Consumer Update: January 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

It is hard to believe that we are almost one month into 2022. January has always represented new beginnings and a revival of optimism as we allow ourselves to put everything that did not serve us in the previous year behind us.  

Last year, I wrote in my new year’s letter how my hope was “that every citizen in the Commonwealth is able to obtain the vaccine this year.” A momentous goal we saw achieved by the strong leadership of the Baker-Polito Administration with their rollout of the Massachusetts COVID-19 vaccination distribution plan. COVID was and remains relentless but so are the people of the Commonwealth. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously once said, “we may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.” There must always be hope. We continue to fight through challenges and refuse to give up even after COVID has interrupted every aspect of our lives and society. It has turned families, the economy, and healthcare systems upside down but still we persevere. My hope for this year is for us to finally see victory and the end of this pandemic.

While I wait to see if my hope for 2022 rings true, one thing that is unfaltering is how proud I am in serving the Baker-Polito Administration and the opportunity to empower and protect Massachusetts consumers alongside the heads of OCABR's five regulatory agencies. Just this month, Commissioner Gary Anderson of the Division of Insurance spoke at the annual business meeting for the Boston Chapter of the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter Society, Director James Cassidy of the Division of Standards participated in the National Conference on Weights & Measures interim meeting, and Commissioner Karen Charles-Peterson of the Department of Telecommunications & Cable sat on a virtual panel for The Federal Communications Bar Association’s Program on "Perspectives on Technology & Regulation in the Internet Age" in addition to overseeing the State’s communications strategy alerting consumers of the national 3G Network shutdown.

As Governor Charlie Baker stated in his final State of the Commonwealth Address, we must continue the work over the next twelve months, "with the great people across this amazing state who want nothing more than to leave it better than they found it for those who come after them."

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

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

Reporting Home Improvement Projects Gone Wrong

Embarking on home improvement projects can be a major commitment for both your house and your wallet. The Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) Law protects consumers, regulates residential contracting, and safeguards homeowners from being taken advantage of by bad contractors. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) oversees the HIC complaint and enforcement program established within the law.

Residential sales across the United States are at an all-time high, and home improvements are on the rise. According to a recent report by Houzz, home remodeling costs increased about 15% in 2021. If you do not know your rights when starting a construction project, you could face costly problems. Before committing to a project or contractor it is important to educate yourself on the HIC Law, its complaint process, and the eligibility requirements for a complaint to be processed in Massachusetts. 

If you have found yourself in a bad situation during a renovation, you may be eligible to file a complaint against a contractor if:

  • There is an executed contract for over $1,000 of residential contracting work;
  • Improvements are being done in your existing one-to-four-unit owner occupied primary residence; and
  • The complaint is filed within 3 years of when you signed the contract.

All complaints are reviewed by OCABR for violations of the HIC Act (MGL c. 142A). After review, if violations are identified, the complaint is processed. Once all of the required documentation is received from the complainant and contractor, a hearing is scheduled before a Hearing Officer. Scheduling generally occurs within sixty (60) days from the date the completed complaint was received by OCABR. 

OCABR recommends verifying the HIC registration status before starting a project or signing a contract for residential construction. However, a HIC complaint can be filed against both registered and unregistered contractors. Filing a complaint against an unregistered contractor will not result in a monetary award but may result in disciplinary action being taken against the contractor after an enforcement hearing. 

Visit the OCABR website for more details on the complaint filing steps, complaint form, and overall HIC process

If you have additional questions related to filing HIC complaints, call the OCABR Consumer Hotline at 617-973-8787, or toll-free in MA at 888-283-3757, Monday through Friday between 9:00am and 4:30pm.

Scam Alert: Cryptocurrency and the Metaverse

Most of our lives have migrated online these days, and while some consumers have become self-proclaimed online shopping experts buying tangible goods, there is a new method of internet spending within a virtual world referred to as the “metaverse.”  In this digital space, consumers use an avatar to simulate real-life actions, such as shopping, gaming, collecting, and even professional business. Users are trading in real dollars in exchange for online money, called cryptocurrency, to spend on purchasing products in the metaverse. As the metaverse and use of cryptocurrency grows, fraudsters are finding ways to swindle their targets in this new online world.

Everyone from LeBron James and Tom Brady to large companies like Microsoft and Facebook are buying-in on pieces of the metaverse. Real estate, technology, and accounting companies are making plans to purchase virtual land to sell to users. The sports and fashion industries are also investing by selling digital versions of apparel that users buy for their avatars. 

Currently, there is minimal oversight and regulation in the metaverse, which opens users up to falling victim to scams, fraud, and identity theft. Due to its newness, the metaverse can be difficult and confusing to navigate, giving scammers more time to take advantage of a users’ cryptocurrency and other information. In fact, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) listed cryptocurrency scammers as the number one threat to consumers and investors in 2022.

Further, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently warned consumers about a new crypto payment scam. As more consumers dip their toes into the metaverse, it is likely that there will be a rise in cryptocurrency scams. Use the information below to spot a cryptocurrency scam before it’s too late:

  • Local, state, and federal government agencies or law enforcement will never request payment from you via cryptocurrency transfer. If you receive a call, email, or text from a government agency or law enforcement imposter demanding cryptocurrency, it’s a scam.
  • Lottery offices and prize promoters almost never seek payment prior to offering your winnings. If you get an unprompted message asking you to pay up front in cryptocurrency before claiming your award, it’s a scam.
  • Investment opportunities with the only option to buy-in through a large amount of cryptocurrency. If you are invited to invest with an individual or group and the only way to obtain information or access to the opportunity is in big sums of cryptocurrency, it’s a scam.

The metaverse and dealing in cryptocurrency is new and exciting, and if you are ready to make virtual purchases remember to do so safely to protect your identity and financial accounts. 

New Year, New Network: Goodbye to 3G, Hello to 5G

Ringing in a new year often means committing to future change, and many wireless carriers plan to update how you receive services in 2022 by phasing out 3G networks. Carriers are implementing this update to open bandwidth for faster and more reliable 5G service. As a result, 3G phones, and even some older 4G phones, will no longer be able to make or receive calls—even emergency calls to 911.  The shutdown will also impact other devices that rely on 3G, including medical devices and medical alert systems, vehicle SOS services, monitored fire alarms, home security systems, and products that use cellular connection as a backup.

Below are the shutdown dates that have been announced by the three major wireless facilities-based providers:

  • AT&T will finish shutting down its 3G network by February of 2022.
  • T-Mobile will shut down Sprint’s 3G CMDA network by March 31, 2022.
  • T-Mobile will shut down Sprint’s 4G LTE network by June 30, 2022.
  • T-Mobile will shut down its 3G UMTS network by July 1, 2022.
  • Verizon will shut down its 3G network by December 31, 2022.

You may still be affected even if your carrier is not listed above. Many carriers, such as Cricket, Boost, Straight Talk, and several Lifeline mobile service providers utilize the services of these 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.

If your mobile phone is older than an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S4, it will likely require an upgrade. 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, regarding any potential impact to your service or need to upgrade your device. Thankfully, many carriers are offering discounted devices for customers affected by the shutdown. Contact your mobile provider to see what options are available to you.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is educating consumers about the impacts of the shutdown of 3G service and has options to help eligible consumers stay connected to communications services:

  • The FCC's Lifeline program assists qualifying low-income consumers in getting connected to communications services by providing a monthly discount on a qualifying telephone service, broadband Internet service, or bundled voice-broadband packages purchased from participating wireline or wireless providers
  • The FCC's new Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to $30 per month towards broadband service for eligible households. The program also provides a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50).

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, alongside the Department of Telecommunications and Cable, encourage all consumers to prepare for the shutdown. Check in on our website, blog, and social media accounts for more information on this major communications transition.

Steps to Prevent the Purchase of Fake COVID Tests

As the Omicron variant spreads and the amount of COVID cases rise, the demand for at-home COVID testing kits has increased. With this increased need for more at-home testing kits, scammers have taken this opportunity to distribute and sell fraudulent kits to fill consumers’ needs. By distributing these fake COVID tests, scammers are putting many people in danger of unknowingly contracting and spreading the disease.

There are ways though to protect yourself from falling victim to this scam. Here are some steps to take to ensure that you are purchasing a legitimate COVID at-home testing kit:

  • Step One: Make sure that the kit is Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized: If a product claims to be FDA Registered, FDA Certified or that it has an FDA Registration Certificate, these products are not legitimate. Look for companies and products that are FDA Approved, FDA Cleared or FDA Authorized. Another way to check if a test is FDA approved is to see if it is on the FDA’s list of Antigen Diagnostic Tests or their list of Molecular Diagnostic Tests.

If you believe you have already purchased a fraudulent COVID testing kit, see if the product is listed in the Fraudulent Covid-19 products from the FDA.

  • Step Two: Do your research: Beyond checking the FDA status of the product, look up the seller of the kit. Try searching to learn if this seller has any links to scams, any complaints brought against them, and check their reviews on a variety of websites.
  • Step Three: Pay with a credit card: By purchasing your at-home COVID test with a credit card, this allows you to more easily get your money back if you happened to have purchased a fake test or if the kit never arrived.

If you learn about or become victim to a COVID scam or any other disaster related scam, please contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud and report it.

OCABR Licensee Recognized: Philbin Insurance Group

Pictured left to right: Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, Philbin Insurance Group Chief Executive Officer Tara Philbin, and Founder Andrew T. Philbin

Pictured left to right: Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, Philbin Insurance Group Chief Executive Officer Tara Philbin, and Founder Andrew T. Philbin

This month, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi visited Philbin Insurance Group in Everett to present Philbin Chief Executive Officer Tara Philbin and Founder Andrew T. Philbin with OCABR’s Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence. Philbin Insurance Group is a family-owned independent insurance agency that provides a broad range of insurance for businesses and individuals. For over thirty years Philbin Insurance has been their clients' advocate during the claims process.

Undersecretary Palleschi commends the Philbin family, for their commitment to supplying their community and clients with the insurance aid that they need. The Philbin Insurance group is truly living up to their moto, “We Provide Peace of Mind Through Quality Service”, by making the insurance process easy for their clients.

OCABR on the Move

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Moving to start the new year? It is important during any move to understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. In support of the population of renters in the Commonwealth, and our agency’s mission, OCABR provides resources for both landlords and tenants. Visit our guide to tenant rights webpage for more information.

Date published: January 26, 2022

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