing to massage therapies to haircuts.

Over two decades ago, sisters Eileen Casey and Jeanne Gianino launched Keldara Salon and Spa with the mission to create a sanctuary for beauty and renewal where guests can feel truly welcome and at home. They aim to “not only make you look beautiful, but feel beautiful, rejuvenated, and looking forward to your next visit with them.”

OCABR on the Move

January 7 and 24 OCABR Events

 

View the OCABR Full Event Calendar

 

#ConsumerTip

Travel insurance is often overlooked when consumers are booking their trips and vacations. However with travel rules changing daily across the globe because of the Omicron variant, take advantage of travel insurance to provide a valuable safety net and protect your trip with the right policy.

Date published: December 29, 2021
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