Consumer Update

Letter from the Undersecretary

Dear Massachusetts Consumer, 

Undersecretary Palleschi Headshot

I hope you are staying cool as July winds down amid an extended heat wave. As we enter August, many of us are looking forward to some well-deserved time off before summer comes to an end. Consumers are in search of great deals for those last-minute getaways, but be careful, sometimes the deals that seem too good to be true are really scams. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) has compiled great tips listed in this newsletter about how to avoid vacation rental scams.

Maybe you’re considering a road trip. But if you are traveling by car, you have probably noticed there has been little relief at the pump. If gas prices are limiting your travel, or you are on the hunt for the best deal, there are tips on how to save. You will also want to watch out scams for before filling up. For anyone looking to purchase a new vehicle, we outline below how the Federal Trade Commission is pushing for more regulation and transparency in car sales tactics regarding extra fees and bait-and-switch advertising. The hope is to make car buying easier and less stressful for the consumer. If you encounter any issues after the purchase of a vehicle, remember, OCABR oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, which will protect you if you buy a car in Massachusetts that has serious defects.

As we look ahead to fall and kick start a new school year, we know that also means the bustling holiday season won’t be far behind. Consumers will be bombarded with advertisements and sales everywhere they look. Scammers will try and take advantage of the increase in consumer activity by offering fake deals, sending scam text messages and emails. They’ll even go so far as to create fake donation and charity pages, hoping they can cash in on the giving spirit of the holiday season.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation wants every Bay State consumer to have knowledge as their power. Be sure to stay up to date with OCABR on all our social platforms, blog page, monthly newsletters, and website where we post up to date information and resources to educate and inform consumers on what you should be watching out for. Take the time to read about current scams and consumer updates because even if they do not affect you today, they could impact you in the future. Remember, an informed consumer is an empowered consumer.

Finally, I know we are battling inflation, rising interest hikes, and sometimes it seems like we just can’t catch a break, but life is all about moving on. In these words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” So dream big, take small steps forward, and remember things will get better.

Please stay informed with all the latest consumer advocacy and updates across our agency by following OCABR on TwitterLinkedInFacebook, and by checking out our most recent posts on the Mass Consumer Affairs Blog on Mass.gov/OCABR.

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

Sales Tactics to Be Aware of Before Buying a Car

Buying or leasing a vehicle can be stressful. Consumers may find it difficult to read through the fine print of sales contracts or encounter deceptive practices at dealerships. Over the last two years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports an increased number of dealership complaints, in part because of low inventory and inflated prices.

Now, the FTC has proposed a rule that would do away with some of the sales tactics used by automobile salespeople. The FTC’s proposed rule would minimize or eliminate extra fees and bait-and-switch advertising. You can learn more about the proposed rule in the FTC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

While the FTC’s rule has not gone into effect, consumers should still be able to spot red flags while when purchasing a new or used car. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation compiled a list of tactics car dealers may use, and what to do if you encounter them.

  • Bait-and-switch: Car dealers may use misleading advertisements to attract consumers. This can include false information about the cost of the vehicle, discounts, mileage, or availability. After a consumer verbally agrees to the purchase, the documents contain the true numbers and details. Read the fine print and don’t settle for a deal you are not comfortable with.
  • Add-ons: Occasionally add-ons like nitrogen-filled tires, undercoating, or special payment plans are included in a sale contract. Dealers must obtain consent from the consumer for any additional features or option costs.
  • Disclosure failure: Dealers may attempt to avoid disclosing that add-ons are not required or use confusing methods to explain financing hoping for a decision in their favor. Ensure that you review and understand everything included in the final sales and financing contract before signing.

The FTC’s proposed rule prohibits the aforementioned methods. The rule is currently open to public comment for a 60-day period. In the meantime, know your rights, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to walk away from an unsigned deal. Visit the Mass.Gov resource on ‘What to know about buying or leasing a car’ for more information.

Scam Alert: Vacation Rentals

It’s the first summer since the start of the pandemic where we’re seeing nearly restriction-free travel. Consumers are ready to pack their bags and take those well-deserved vacations. But you need to be careful where you secure accommodations and watch out for short-term rental scams.

Scammers are creating fake property listings online using stolen photos and information from real estate sites. These scammers often request payment through an outside method such as Venmo, wire transfer, or gift card. In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), reported an increase of more than 60% for reported real estate/rental scams, and that number is only expected to rise.

To avoid becoming a victim, consider renting through authenticated platforms such as AirBnB, VRBO, or Booking.com. False listings can also occur on verified rental sites, but the payment is protected until the traveler has the keys to the property in their hand.

Whether you are planning a lake, ocean, mountain, or international vacation destination, reference these best practices when securing a short-term rental:

  • Consider paying via credit card. Fraudulent charges are usually easier to dispute with your credit card company than financial institution debit card.
  • Read rental reviews. Real properties and hosts will have reviews from prior visitors on the reservation site, and try to spot anything that may look suspicious. Specifically, look reviews from a verified vacationer.
  • Search the property photos online. Scammers often use photos lifted from other website to create bogus listings. A reverse image search will reveal if a property is associated with a different listing, website, or company.
  • Avoid deals that sound too good to be true. Rentals offering a suspiciously low rate in a prime location or during peak season should be a concern.

Regardless of the season, it is important for consumers to understand how they can protect themselves when renting property. During the search process, use the most legitimate rental platforms possible, ask as many questions as necessary, and stay alert for common red flags related to short-term rental fraud.

Avoid Scams and Save at the Gas Pump Instead

Gas prices remain at an all-time high throughout the country. According to the American Automobile Association, the monthly average in Massachusetts for regular gasoline in July is $5.01. That has millions of drivers desperate to find way to save money at the pump, but don’t fall for internet giveaways.

The internet is filled with fake gift card giveaways. Watch out for advertisements that claim to be gas companies. These fraudsters may contact you via social media, email, text message, or flyers left in your mailbox. Always remember to take your time when reviewing an offer to determine if it is legitimate and consider contacting the company through a verified website or phone number.

While scammers may try to take advantage of consumers online, there are programs available to help alleviate the pain at the pump if driving is a necessity. Many gas stations and stores offer opportunities for customers to save on fuel at their locations. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation compiled a list of some of the Massachusetts gas rewards programs.

  • 7REWARDS from 7-Eleven stores. This program is available to all 7-Eleven customers through the mobile application. Drivers will be entitled to eleven cents off per gallon during the first seven trips to the pump, and a reduced discount after that.
  • Grocery store discounts are available through Big Y, Stop & Shop, and Walmart. Big Y shoppers can save up to $1.50 per gallon based on the amount spent in-store. Go Rewards by Stop & Shop also allow customers to redeem up to $1.50 per gallon based on their purchase history. Walmart+ subscription members can save up to ten cents per gallon at various participating gas stations including Exxon and Mobil.
  • E-Z Pass PayByCar discounts are provided to Alltown customers for up to thirty cents off per gallon. Users must sign up and utilize the PayByCar program to be eligible for this rebate.
  • Cumberland Farms offer Smartpay or pre-loaded accounts. Pre-loaded account customers can save ten cents per gallon for the first month. While the Smartpay option allows for a savings of ten cents per gallon daily.

Please visit the website or store locations for complete details on program eligibility and discount fuel rates.

Know When to Freeze Your Credit

Millions of Americans are losing their hard-earned dollars to fraud. The Federal Trade Commission reported that over 2 million consumers lost more than $5.8 billion due to fraud in 2021. That’ a 70% increase since 2020. One of the most powerful (and free) tools to protect yourself from fraud is to freeze your credit. A credit freeze - commonly known as a security freeze - allows consumers to restrict access to their credit reports while preventing fraudulent loans and credit account. US law mandates that credit bureaus provide credit freezes at no cost or impact to credit scores.

If you are not planning on applying for credit or loans in the near future, credit freezes can give you peace of mind. If your child is under 18, a credit freeze can protect them from fraud and identity theft for years to come.

Here are simple steps you can take to freeze your credit:

Credit freezes should be requested from all three major credit reporting agencies, listed below.

  • Equifax Credit Report Services / (800) 349-9960
  • Experian Security Freeze Center / (888) 397-3742
  • TransUnion Credit Freeze Website / (888) 909-8872

When you need to use your credit, freezes can be temporarily lifted and reinstated in as little as 30 minutes.

What to do if you are the victim of fraud or identity theft

  • File a police report with your local police department.
  • Change your banking pins and passwords. Compromised banking information allows fraudsters to use and even empty your bank accounts.
  • Dispute unauthorized transactions. Any unrecognized charges should be disputed by writing to the relevant credit bureau. After receipt of your dispute, the credit bureau has 30 days to remove purchases following necessary investigation.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit report. Place a fraud alert with the 3 major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.

Additional Tips:

While credit freezes are an invaluable tool for preventing fraud, they cannot prevent fraud or identity theft on their own. Prudent information security practices such as watching out for phishing scams, securing your physical mail, and not sharing your personal information with untrusted sources are key to preventing fraud and identity theft.

Need further assistance? Contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s consumer hotline at (617) 973-8787.

 

OCABR Licensee Recognized: T.A. Sullivan Insurance Agency

TA Sullivan Event

The Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence Ceremony for T.A. Sullivan Insurance Agency and presented by Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi at their office in Methuen.

The Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence awarded to T.A. Sullivan Insurance Agency was presented by Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi at a ceremony held at their office in Methuen.

OCABR on the Move

August ocabr on the move graphic

 

View the OCABR Full Event Calendar

 

OCABR Welcomes Fall 2022 Coop Class from Northeastern

OCABR Welcomes Fall 2022 Coop Class from Northeastern

Picture from Left to Right: Jonas Ruzek, Hunter Swanson, Joshua Sisman, Serena Green, and  Daniel Dalzell

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.

#ConsumerTip

The new US Postal Service (USPS) price rates went into affect this month. The following rates consumers should be aware of are:

  • First-class mail postage is now 60 cents.
  • Metered mail that has postage by printing machines used in a home or office for first-class mail is now 57 cents.
  • First-class mail flat/large envelopes increased four cents to $1.20.

  • International mail for first-class mail increased by ten cent to $1.40.

  • Postcards increased by four cents to $0.44.
Date published: July 28, 2022
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