Consumer Update: February 2022

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 Headshot

Every four years the World watches the best athletes from across the globe compete in the Winter Olympics. This year’s competition, hosted in Beijing, China, proved to be an even bigger challenge given the global dynamics and the ongoing international pandemic. As a lifelong sports fan, I always tune in with pride to watch my fellow Americans go for the gold, but this year was different. There were fewer spectators, limited coverage of medal ceremonies, and many COVID positive tests that removed athletes from the competition entirely. However, resilience and pride in performance were common themes amongst all competitors regardless of the country they represented.

Each athlete’s journey to qualify for the Olympics is unique and would surely be impossible without a resilient spirit. As a viewer, the personal stories told of each individual’s triumphs and adversities leading up to the events are a thrilling and inspiring addition to the fierce competition we are so fortunate to witness.

In one way, the Olympics mimic the global economy with some countries battling it out to be the best and other countries vying for a presence. Competition and a fair playing field are key to a healthy vibrant economy. Similar to the Olympic judges and scorekeepers, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) and our agencies ensure a fair playing field and encourage competition for our regulated entities. Outside influences such as scams, or unfair and deceptive practices, can interfere with this mission and also provide undue pressure on consumer spending.

Deceptive and unfair practices are illegal and often harm consumers of all ages, genders, and races. This Black History Month, it is important to acknowledge the significant impact that Black consumers have on our economy. There are 47.8 million Black Americans in the United States, this represents the second largest consumer group in the country making up over 13% of the population. Spending by all Black households increased 5% annually over the past two decades with $1.4 trillion in spending power; that’s more money than Spain, Mexico, Netherlands, Turkey, or Switzerland generates annually. Historically Black consumers hold a major influence when it comes to setting the tone for mainstream consumerism.

At OCABR our goal is to educate and empower consumers. In support of this goal, we keep up with current trends and scams affecting Massachusetts residents and offer tips or advice to help prevent fraud. Read below about how you can protect yourself as a consumer during National Consumer Protection Week, how to identify fake reviews while online shopping, what to watch out for in trending jury duty scams, and the steps to better protect yourself while online.

In honor of Black History Month and the Winter Olympics, I will conclude with a quote by Jesse Owens, a record-setting Black Olympic Medalist, “We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” You must see it through, take pride in your performance, and be resilient.

Please stay informed with all the latest consumer advocacy and updates across our agency by following OCABR on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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

National Consumer Protection Week

National Consumer Protection Week is being held this year from March 6, 2022 through March 12, 2022. This weeklong event organized the last two decades by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), focuses on educating American consumers on how to protect themselves from scams and fraud, and more specifically how to protect themselves online.

This consumer protection week is important for bringing awareness to the rights of consumers and creating a more informed and vigilant citizenry. Which is why the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR), along with The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) will be hosting a virtual panel on March 10, 2022 at 2:00PM for National Consumer Protection Week. This year’s panelists include:

  • Edward A. Palleschi, Undersecretary, OCABR
  • Danielle Bass, Manager of Community Relations, BBB Serving Eastern MA, ME, RI & VT
  • Nancy B. Cahalen, President, BBB Serving Central & Western MA and Northeastern CT
  • Michael E. Festa, State Director, Massachusetts AARP
  • Robin Eichen, Senior Attorney, Federal Trade Commission 
  • Marc Zine, Senior Stakeholder Liaison, Internal Revenue Service 

Topics of discussion will focus on the most common scams currently targeting consumers such as COVID related scams, Social Security scams, phone scams, phishing scams, and unemployment benefits scams as well as talk about the up-and-coming trend of Crypto scams. Participants will learn how to avoid being scammed, what to do if they become a victim of a scam, and overall ways that consumers can protect themselves from on-going fraud like identity theft.

To learn more about National Consumer Protection Week check out the FTC’s page.  Register for OCABR’s Consumer Protection Week Forum by clicking here.

Make Online Safety a Priority

In an increasingly digital world, the internet brings a multitude of information, products, and services all directly into the hands of consumers. Browsing the web has become essential in our daily lives and understanding how to safely navigate through webpages is paramount to protecting yourself online. 

This month the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) celebrated Online Safety Week, Identity Theft Awareness Week, and Safer Internet Day.  There is no better time than now to reevaluate how we conduct ourselves online. OCABR encourages consumers to remain vigilant when engaging in the digital marketplace, especially as you learn more about the internet, and the internet learns more about you.

Consider these tips before providing any personal information online:

  1. Review the website’s privacy policy statement. The privacy policy should disclose what data the website will collect and how it will be used. Depending on the privacy policy, the information may be kept confidential, shared with partners, or sold to outside enterprises. Check if there are options to “opt-in” or “opt-out.”
  2. Verify the source before entering sensitive personal information in online forms. If you are shopping online, you should be prompted to input your payment information after initiating checkout and confirming the purchase. Most legitimate websites will not ask you for financial information to gain access. If you find yourself being asked for those details, be sure to verify the website’s credibility before moving forward.
  3. Understand what cookies are and how they are used. Webpages typically use “cookies” or blocks of information stored on your computer’s hard drive. This data may be used for tracking and maintaining specific user records, such as site preferences and online purchases. This may also be sent to other businesses or advertisers. You can set alerts on your browser to notify you when cookies are enabled.
  4. Know who to contact for assistance. If you have a problem with a business online, try to work it out directly with the seller or website operator. You can also file a complaint against the business with the Attorney General’s Office or with the Better Business Bureau.

OCABR’s mission is to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education. Join us for a virtual online safety program, or in-person event happening in your city or town.  Check out the OCABR consumer event page to find out when an OCABR event will be near you. If you don’t see a date you are able to attend or want to inquire about OCABR presenting to your business or community, please send us a message. For more information on online safety and identity theft visit OCABR’s website for tips and advice.

Shopping Online? Don't Fall for Fake Reviews

Online and mobile shopping rapidly accelerated as a result of technological development and pandemic-related retail market shifts.  As consumers we make internet purchases without touching the product or verifying its quality, relying only on item descriptions and other consumers to provide “honest” reviews.  This purchaser process is compromised when retailers are unable or reluctant to verify the accuracy of a customer’s feedback. In the first case of its kind, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a $4.2 million settlement with online clothing retailer Fashion Nova, LLC over deceptive review practices.

According to the complaint, Fashion Nova inaccurately displayed its product reviews as representative of all purchasers who submitted online reviews. In reality, the clothing retailer directed its reviews to a third-party service that only published positive reviews and withheld negative ones from displaying in their online shop for their customers to see.  As a result of the settlement, Fashion Nova must now publish all submitted reviews, regardless of tone to accurately give consumers an idea of other shoppers’ satisfaction levels regarding their products.

As spending transitions from in-store to the internet, online reviews are an increasingly important factor in a buyer’s process when making a purchasing decision. Reports in a recent PwC Global Consumer Insights Survey show that 41% of consumers shop with a smartphone, compared to 39% six months ago, and 12% five years ago.  As a result of this shopping trend the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) compiled the below tips on how to protect yourself from misleading online reviews:

  1. Start with websites or services that are known for having impartial and credible reviews.
  2. Think about whether the reviewers and the site hosting the feedback are trustworthy. 
  3. Compare reviews from a variety of sources outside of the seller’s website.
  4. Look for grammar mistakes, typos, or other inconsistencies within the text to determine if the reviews are from a legitimate customer.
  5. Consider using applications or websites such as Fakespot or ReviewMeta to help you filter unreliable reviews.

Massachusetts shopping rights dictate that a salesperson is not allowed to make misleading statements or withhold any information about a product or service in order to convince a consumer to purchase it. For more information about your rights as a consumer, visit OCABR’s webpage to read the  Massachusetts Consumer Guide to Shopping Rights.

Fraud Alert: Jury Duty Scams

Massachusetts citizens are being targeted with fraudulent phone calls and emails threatening them with serious action for failing to appear for jury duty.  These fake jury duty claims are a form of government imposter scams where fraudsters pose as court or law enforcement officials demanding payment via gift card, cryptocurrency, or money transfer.  Recently Norfolk County Police Chief Charles Stone issued an advisory about these scams.

One Norfolk resident received a call from a scammer claiming to be a Sheriff stating that they would be arrested for failure to report to jury duty unless they paid a fine. The resident, believing that they were facing legitimate legal action, lost $3,400 before realizing it was a scam.

Phone call scams are a common way for fraudsters to target vulnerable individuals and demand payment. The payment methods requested make it difficult to track and recover the money. These imposter fraudsters often use technology to provide themselves with a local area code to seem legitimate, increasing the difficulty of detecting these scams.

If you received a call about missing jury duty, don’t panic.  There are ways to determine if you have been assigned jury duty or missed a scheduled date:

  • Failure to Appear Notice: The Office of Jury Commissioner will send you a postcard in the mail asking you to explain your absence and reschedule your date or provide reasoning for exemption.
  • Notice of Delinquency: If you fail to respond to the Failure to Appear Notice, you will be sent a Notice of Delinquency and must follow the instructions listed.
  • Application for Criminal Complaint: If you fail to respond to the notice of delinquency, you must appear in court for a hearing.
  • Summons for Defendant Notice: If you do not appear for the scheduled hearing, the court will issue a summons and instructions to appear before court.
  • Warrant: If you do not appear before court, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. This should be resolved as soon as possible with the court.

At no point in the process will an official contact you by phone and request any form of payment. A law enforcement officer will never contact and threaten you with arrest warrants or demand any form of compensation. All communications regarding jury duty will be sent through the United States Postal Service.

If you have missed your jury duty date, you may contact the Office of Jury Commissioner at 800-843-5879 or visit the Massachusetts Juror Service Website to reschedule.  For more information about jury duty, you may also visit the Commonwealth’s Court Resources.

OCABR Licensee Recognized:  Razors Barbershop & Shave Co.

Razors Co-Owner Joe Berriola, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, and Razors Founder & Owner Anthony Berriola 

Pictured left to right: Razors Co-Owner Joe Berriola, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, and Razors Founder & Owner Anthony Berriola 

Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi recently visited Razors Barbershop & Shave Co. at their original location in Somerville, MA to present owners Anthony and Joe Berriola with OCABR’s Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence. Undersecretary Palleschi enjoyed touring the recently renovated shop meeting the talented staff of barbers. Other special guests at the presentation were Somerville City Councilors Beatriz Gómez-Mouakad and Kristen Strezo, as well as Somerville Chamber of Commerce President Stephen Mackey.

OCABR Welcomes Spring 2022 Coop Class from Northeastern 

Pictured left to right: Sabrina Rigby, Aaron Reiss, Michelle Kurkela, Andres Ridge, and Skylla Silva

Pictured left to right: Sabrina Rigby, Aaron Reiss, Michelle Kurkela,
Andres Ridge, and Skylla Silva

OCABR is proud to welcome a new class of Northeastern University (NEU) cooperative students to our team. Our new staff members field inquiries through the Consumer Hotline and are active outreach content producers while employed at OCABR. The cooperative education program at NEU provides participants with alternate periods of full-time employment related to their academic majors and interests.

OCABR on the Move

March OCABR On the Move

 

View the OCABR Full Event Calendar

 

#ConsumerTip

#StayConnected: AT&T was the first large network carrier to fully transition and shut down all 3G services this month. The federal government and cellular providers have announced that older phones and devices will lose call and data functions, including the ability to contact 911 if not upgraded. Verizon and Sprint/T-Mobile users are encouraged to upgrade now before their providers also make the switch. 

Date published: February 24, 2022
Feedback