Letter from the Undersecretary
Dear Massachusetts Consumer,
As we reflect on November, we as Americans have a lot to be thankful for. I hope you were able to gather with your loved ones last week, as I was, and for anyone who had someone missing from the table this year, I hope their memory brings you peace and joy. Our great Commonwealth should be thankful for another successful election season. Massachusetts voters exercised their right to elect new state leaders, and with more than two million ballots cast, voters have chosen Governor-elect Maura Healey to lead our state for the next four years. I am confident that the Healey Administration will be an advocate for all Massachusetts consumers.
This week also officially kicked off the start of the holiday shopping season. Last year, according to the National Retail Federation, shoppers spent $9 billion on Black Friday. This year, spending is expected to exceed that. For anyone shopping for great deals on the latest toys, or the hottest tech device, remember there are protections provided to you under Massachusetts Law. Our office has compiled important tips to keep you and your wallet safe, which can be found in this newsletter.
November is also recognized as National Veterans and Military Families Month. It is a time to acknowledge the selfless sacrifices our military members and their families make every day to keep our great nation safe. We owe them a debt of gratitude. Last month, I had the privilege of joining Governor Baker, state dignitaries and military families at Hanscom Airforce Base for the ceremonial signing of the SPEED Act. This act ensures an expedited professional licensing process for military spouses as they transition to our great state.
As we honor our brave military men and women, there are those out there who are looking to take advantage of their sacrifice. According to the Federal Trade Commission, veterans, reservists, and active U.S. service members filed more than 121,000 reports in 2020, including tens of thousands of cases of fraud and identity theft. Many of these scams try to gain access to personal and financial information by offering illegitimate benefits and charging bogus fees. In support of our mission, and in honor of veterans across the Commonwealth, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation posted information on our agency’s website listing common scams that are targeting active military and veterans and how to protect your personal information.
So, as we begin to plan for another holiday season, remember this next month is the busiest time of the year for consumers and scammers, which is why OCABR has prepared the briefs in the newsletter below to give you the tools and knowledge to better protect yourself. Remember, an informed consumer is an empowered consumer.
Edward A. Palleschi
Undersecretary, Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
Consumer Shopping Rights: Returns
Holiday shopping officially began this month with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday last week. According to the National Retail Federation, over 66.5 million shoppers participated in Black Friday shopping last year! Whether consumers experience buyer’s remorse, or the purchase just wasn’t the right fit, returns and refunds are inevitable. It is important to know your rights as a consumer in Massachusetts while you get your gift list in order.
There are no specific laws requiring return policies in the Commonwealth. This means that a merchant can have any return policy they want, however, consumers must be informed of the policy in some way before the transaction is complete. Defective products must be accepted for return, regardless of any policy, and you must be given the option of a repair, replacement item, or refund.
In anticipation of the holiday rush, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation prepared the following details should you find yourself seeking a return or refund this season.
Under Massachusetts law, if a return policy is offered, there are restrictions on how that policy can be represented to the consumer and how it can be honored in order to protect your rights. Those restrictions are:
- Misrepresentation. A salesperson is not allowed to misrepresent a return policy in order to convince you to buy the product.
- Contradicting the policy. Merchants must accept a return if it is covered by the policy and within the specific time period.
- Store credit. If store credit is given instead of a cash refund, the retailed must honor the credit for at least 7 years.
Cooling Off Periods
In certain cases, consumers have a 3-business day cooling off period to request a refund. This does not apply to all products or services, and only counts door-to-door sales or other transactions outside the usual place of business, credit repair and credit services, gym or health club memberships, and timeshares.
Visit the Office of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Guide to Shopping Rights for more information about your rights as a consumer. If you have questions about these policies, reach out to the Office’s consumer hotline at 617-973-8787 between the hours of 9am and 4:30pm, Monday through Friday.
Shopping Safety Tips
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is full of excitement and great shopping deals and is also a time where consumers are the most vulnerable. As packages are left on the porch or in unattended vehicles, theft increases. Whether protecting your home or car, consumers should stay alert and take steps to keep belongings safe.
While local police departments continue to warn residents to lock unattended vehicles, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation gathered the below tips to keep help secure your property.
- Break down boxes of high-ticket items. Before putting out trash or recycling in front of your home, break down or destroy boxes that once contained expensive products, like television sets or gaming consoles. These empty packages in the trash can make your home a target.
- Do not leave deliveries unattended for long periods of time. Use tracking information and ask trustworthy neighbors to retrieve your packages if you plan to be away from the house. Some delivery services also have options for alternative drop off locations or local lockboxes.
- Consider installing video surveillance doorbells. Smart home doorbells allow you to view the outside of your home while you are out, and some include options to communicate with individuals remotely. Should a package theft occur these products will provide you with video evidence.
- Store bags in the trunk while shopping. Keeping belonging out of sight while in shopping centers or other parking lots decrease the chance that your vehicle will be of interest to a bad actor.
- Park in well-lit areas. Leave your vehicle in well-lit high trafficked areas whenever possible to deter thieves.
If your vehicle or home is broken into, immediately alert the police and contact your insurance company. As always, remain vigilant, especially during this busy time of year.
Scam Alert: NBA Ticket Scams
With an action-packed 2022-23 NBA season well underway, ticket prices around the league are skyrocketing. This year, the average price of a Boston Celtics home game ticket is hovering around $300 just to get in the building. Before the NBA finals games held in Boston this summer, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center warned consumers of counterfeiters attempting to sell fake tickets—these scams have continued into the regular season.
High ticket prices to watch your favorite team in person often make the average NBA fan desperate for a better deal. Scammers have capitalized on consumers’ search for cheaper tickets by offering illegitimate deals. In an effort to help Massachusetts consumers protect themselves, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation recommends that you take the following steps when going to see your home team hit the court:
- Buy tickets from NBA-approved sellers. Approved sellers include NBAtickets.com, Ticketmaster, and the official NBA team websites.
- Reject offers from resellers outside of the stadium. There is no way to verify tickets on the street. These tickets could be stolen, reprinted, or fake.
- Avoid posting photos of your tickets online. Con artists use these images to recreate tickets in turn scamming unsuspecting consumers. This often leads to your entry being denied when you arrive because someone has already scanned your ticket.
- Don’t fall victim to an offer that is too good to be true. Unless the offer is coming from a trusted friend or family member, a suspiciously low-ticket price is most likely fake.
As the season progresses and the playoffs begin, scams will become even more prevalent. If you believe you’ve encountered an NBA ticket scam, please report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or by calling 202-326-2222. For more information on protecting yourself from scams and fraud, visit the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s Consumer Guide to Scams.
Medicare Open Enrollment
Medicare open enrollment started last month and ends on December 7th. Open enrollment allows those who qualify for the federal health insurance program to either enter into a plan for the first time, or switch from their current Medicare plan to a new one. Year-round, but especially during open enrollment, fraudsters impersonating Medicare agents contact consumers, by phone, text, email, or sometimes even in person, asking for personal details. This stolen information is often used to obtain a fraudulent health plan, get prescription medicine, or other forms of medical identity theft.
Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, such as name, Social Security number, health insurance account number, or Medicare number to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, buy medical devices, submit claims with your insurance provider, or get other medical care. Eventually, if a scammer’s health information is mixed with yours, it could affect the medical care or health insurance you are able to get, and it could impact your credit.
During open enrollment, keep these red flags in mind to avoid falling victim to a potential medical identity theft scam:
- Unsolicited offers or deals associate with Medicare. Scammers may contact you offering a discounted insurance plan or gift. These fraudsters insist on collecting personal information, including your Medicare ID number. If you find yourself in this situation, hang up; it’s a scam.
- Be wary of phone calls about Medicare. Fraudsters can spoof phone numbers appearing to be Medicare. Remember, just because an incoming call shows it’s from a “Medicare agent” doesn’t mean you should trust it. If you receive a call from someone you don’t know, hang up and call Medicare using a verified phone number on www.medicare.gov.
- Ignore threats. Con artists often use scare tactics of back payment, arrest, or discontinued plan coverage to make their target act spontaneously. If someone is attempting to bully you on a call related to Medicare, hang up; it’s a scam.
For more information about open enrollment visit www.medicare.gov or the the Senior Medicare Patrol’s (SMP) website. SMP offers resources for Medicare beneficiaries and assists with finding a plan to meet your needs.
If you believe you were contact by a Medicare scammer, report it to 1-800-MEDICARE and the Federal Trade Commission at www.reportfraud.ftc.gov
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|Date published:||November 29, 2022|