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Consumer Update: July 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, 

Two of our biggest consumer protection initiatives over the past couple of years have been the fight against illegal robocalls, and the creation of our anti-vaping campaign with the Department of Public Health (DPH). The former because the robocall phenomenon is more than just a nuisance to consumers. Robocallers scam unsuspecting consumers out of billions of dollars each year. And the latter, because e-cigarettes are one of the most insidious consumer products on the market today, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are particularly dangerous to kids, teens and young adults. Cigarette manufactures have targeted youth in order to make them life-long customers. 

Since being appointed Undersecretary, I have made it my mission to inform the people of Massachusetts about these two things. In doing so, our goal has been to empower consumers and help them avoid being victimized or exploited for financial gain by scammers, fraudsters, and criminals; and, by big tobacco.  

In November of 2019, OCABR hosted the New England States Symposium on Robocalls and gathered about 350 public and private officials from the telecommunications industry to hear then Federal Communications Chairman (FCC) Ajit Pai talk about impending regulation and technology to curtail robocalls. The technology - STIR/SHAKEN recently went into effect and now all large phone carriers will display an accurate reading of incoming phone numbers so you can be certain of who is calling. This will go a long way toward obstructing illegal robocallers.  

Nearly two years ago, we began talking with the DPH about what could only be described as an epidemic of youth developing lung problems due to vaping. As e-cigarettes are a dangerous consumer product we felt it was imperative to weigh in and warn young people about the dangers of vaping. The result of this partnership is an education campaign called Facts. No Filters.

We are so proud of our role in this initiative and incredibly appreciative of our colleagues at DPH who make it a mandate to keep the residents of the Commonwealth informed on health issues and concerns. You can read all about these things in this month’s newsletter. Also meet the recent recipients of our new program to recognize OCABR licensees in good standing across the state.

Hope you enjoy this issue! 

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

Facts. No Filters. - DPH / OCABR launch new PSA campaign

A new anti-vaping public service initiative: Facts. No Filters. launched this month. The campaign is brought to you by the Department of Public Health (DPH) in collaboration with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR). The initial PSAs offer messaging for youth. Additional PSAs will debut later this summer with messaging directed to parents. The parent PSAs will also be in Spanish.

Get the Facts

The growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping caused a national health crisis during 2019 in both Massachusetts and across the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults. E-cigarettes include nicotine—an addictive substance known to harm developing adolescent brains. Nicotine affects the part of the brain that controls attention, learning, mood, and impulse control in people under 25 years of age. 

The goal of the campaign is to educate youth about the dangers of vaping and prevent the use of vapes and other emerging nicotine products. The target audience is youth aged 12-to-18 and their parents.

The campaign has three main objectives:

  1. GET THE FACTS: Educate youth about the dangers of vapes and emerging tobacco products by reaffirming the health risks and impact of nicotine (mental and physical).
  2. CONNECT: Empower youth to talk to their friends/siblings about the dangers of vaping and how to get help.
  3. GET HELP: Encourage youth to try to quit and make them aware of supportive quit resources.

The e-cigarette remains one of the most insidious consumer products on the market and is particularly dangerous to kids, teens, and young adults. The tobacco and vaping industries targeted youth by using flavors attractive to kids to incite them to try these addictive products. The e-cigarette has been on the OCABR Top Ten Worst Consumer Products List for the past two years.

Massachusetts has been a leader in combatting the use of vaping devices and products. In the fall of 2019, Governor Baker restricted the sale of all vape related devices and products for three months. Later that year the Governor signed into law a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes.

These measures were groundbreaking and considered the toughest taken in the United States at that time. The actions strived to save lives while protecting consumers of all ages throughout the Commonwealth.

If you or your loved ones are vaping, resources are available to help you quit.

New FCC Regulations Expected to Curtail Robocalls

A new Federal Communications (FCC) requirement on major telephone companies like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Comcast, aims to free your phone from incessant robocalls. Beginning this month, phone carriers are implementing a new protocol called STIR/SHAKEN. The law applies to wireless carriers, VoIP lines, and landlines.

The new law does not target legitimate robocalls - such as those from your child’s school, local government officials, neighborhood pharmacy letting you know a prescription is ready for pick-up, etc... Accoridng to the FCC, it’s goal is to eliminate fraudulent robocall schemes which end up costing Americans about $10 billion annually. 

Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel says implementation of STIR/SHAKEN is just the start of a more aggressive approach to mitigating robocalls. In an effort to protect U.S. consumer the FCC is issuing cease and desist letters to perpetrators, and issuing large fines to those who make these nuisance calls.

Simply put, protocols have been put into place to ensure that incoming phone calls are really coming from the number displayed on your caller ID - something which should prevent callers from “spoofing” numbers you know to get you to answer the phone. As a result, illegal robocallers and spammers will now have to pay for verified numbers instead of making them up so that the number that comes up is registered to the caller. Further, STIR/SHAKEN makes it possible for authorities to quickly trace back a number to locate the caller.

This is welcome news to most Americans. According to YouMail Inc, which tracks illegal robocalls nationally and state-by-state, U.S. consumers received just under 22 billion robocalls in the first five months of this year. We are on pace to hit over 52 billion robocalls by the end of December.

Overall, U.S. robocalls declined during COVID-19, with an estimated 45.9 billion robocalls nationwide in 2020, marking an almost 22% decrease from the 58.5 billion robocalls recorded in 2019. This total is roughly 4% below the 47.8 billion robocalls received in 2018, yet still over 50% higher than the 30.5 billion robocalls in 2017.

If you have been a victim of a robocall scam report it to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online or by phone by calling 1-877-382-4357 (TTY: 1-866-653-4261). The FTC is the primary government agency that collects scam complaints. Also, report all robocalls and unwanted telemarketing calls to the Do Not Call Registry.

Vacation Timeshare Purchases 101

Summer has officially started, and it seems like everyone is planning a vacation. For those looking for something outside of traditional hotel or resort experiences, timeshare ownership may seem like a great alternative. Timeshare properties often advertise perks and special programs for owners such as the ability to stay at resorts all over the world through a timeshare purchase. However, it is important to understand the options and fees before entering into a timeshare agreement.

According to the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), there are almost 1,600 timeshare resorts in the United States with over 205,000 units owned.  Typically, timeshare owners pay an initial contract fee, in addition to routine maintenance fees, and other charges to continue ownership.  For example, deeded timeshares allow you to buy a unit for a specific week(s) each year, while other agreements give owners the ability to vacation at different times each year.  There are also point-based timeshares where vacationers use allotted points at different properties—point usage depends on the location, length of stay, and time of year.

There are a few things to consider before embarking on your timeshare vacation purchase.

  • Ownership can be costly with some fees increasing annually. Familiarize yourself with the costs and be sure you are able to sustain the long-term costs of the vacation unit.
  • Understand the type of timeshare unit you are purchasing. The agreement should clarify if the property is deeded, point-based, or another type of vacation ownership. Learn the basics about timeshares from the ARDA.
  • Inquire about the resale of your property. Companies may restrict resale, rental fees, or impose other limitations on timeshares.
  • Research the timeshare company you are working with before you complete your purchase. The AARP warns of timeshare resale scams where the sale seems legitimate, but the deal never really closes and your money is lost.
  • Read the fine print, and contact an attorney before signing the paperwork. Confirm that the terms, features, and benefits offered by the seller are accurate and that they are clearly articulated in the contract.

Timeshares are regulated by the state in which the property is located.  In Massachusetts, buyers are able to cancel a timeshare contract within three business days of receiving the public offering statement.

To report timeshare resale scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission at www.ReportFraud.ftc.gov or learn more from the FTC about travel scams.

Summer Check-up on Homeowner’s Insurance

The Division of Insurance wants to remind all Massachusetts homeowners to review their homeowners’ insurance policies to ensure that their most valuable asset is protected. The DOI recommends an annual review of your policy and suggests the quiet months of summer are an ideal time for this.

“Homeowners who have reviewed their insurance policies and know what coverage they have are better prepared to handle both the financial and emotional impacts of damage occurring to their homes,” said Division of Insurance Commissioner Gary Anderson. 

To get started check your policy’s Declarations page to understand your coverage limits. Discuss your plan with your agent, or insurance company, to understand whether your home and personal belongings are covered to the fullest extent possible.

Obtaining the right coverage
Typically, the home is a resident’s most valuable asset and it is prudent to have adequate coverage to protect it. Each year, before renewing your policy, make sure you understand the cost of rebuilding should the worst occur. This includes factoring in renovations or additions to your home, replacing personal property like furniture and electronics as well as factoring in the cost of today’s labor and material to rebuild your home if necessary.

In addition to choosing the type and overall limits to your coverage, you must consider your policy’s deductible, or the amount that you are accountable for before the insurance company will pay toward any loss. Although premiums are lower with higher deductibles, you will be responsible for paying out-of-pocket up to the deductible if there is a loss. The deductible for a homeowner’s policy is typically a set dollar amount, generally ranging from $500 to $5,000. There may also be an additional deductible for catastrophic coverage, such as hurricane. 

Consumers need also be aware that standard homeowners’ policies do not cover every type of damage that can occur (covered perils vs exclusions). For example, a standard homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover flooding. And, generally, mold and other fungi resulting from slow leaks or general wear and tear are likewise not covered. Talk with your agent, or insurance company, about obtaining flood insurance coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program or a private flood policy, even if outside of a high-risk area. Also ask about any endorsements that may provide for coverage for perils not covered in a standard policy such as coverage for backup of sewers and drains that cause flooding in your basement.

What to do if there is a claim
While preparation is essential, sudden and unexpected losses are the reason why homeowners are encouraged to maintain insurance for their home. Should a loss occur, it should be reported to the insurance company as soon as possible. Immediately take steps to protect your property from further loss or damage, but refrain from making any non-emergency repairs without first discussing the loss with your insurance company. 

When filing for large property claims, consider hiring a public adjuster to assist with the process, and when hiring someone to do repairs, you can ask the company for a list of preferred contractors, or vendors, or find your own. It is imperative that you check the license status of any professional hired to perform repairs to your home with the appropriate state licensing agencies. 

Consumers with questions or concerns about their insurance coverage are encouraged to contact the DOI’s Consumer Services Unit at 617-521-7794 or visit the DOI’s website.

OCABR Licensees Recognized

Eaglerock Financial

Tuesday, 6/22, Undersecretary Palleschi stopped into Eaglerock Financial in Newburyport to commend Stuart Steinberg and his team for their outstanding record. Also pictured are Lynne Legault and Kerry McMenamy 

Rooted Salon & Apothecary

Wednesday, 6/23 Undersecretary Palleschi visited Rooted Salon & Apothecary in Lawrence to applaud owner Brigette Bonenfant for her spotless record with the state. Also pictured are landlord Sal Lupoli, and Dorothea Merdurio and Magen Vaillant

Date published: July 19, 2021
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