Consumer Update

Letter from the Undersecretary

Dear Massachusetts Consumer, 

Undersecretary Palleschi Headshot

May in Massachusetts is one of the busiest times of the year. Households across the Commonwealth are preparing for summer vacations, weddings, weekend projects, and lots of outdoor fun. While small businesses are preparing for tourist season and the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day Weekend.

It is important to remember, as we enjoy the long weekend, the purpose, and traditions of Memorial Day. Each year, Memorial Day is a time to honor the memory of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our great nation.

The heroes we remember are our family, friends, and neighbors. This Memorial Day, I’ll be thinking about my personal hero, United State Marine Corps Captain Jennifer Harris. As a fellow native of Swampscott, Captain Harris was killed on February 7, 2007, in Anbar Province, Iraq. Captain Harris was on a mission to deliver blood to wounded Marines when the helicopter she was piloting was attacked. Her bravery will never be forgotten.

This Memorial Day and throughout the year, I will honor the memory of Captain Harris and all the men and women who lost their lives while defending our freedoms. In between the celebrations of the holiday weekend, I hope everyone will take a moment to appreciate the liberties afforded to us.

If you are in the process of planning your first vacation of the year, make sure to book your trip with a reputable company to avoid a potential scam.  Consider purchasing a travel insurance policy from an agency licensed by the Division of Insurance, to protect yourself against potential financial losses should your vacation be canceled, delayed, or interrupted.

Also, as you plan your summer home improvement projects, make sure your home improvement contractor (HIC) is registered with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR). This month OCABR launched its HIC Consumer Education Campaign encouraging Massachusetts homeowners to learn more about this registration program. 

Finally, please remember that an informed consumer is an empowered consumer.

Please stay informed with all the latest consumer advocacy and updates across our agency by following OCABR on Twitter, LinkedInFacebook, and by checking out our most recent blog posts on Mass.gov/OCARB.

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

Before Taking a Trip Invest in Travel Insurance

With summer rapidly approaching and travel restrictions lifting, now is a busier time than ever for booking a trip. Online searches for vacation bookings are on pace for levels last seen in 2019 according to HomeToGo’s travel trends report. Before clicking the payment button to confirm your next vacation, make sure that your plans are properly protected with travel insurance in case something goes wrong.

No matter where you are headed, travel insurance can protect against potential financial losses if your vacation is cancelled, delayed, or interrupted for a variety of reasons.  Each travel insurance policy or certificate may include different benefits, most include coverage for the costs of an interrupted trip, lost baggage, or medical emergencies.  You can often purchase coverage tailored to your particular needs on your trip.

If you are purchasing travel insurance while booking your plane tickets, or opt to take time to shop around, verify that the agent or insurance company you are working with are licensed by the Division of Insurance (DOI), an agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR).

After verifying the insurance company or insurance agent you plan to do business with, it is important to understand the benefits within your selected policy.  Use the tips below from OCABR and DOI to ensure your vacation is protected.

  • Read the terms and conditions of the policy and understand the types of personal property and medical coverage you have while traveling.  Travel insurance may require that certain conditions be met in order to apply, such as a specific timeframe for flight delays.
  • Find out if your insurance package requires prior approval before seeking medical care. Also check if any pre-existing medical conditions or age limits will exclude you from coverage.
  • Review the list of covered reasons for canceling your trip, as well as any exclusions and coverage limitations.  Some policies require advance cancellation to be eligible for a refund, most plans do not allow compensation if you cancel last minute.
  • Include travel insurance costs within your vacation budget.  Travel insurance may cost between 4% and 10% of a trip's price. For example, if your vacation cost totals $5,000, travel insurance may range between $200 to $500 depending on the coverage.

Remember that travel insurance is offered in a competitive market.  While consumers have the right to shop and compare insurance offerings, companies also haves the right to deny an application for coverage.

Visit the Division of Insurance at www.Mass.Gov/DOI for more information about insurance in Massachusetts.

Tips to Protect Yourself from Smishing Scams

Phones are a staple in our society, they help us communicate with friends and family, and provide us directions when going to a new place, and smartphones allow us direct access to the internet. One does not leave their house without a phone anymore, and scammers know this. A new phone scam has surfaced called smishing. Smishing is the act of sending text messages claiming to be from reputable sources, with the intent to get personal or financial information from someone.

Smishing messages trick their victims into revealing important information like one’s social security number, credit card number, or account passwords. These types of messages come in various formats, and through platforms like SMS messages, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or WeChat. They can be an alert about suspicious account activity, for example, an unexpected message from your bank. Or a message that you have “won a prize” and need to respond to the message or click a link to receive your winnings. Or even a message claiming to be from a government agency about Covid-19 or Stimulus checks.

There are millions of text messages being sent daily, and smishing scammers slip their dangerous messages in with the crowd, so here are some tips to help protect yourself from smishing scams:

  1. Do not assume a text is coming from a legitimate source. If you receive an unexpected ‘urgent’ alert from a company that you recognize, contact the organization at a number or website that you already know is legitimate.
  2. Send spam and scam texts to 7726 (SPAM) – this is free of charge and send the alert straight to your carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon.
  3.  Install programs that filter or block unwanted messages from unknown senders.
  4. Refrain from giving out personal or financial information in an unsolicited text.
  5. Do not click on links from messages from unknown sources.

If you think you have been a victim of a smishing scam, you can file a report with the Federal Communications Commission FCC Complaints or you could file with the Federal Trade Commission ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Scam Alert: Be Wary When Purchasing a New Pet Online

As consumers, most of our research starts online, including when we plan to add a puppy or kitten to the family.  Pet adoptions are on the rise, and so are fake pet scams, according to the Better Business Bureau about 80% of pet advertisements are fraudulent. While you are scrolling through adorable dog and cat pictures online, be sure to take your time to spot a potential scam.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation protects and empowers consumers, including providing information on recent scam trends.  If you’re in the market for a furever friend, look out for these red flags while browsing pet adoption websites.

  • Free pets advertisement are designed to grab your attention.  The immediate call to action often leads to a scammer who strings along a prospective puppy parent stealing both money and personal information. 
  • Discounted pet postings have an emotional hook with a story of why an animal is up for adoption.  The only cost associated with adopting a discounted pet is a nominal rehoming fee that goes to a fraudster.
  • Cute and overly produced pet photos included in an announcement are often stolen images for a pet that does not exist.  Do a reverse image search on Google of the photo that is advertised. If the picture comes up on multiple adoption or marketplace websites, it is a scam.
  • Animals located in other states or countries with additional payments attached to the adoption fees, such as medical exams, special carrier crates, or air fare.  These extra fees often allow the scammer to prolong the conversation and coordinate delivery.  This not only results in you not receiving the animal, but also a great deal of money and sensitive details given to the scammer.
  • Adoption practices that only accept payment in unconventional ways such as gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency.  Do not send any funds until you have verified the business or individual and confirmed existence of the animal.

Always remember, if it’s too good to be true it probably is.  Fortunately, there are many legitimate and verifiable way to adopt a pet.  Visit the Division of Animal Health Shelter/Rescue program’s website for information on the health and safety of animals adopted in Massachusetts, and to find an approved shelter or rescue organization in the Commonwealth.  

If you think you have been scammed or encountered a fraudulent website, please report the fraud to the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, in addition to Petscams.com. You can also report a scam by emailing the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association at petscams@ipata.org. Petscams.com also has a list of over 23,000 fake pet website that you should be aware of that can be found here.

Be Informed: Hire a Registered Home Improvement Contractor

We all want to be informed and have less stress, especially when working on a home remodeling project.  If you own a home and are planning an improvement project, no matter how big or small, you should hire a registered home improvement contractor.  There are over 31,000 contractors registered with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) to perform residential contracting in Massachusetts.  Hiring one to ensure your work goes smoothly starts by using OCABR’s online contractor lookup tool.

This month, OCABR launched an awareness campaign to encourage homeowners to hire registered home improvement contractors.  Homeowners working with registered contractors are protected from being taken advantage of by a bad contractor.

Why is it best to work with registered home improvement contractor (HIC)? First, registered contractors must follow certain requirements regarding contracts, payments, advertising, and business practices.  It is a violation of the HIC Law for contractors to advertise, accept payment, and engage in a contracts without an active HIC registration.  An active registration allows contractors to do residential contracting work on existing one-to-four-unit owner occupied homes in Massachusetts.

Next, the HIC program allows for an arbitration, complaint, enforcement, and fund of last resort for eligible homeowners.  If a dispute arises with a registered contractor homeowners may apply for those programs and seek a resolution or compensation.  If you hire an unregistered contractor, you are not eligible to apply for arbitration through OCABR, nor will you be eligible to seek money through the Guaranty Fund. You may however, submit a complaint to OCABR against any registered or unregistered contractor for violations of the HIC law.

Finally, HIC law requires that all contracts over $1,000 must be in writing and include certain items.  Necessary HIC contract language include, but are not limited to: a clear description of the agreement and job, the full names and addresses of both parties, start and completion dates of the project, total cost, and payment schedule.  For more details about contract requirements visit the OCABR website.

How can you check an HIC registration? Use the OCABR HIC Registration Public Lookup to view a contractor’s registration status and complaint history. You can search by HIC registration number, company name, or first and last name, in addition to city/town, state, and zip code. A contractor is registered and up to date if they are listed as “Active” and not past their expiration date.

Once your search populates a list of contractors, click on their registration number to show if the contractor has a complaint history. From there, you can also check if the contractor has made any payments associated with an arbitration case or Guaranty Fund filing.
 

If your search does not yield any results, you may be looking for an unregistered contractor. Try searching various ways to locate the contractor, or call the OCABR Consumer Hotline at 617-973-8787 Monday through Friday between 9am and 4:30pm for assistance. 

If a contractor is not registered or has an expired registration, it is not advisable to contract with them.  For more information visit OCABR’s Homeowner's Guide to Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor.

OCABR Licensee Recognized:  Leslie S. Ray Insurance Agency

Pictured left to right: State Representative Jerry Parisella, OCABR Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, Leslie S. Ray Insurance Agency President and CEO, David Ray, and State Senator Joan Lovely.

Pictured left to right: State Representative Jerry Parisella, OCABR Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi, Leslie S. Ray Insurance Agency President and CEO, David Ray, and State Senator Joan Lovely.

Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi recently visited Leslie S. Ray Insurance Agency President and CEO, David Ray with OCABR's Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence. Founded in 1954 by Leslie S. Ray, the agency offers personalized, friendly, and comprehensive advice and consultation to its customers. The entire team at Leslie Ray is a shining example of the gold standard of licensees in Massachusetts. Special thanks to Senator Joan Lovely, State Representative Jerry Parisella, and Greater Beverly Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Leslie Gould, for attending this special event.

OCABR oversees and supports the Division of Insurance (DOI) which administers the Commonwealth's laws pertaining to the protection of the insurance consumer through the regulation of the insurance industry. The agency monitors financial solvency and licenses insurance companies, producers, and agencies like Leslie S. Ray Insurance Agency. Learn more at mass.gov/DOI

OCABR on the Move

May OCABR On the Move

 

View the OCABR Full Event Calendar

 

HIC Consumer Education Campaign Launched This Month

HIC Consumer Education Campaign Billboard

A billboard for the HIC Consumer Education Campaign that launched this month. 

This month, OCABR launched an awareness campaign to encourage homeowners to hire registered home improvement contractors.  Homeowners working with registered contractors are protected from being taken advantage of by a bad contractor.

#ConsumerTip

If you own a home and are planning home improvements, make sure to hire a registered home improvement contractor. Use the OCABR HIC Registration Public Lookup to view a contractor’s registration status and complaint history. You can search by HIC registration number, company name, or first and last name, in addition to city/town, state, and zip code. A contractor is registered and up to date if they are listed as “Active” and not past their expiration date.

Date published: May 26, 2022
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