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Consumer Update: May 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, 

May is Older Americans Month. Initiated by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, it is a time to recognize the contributions of older adults across the nation and to raise awareness of issues facing our seniors such as isolation, neglect, and abuse. Currently, more than 46 million Americans are over the age of 65 - that’s about 16.5 percent of the population, a figure which is expected to reach 22 percent by 2050. 

It is important for us as a society to respect and care for the seniors in our community. That’s why the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is proud to be hosting a joint event with our partners at the State Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment and the Massachusetts Councils on Aging in celebration of Older Americans Month. You can read more about that virtual free event in this newsletter. 
 
There is a lot to celebrate this month including Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement that Massachusetts will reopen some outdoor industries effective May 10th. Plans have also been put in place for further reopening on May 29th and August 1st. With public health metrics trending in a positive direction, the Administration is continuing to take steps to reopen the Commonwealth's economy. To learn more about the re-opening plan go to: www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-massachusetts.  

In this issue you will also learn about video game fraud, hear about a new social media app called Clubhouse, and hear about the Division of Standards and their Metrology Lab.  Whatever your interests, remember you don’t need a designated month to reach out to the seniors in your life. Make sure the older Americans in your family and your community know they are valued every day of the year. 

And finally, the best consumer is an informed consumer no matter their age!

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

Protection Agencies Host Virtual Consumer Workshop

Join the Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment (OEE), the Massachusetts Councils on Aging (MCOA), and the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) partner to host a virtual consumer workshop to talk about available protections from their respective agencies. Hear from leaders of these organizations about resources their offices provide to all Massachusetts residents.

The one-hour workshop will also address scams targeting seniors, and others, across the Commonwealth. Participants will gain knowledge of available consumer supports as well as leave with a list of financial literacy resources; and, they will learn how to identify and combat fraud. The panel will include: State Treasurer and Receiver General Deborah Goldberg, MCOA Director of Member Services Susan Carp, and Undersecretary of OCABR Edward A. Palleschi, as well as OCABR Community Outreach Manager Robin Putnam who will serve as moderator. This virtual event will be held via Zoom on Monday, May 3rd at 11:00am. It is free and open to all. Register here.  

This workshop is part of series of virtual events designed to help Massachusetts consumers be more informed and empowered. During this workshop on economic security, attendees will be able to ask questions and receive real-time responses from our panel of experts. Participants will learn about state education programs, how to sign up for them and how to take advantage of them.

As technology advances and the world continues to change, consumers will need to continually adapt and learn about how to protect themselves from new and evolving deceptions. The best way to do that is to have reliable sources like the OEE, MCOA, and OCABR to turn to for guidance, resources, and training. The Consumer Workshop will give an overview of tips on protecting your finances and address the most prevalent scams facing consumers today while offering tips on how to recognize and avoid these scams

Fraud Alert: Video Game Hackers

Social distancing mandates have disrupted physical interaction leading more consumers to online video games for virtual escape and entertainment. As a result, a larger demographic of users is setting up online accounts with personal information. According to eMarketer.com, there will be over 175 million gamers in the United States this year—that is over 50% of the population. These new users aren’t the only ones eager to find an opponent, fraudsters are looking to play along too.

Last summer, Nintendo was affected by a data breach exposing nearly 300,000 accounts. Users experienced fraudulent in-game purchases, logins different countries, and sudden account freezes. These types of attacks are not recent news. In 2011, personal information from 77 million PlayStation users was compromised, and the company was unable to recover many of the lost accounts.

Fraudsters often use the in-game chat features to persuade, pressure, and in some cases, coerce other users into sharing login information and passwords. Once a hacker has access to an account’s details, they can lock out the original user and takeover financial accounts attached to the game, such as a PayPal, Apple ID, or credit cards. Stolen usernames and passwords may even resurface on the black market, where hackers can use the exposed credentials to break into other accounts. Use the tips below to ensure that your video game play stays fun and safe:

Set up two-factor authentication
Many systems offer two-factor authentication as an added security measure. This allows users to sign up to receive text messages, phone calls, e-mails with a one-time code in order to verify it’s you logging in to the device. Third party applications like Google Authenticator generate special codes for verification as well.

Check your login history
If an IP address in your login history looks unfamiliar, this may be an indication that someone has gained access to your account. This information is often found in your account preferences or billing setup.

Change and strengthen your passwords Passwords should be updated on a regular basis, but if you suspect you’re the victim of a data breach, change all account passwords immediately. Use unique passwords for each accounts. Tough to crack passwords often contain a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols, and do not use well known information—like your dog’s name or birthday.

Set up parental controls
To keep financial information under close supervision, parents can change the settings of a gaming account so that they must approve in-game purchases before they are made. Video game hackers can be difficult to detect because they mainly interact young, or naive players.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of video game fraud report the breach to the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For more information about account recovery or additional security measures visit the secure website of your preferred console or game.

Measuring Success at the Metrology Lab

Ever wonder how the scales you see in the supermarket are able to give consistent information, or who checks to make sure barcode readers are accurate, or if anyone monitors the ticker in a taxicab, or if gas pumps have to conform to a standard to guarantee you get what you pay for? While this may seem like a random list the thing that all of these devices have in common is that they must conform to weights and measures standards which are set, checked, and calibrated by inspectors from the Division of Standards (DOS). 

More specifically, the Division enforces accuracy requirements and other standards relating to weighing and measuring devices and their use in the sale of food, fuels and other products. DOS regulates the sale of gasoline and sets standards for lubricating oils and antifreeze, including the inspection of all fuel dispensing equipment for required markings pertaining to grade and brand. The Division also tests and approves coin operated devices, licenses auctioneers, transient vendors, promoters, peddlers, motor fuel and oil retailers and registers auto damage repair shops, and enforces the item pricing law, unit pricing regulations and item pricing waivers to retail food stores. 

A lot of this work is done in the state’s Metrology Lab. Metrology is the science of measurement and is focused on standardization in measurement, calibration and inspection. During calibration service, the measurement values of tools and instruments are compared with a calibration standard of known accuracy. This is important work that requires meticulous detail. The state’s Metrology Lab is run and maintained by Raymond A. Costa, Laboratory Manager and Inspector. 

Costa who has held this post for more than 10 years has multiple math degrees and 35 years of corporate experience. In fact, he started his career at DOS and returned to run the Metrology Lab when his successor retired. Part math whiz, part inspector, part curator of museum quality artifacts, Costa is passionate about all things weights and measures. It’s a job he does with great pride knowing the valuable contribution his lab makes to keeping standards regulated. The lab which is currently located in Needham is moving over the summer. It will be relocated to Ashland and be open for business in that location sometime after Labor Day. 

By law, every scale in the Commonwealth must be inspected once per year. In towns and cities with 20,000 or more residents that work is done by local inspectors. Communities of 5,000 to 20,000 have the option of engaging DOS inspectors or hiring local ones. Municipalities of less than 5,000 have their weights and measures checked by DOS. The state has 10 inspectors who do this work. Currently, Costa works alone in the Metrology Lab, but that’s about to change. DOS is currently looking for a Metrology Technician to work alongside Costa. If you love weights and measures, are good at math, and are detail oriented this could be your dream job - check it out

Clubhouse 101: Is this New App Right for You?

What exactly is Clubhouse?
Clubhouse is a downloadable app that allows you to listen in on other’s live conversations. These chats may be with famous, knowledgeable, or noteworthy (no guarantee) individuals. What’s so exciting about this app is that you may have the opportunity to join a discussion with celebrities, entrepreneurs, and/or others of prominence that you would otherwise likely never meet. One user described the Clubhouse app as “the airport bar of the internet.”

Timing is everything, the audio-based app debuted in March 2020 just as the pandemic raged and governments around the globe imposed mandatory stay-at-home orders. That caused isolation and a desire to connect with others - Clubhouse offered that connection and the prospect of talking with the rich and famous in an intimate setting. In the year since its launch, a reported 10 million people worldwide have downloaded the app.

As with anyone or anything in its infancy, some growing pains exist. For example, the Clubhouse app is only available on iOS devices, though Android access is coming soon. The developers say that they wanted to scale up capacity slowly and build demand as well as followers. Currently, Clubhouse can be downloaded to an iPad, but it is not optimized for iPadOS. This means that you will be using the app in a small window on some devices.

Can I just sign up?
At the moment, access to chats on Clubhouse is by invitation-only. However, every new user is given two invitations to pass on to friends, and can earn more invitations the more they use the app. If you are interested in joining in on the conversation, check with those you know to see if they are members and have the ability to extend an invitation to you.

How much of my personal information is needed to register?
You have to give Clubhouse your cell phone number and your real name. You can register the eventual username you would like to display before you get an invitation. The user inviting you simply needs your cell phone number. You will get a link via text, telling you to visit joinclubhouse.com/app and sign in with your cell phone number.

Are the conversations permanent
Conversation rooms come and go as people launch or end them. Clubhouse says that it records chats as they happen, but only retains the discussions if someone files a complaint while the room is live. The apps administrators say all other recordings are discarded when the host closes the chat.

Are there any down sides, things I should look out for?
There is no user verification system on Clubhouse. So, you do not know who you are actually chatting with, or listening to, and could possibly be on with a scammer or an impersonator. This lack of security has led to reports of anti-Semitic rooms, accusations of idea stealing, coordinated harassment campaigns, and an onslaught of branded rooms. And recently, information from 1.3 million users was hacked and posted to a public forum. Clubhouse attempts to address these issues of concern at weekly town hall meetings where the founders also announce product changes and answer questions.

Social audio is here to stay, but will Clubhouse make it?
he Clubhouse app’s early success has initiated a race to innovate prompting competitor clones. Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Discord, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Spotify have all recently announced their plans for similar products and functionality. Only time will tell which of these apps, if any, will dominate social media in the future.

Employee Spotlight

OCABR welcomes Ramy Hana as the new Director of the Home Improvement Contractor Registration Program (HIC). Ramy arrives from the State Retirement Board where he was most recently Manager of Member Services and the Call Center. Previously, he worked for the state of Texas in the Health and Human Services department. Ramy also spent several years as an accountant at Dallas area firms. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Ramy Hana,  Director of the Home Improvement Contractor Registration Program
Date published: April 30, 2021
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