Consumer Update

Letter from the Undersecretary

Dear Massachusetts Consumer, 

Undersecretary Palleschi Headshot

If there is one thing that Americans know how to do, it is to celebrate. All in one month’s time, Massachusetts will have celebrated the second official Juneteenth being recognized as a state holiday, Pride Month, and Independence Day. Each of these holidays holds its own distinguished significance. Yet, these occasions still remain the product of victories and liberations by groups of people that fought to maintain their freedoms.

I am proud to be a public servant for the Baker-Polito Administration whose commitment to service and making the Commonwealth a great place to live, work and raise a family continues to be a top priority.

In 2020, Governor Baker wrote in his proclamation commemorating Juneteenth as the end of slavery in the United States, and “an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the goal of creating a more equal and just society." ​In the same spirit, OCABR is committed to ensuring that every consumer across the state has access to resources and information to protect and empower themselves against bad actors looking to take advantage of them. According to a recent report by the FTC minority groups were found to be targeted and disproportionally affected by scammers.

Another group often targeted by scammers is the LGBTQIA+ community. This minority group often uses the internet to connect and develop relationships, and fraudsters take advantage of that. As Pride Month is celebrated in June, OCABR would like to remind the LGBTQIA+ community about crypto scams. The number one tip to remember is not to let your guard down, especially during celebratory occasions.

As we head into the holiday weekend and prepare for Fourth of July gatherings, make sure to read about how the Division of Standards ensures that you get what you pay for at the grocery store and at the pump. If you are buying any weighted items, it is important to be educated on the laws and regulations protecting you as a consumer in the Bay State. The only thing you should have to worry about is choosing between a hotdog or a hamburger.

So, every year, as Juneteenth, Pride, and Independence Day are celebrated, let us reflect on the baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s sentiment that, “There's not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.”

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

Hire a Licensed Landscape Architect

While the temperature heats up this season, we find ourselves spending more time outside.  That means the summer is a great time to continue protecting your lawn or add enhancements to prepare for outdoor fun. Beyond basic maintenance, some consumers may embark on larger projects such as patios, walkways, or other hardscape development.  Should you choose to start a landscape improvement plan, be sure to obtain any necessary municipal permits and consider working with highly trained licensed professionals.

The Division of Occupational Licensure, an agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, oversees the Board of Registration of Landscape Architects.  The Board of Registration of Landscape Architects protects the public through the licensure and regulation of the title of “Landscape Architect” in Massachusetts by licensing qualified individuals and establishing regulations to ensure the integrity and competence of licensees engaged in the practice of landscape architecture. 

Individuals licensed as landscape architects perform a variety of projects involving drainage, grading, wind considerations, ponds, terraces, walkways, and more. Working closely with their clients, landscape architects often plot and shape the land to solve environmentally related problems or create designs, often resulting in increased land value.

Before hiring a landscape architect to complete your outside projects this summer, make sure that they have the proper licensure to operate in the Commonwealth. The Board of Registration of Landscape Architects offers a public lookup for consumers to check the current status of an individual landscape architect license.

While many landscape architects may complete work for homeowners, they also conduct jobs for a variety of other clients, including but not limited to:

  • Municipalities doing work such as streetscape revitalization, zoning regulations, traffic planning, and site plan review;
  • Land or property management firms developing property, changing the use of land, or managing land resources;
  • Parks and recreation departments completing site planning and development;
  • Utility companies assessing the impact, and routing of utility lines; and
  • Clients planning for land use in or near wetlands, for preservation and mitigation plans.

For more information on landscape architecture in Massachusetts, visit the Division of Occupational Licensure at www.Mass.Gov/DPL.

Tips Before Purchasing Weighted Goods This Summer

Who doesn’t love grilling out and enjoying barbeque and other delicious seasonal meals this time of year?  If you’re purchasing fish, cheese, or other weighed pieces at the grocery store in Massachusetts, consumers can ensure you get what you pay for when buying summer essentials.

The Division of Standards (DOS), an agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, oversees weights and measures in the Commonwealth and enforces the item pricing law, unit pricing regulations, and item pricing waivers to retail food stores.  The DOS also inspects pre-packaged food and non-food products to ensure that the net quantity is accurate and that any variation is within the acceptable parameters. Additionally, the laws and regulations under DOS oversight require food and grocery stores to individually price mark most items with the actual selling price. The laws also require food and grocery merchants to sell any item at the lowest price indicated on an item, sign, or advertisement.

In addition to the work that DOS does calibrating scales and performing examinations, there are steps consumers can when making weighed purchases at the market:

  • Ensure that your items are being weighed for “net weight” and do not include the weight of the packaging
  • Watch how lobsters sold by the pound from a tank are placed on the scale.  Make sure the store representative puts the lobster on its belly and not upside down.  Lobster tails can act as cups and hold extra water weight
  • Consider purchasing fresh, not frozen seafood, if possible.  This prevents extra water weight from flash freezing

Not all food is weighed, but that shouldn’t cut into your summer eating enjoyment.  The Item Pricing Law in the Commonwealth requires food retailers without a price scanner to individually price most items in addition to displaying the price on the shelves.  Some other helpful parts of the law to know when at checkout are:

  • If there is a discrepancy between the price listed on the shelf or item and the price that it rings up at, the consumer must be offered one of two corrections:
  1. if the item costs more than $10 and rings up higher than the advertised price, $10 must be deducted from the price.
  2. If the item costs less than $10 and rings up higher than the advertised price the item should be given as free.
  • The law also requires a food/grocery item to be sold at the lowest price indicated on an item, sign, or advertisement.

If you feel like something doesn’t add up at the scale or register, contact the Division of Standards at 617-727-3480. You may also visit the Division of Standard’s website for additional information or to initiate a complaint at: www.Mass.Gov/Standards.

Scam Alert: Student Loan Forgiveness

The latest extension of the student loan payment pause is set to expire on August 31, 2022. It’s no surprise that scammers are using this as an opportunity to take advantage of borrowers.  Recently, the Federal Trade Commission announced a decision to issue more than 20,000 checks totaling more than $2 million to borrowers who lost money to a student loan debt-relief scam called Student Debt Doctor.

As the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation always says: “an informed consumer is an empowered consumer.” To that end, here are a few red flags to beware of while student loan scams are on the rise:

  • Promises of fast loan forgiveness programs. There is not a federal student loan forgiveness program that all borrowers are eligible for. In fact, most people may not qualify for existing federal student loan forgiveness, nor is there a way to expedite qualifying. To view existing loan programs and to check for your eligibility, click here
  • Claims that your loans can be “cleared out” or “settled” for a fee. Many fake websites for credit repair companies exist stating that if you pay a fee or membership price, your student loan debt will be eliminated.  Do your research before taking any action against your student debt to ensure you are working with a reputable company
  • Requests for your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. Do not share your FSA ID with anyone. The Department of Education or other government entities will not ask for your FSA ID or passwords
  • Official announcements communicated to you via untraditional channels. If an official announcement for future eligibility regarding student loan forgiveness is made, it will come from the Department of Education. These messages or announcements will be sent via text, phone call, email, or social media messages

Remember to always take your time when confronted with an unsolicited call, email, or other message. 

If you or someone you know have been a victim of a student loan scam and would like to report it, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

If you have more questions about whether you qualify for existing programs, contact your loan service provider or the Department of Education. To find or identify your student loan servicer, click here.  For more information about federal student loans visit the U.S. Department of Education.  You may also visit the Division of Banks’ website for details about student loans in the Commonwealth. 

Preventing Elder Financial Abuse

Older Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country, they’re also the most likely to be taken advantage of and at a higher risk of fraud.  On June 15, we recognized World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  This call to action aims to raise awareness of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.  At least 1 in 10 adults over the age of 60 has experienced some form of abuse, most often at the hands of a caregiver, family member, or other trusted individual.

One of the most prevalent ways seniors are defrauded is through financial abuse.  According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, senior citizens lose more than $3 billion each year to financial scams.  The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation joins the international community in raising awareness and helping end elder abuse, both here in Massachusetts and across the world.

In collaboration with the Division of Banks, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is providing the following red flags of elder financial abuse.

  • Unusual activity spotted on a senior’s bank or credit card statements, such as large withdrawals or an increase in ATM transactions
  • Stories of a new friend or companion that is assisting with their financials or decision making
  • Sudden interest in buying gift cards or requesting help with wire transfers
  • Explanation of a deal found on the internet that seems too good to be true

In addition to tips for consumers, the Division of Banks provides training materials to financial institutions to assist with spotting and stopping elder financial abuse.  These training materials can be found on the Division’s website.

Massachusetts law grants immunity from any charges resulting from reporting elder abuse, as long as the reporter did not commit the abuse, and the report is made in good faith.

For more information about elder abuse or to file a report, visit the Executive Office of Elder Affairs at www.mass.gov/reporting-elder-abuse-neglect. If you suspect elder self-neglect, financial exploitation, or other abuse, you can call the Massachusetts-based Elder Abuse Hotline at 1 (800) 922-2275. Reports can be filed online or by calling the hotline, 24 hours a day.

OCABR Licensee Recognized:  Alicia Studio 13

Calee Merenda, representing Sen. Diana DiZoglio; Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce Vice President Michael Bevilacqua; Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi; Alicia Zefta of Alicia Studio 13; Haverhill Mayoral Communications Director Shawn Regan; Rep. Christina A. Minicucci; Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce President Joseph J. Bevilacqua

Pictured left to right: Calee Merenda of State Senator Diana DiZoglio's Office, Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce Vice President Michael Bevilacqua, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, Alicia Zefta of Alicia Studio 13; Haverhill Mayoral Communications Director Shawn Regan, State Representative Christina A. Minicucci, and Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce President Joseph J. Bevilacqua

This month, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi met and presented Alicia Zefta, Owner of Alicia Studio 13 in Haverhill with the OCABR Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence. Licensed through the Division of Occupational Licensure and the Board of Registration of Cosmetology and Barbering, Alicia Studio 13 has an all-star cast of makeup artists and hair stylists dedicated to serving their community.

Special thanks to the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce's President Joe Bevilacqua and Vice President Michael Bevilacqua, as well as Calee Merenda for representing State Senator Diana DiZoglio's Office, Haverhill Mayoral Communications Director Shawn Regan, and State Representative Christina Minicucci for attending and honoring Alicia and her staff.

OCABR on the Move

June OCABR on the Move

 

View the OCABR Full Event Calendar

 

Division of Standards Metrology Lab Grand Opening in Ashland

DOS Grand Opening

Top L-R: Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, State Representative Jack Patrick Lewis, Director of Community Engagement and Municipal Policy for Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka’s Office Karen Adelman-Foster, Chair of the Ashland Board of Selectmen Joe Magnani, and Director of the Division of Standards James Cassidy.

This month, Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi celebrated the grand opening of the new Division of Standards (DOS) Metrology Lab that recently relocated to Ashland.

Guests including DOS compliance officers, municipal sealers, and inspectors from across the Commonwealth were given tours of the 5,000 sq/foot facility that tests weights and measures devices used across the State by DOS Director James P. Cassidy and State Metrologist Ray Costa.

The Lab represents a significant state investment in equipment and is now one of the newest, most advanced metrology facilities in the Northeast. The Lab tests and calibrates a range of weights, volumetric, and linear measuring devices for both municipal and private sector agencies which gives consumers faith in knowing they’re getting what they pay for.

#ConsumerTip

If you are searching for an apartment with the help of a professional, ensure they are properly licensed with the Division of Occupational Licensure (DOL).  Use the DOL’s online verification tool to check the status of a real estate license.  Keep in mind that, only a licensed real estate broker or salesperson can charge a finder’s fee.

Date published: June 28, 2022
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