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Consumer Update: September 2020

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,

This is usually a very busy time in Massachusetts as students return from around the nation and around the world to attend the many colleges and universities in Massachusetts. This year is quieter as many colleges have turned to virtual classes which in turn has students learning remotely from home. Many public schools have followed suit offering options for hybrid and at home learning. And telework continues to be common place for almost every business sector.

Throughout all of this Governor Charlie Baker continues to find ways to address the needs and protections of the people of Massachusetts. Recently, the Administration announced formation of the  Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Enforcement and Intervention Team (CEIT), and the launch of a new campaign to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in communities across the state with the highest number of positive cases.  

The goal of the campaign is to ensure that residents know they live in a high-risk community and to reiterate the importance of wearing a mask and other best practices to stop the spread. The message of, “You have the power to save a life,” will encourage the use of masks and social distancing and will run in English, Portuguese, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Arabic and other languages.

More information can be found at Mass.gov/StopCOVID19 which provides information on how to stop the spread of the virus, state restrictions on gathering sizes, testing locations and materials that can be printed for display in apartment complexes, restaurants and community areas. All aspects of this campaign will expand throughout the fall.

Please do your part to be safe and help ensure that others around you are also safe! 

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

Safeguarding Your Wedding Against the Unexpected

Everyone who plans a wedding does so with the hope that it will be a perfect day. The odds of everything going as planned, as any newlywed can tell you, are not always in your favor. So how do you prepare for the unexpected? One thing to consider is investing in wedding insurance to protect against unplanned circumstances and potential catastrophes.   

Wedding liability insurance can help safeguard you against cancellations, postponement, bankrupt vendors, damage to wedding attire, lost deposits, event photographs and video, and severe weather, among other unanticipated calamities. Policies vary, but most cover a spectrum of the unexpected including ceremony delays, and other things that can disrupt your special day. While not quite as good as having a fairy godmother, wedding insurance can help off-set financial loss when things go wrong.   

There are two types of wedding insurance: liability and cancellation. Liability insurance protects you from responsibility for any accidents or injuries during your ceremony or reception, including alcohol-related incidents. Cancellation insurance reimburses you for all costs in the event that your wedding has to be called off - except in the case of cold feet.  

Costs for wedding insurance policies vary too. Most policies range from $150 to $550, so it’s recommended that you shop around for the policy that’s best for you.   
Compare insurance options and costs  

  • Learn what is, and what is not, covered in each plan   
  • Understand your policy coverage in advance - ask about exclusions  
  • Know your rights and responsibilities should you need to file a claim 
      

To learn more about wedding insurance, how it works, and if it’s right for you, visit the Division of Insurance’s website here.  

Foreclosure Protections for Massachusetts for Homeowners

Americans everywhere are experiencing hardship due to the COVID-19 emergency and the many jobs lost, furloughed, or scaled back due to virus induced safety precautions and shutdowns. If you live in the Commonwealth and are among those struggling financially due to the pandemic, you should know that there are federal and state protections that have been put in place to help protect you and safeguard against foreclosure.      

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, prohibits servicers from beginning a foreclosure against a homeowner, or from finalizing a foreclosure sale if your loan is backed by the federal government. This federal protection began on March 18, 2020, and extends through at least December 31, 2020. It includes a 180-day forbearance for those who experience pandemic related financial hardship, with an option to request another 180 days, if needed. The homeowner must contact their loan servicer to request this. There will be no additional fees, penalties or interest added. Learn more about federal mortgage relief options from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

In April, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020 (Act) which includes a provision to postpone foreclosures on a 1-to-4 family, owner-occupied, residential property. It also provides residential mortgage borrowers financially impacted from COVID-19 the right to obtain a forbearance on their mortgage payments for up to 180 days. The state’s mortgage forbearance is not automatic. You must contact your lender/servicer to request a forbearance and affirm that you have experienced a negative financial impact due to COVID-19. 

The eviction and foreclosure moratorium provided under Massachusetts law expires on October 17, 2020, or 45 days after the COVID-19 emergency declaration has been lifted in the Bay Sate. Borrowers in default are also entitled to a 180-day forbearance, as long the request is made while the law is in effect. During a mortgage forbearance normal monthly mortgage payments are paused for an agreed upon period of time. If your mortgage was not in default prior to the forbearance period, the mortgage will not go into default for payments missed during the forbearance. Under the Act, you can have payments suspended during this time added to the end of the mortgage loan term. Make sure you understand the repayment agreement offered by your servicer.   

The Act also includes provisions on nonessential evictions for residential dwellings and small business premises units. For additional information on the Act, mortgage forbearance, and emergency provisions visit the state’s moratorium resources and the Division of Banks frequently asked questions  

A further protection was just added by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which issued a temporary eviction moratorium through the end of this year. If you received an economic impact payment provided by the CARES Act, you may be eligible under the CDC’s protection. The order does not relieve any obligation to pay rent and does not prevent landlords from charging fees or interest as a result of failure to pay rent on time. For more information, renter eligibility, and the written declaration form view the CDC’s full eviction moratorium order.

Hertz Rental Car Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

One of the best known names in rental car services, Hertz Global Holdings Inc., is the latest casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company which operates the Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty rental car brands in North America, Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

This action comes amidst a virtual halt on most travel due to pandemic related safety concerns and government dictated travel restrictions. The loss of revenue caused by the virus has left the 102 year old Hertz with a debt of nearly $19 billion due to a shortage of patrons. The bankruptcy filing is an attempt to keep Hertz afloat until the travel industry can rebound. In the meanwhile, Hertz will reorganize and attempt to strengthen its financial base while maintaining business operations.

While the company states that all reservations, promotional offers, and customer and loyalty programs are continuing. You could still be impacted if some Hertz locations are closed or consolidated.

What should you do with a rental vehicle if the Hertz location where the rental originated is no longer operating? 

  • If you cannot return your rental to a temporarily closed location, you are advised to return the vehicle to another Hertz location within 400 miles at no extra charge. Hertz locations can be searched for by location name, airport code, street, city, state, or postal code here. A full directory of locations, filterable by county and location are also available through that link.  
  • In cases where a location were to close permanently, you would be contacted directly by Hertz, informed of the closure and advised where to return the vehicle.

For more information contact Hertz Customer Care (here) via email and/or phone for any additional questions.

FRAUD ALERT: Contact Tracers - How to Tell if You are Being Scammed

With Coronavirus cases still spiking in the U.S., state health departments across the country are hiring thousands of contact tracers to track the people who have been infected with COVID-19. Then the tracers get in touch with everyone who has come in contact with the infected person to warn them that they may have been exposed. The process is intended to keep the virus from spreading and minimize exposure of the virus once someone is infected.

But nothing spreads fast as a good scam. Fraudsters posing as contact tracers are asking for personal and financial information from unsuspecting consumers. Their actions are putting the tough work of real contact tracers in jeopardy as fears of releasing information to the wrong people keeps some folks from responding to government workers.

The Federal Trade Commission has put out an official warning about contact tracing scammers. So, how do you know if the person calling you, or the email you receive, is a legitimate contact tracer or a scammer? A Legitimate Tracer may ask for your name, date of birth, address, health information or names of places and people you have visited. They will NEVER ask for your social security number or financial information.

If you receive an unsolicited email or text message, do not click on a link. Often that link will have malware that will affect your smart device. A real contact tracer will send you an email or a text to say they will be calling. They will not pose the questions via email or text.

If you are still unsure, do your own research, find out more information from the person or organization that is contacting you. Contact the State of Massachusetts here for contact tracing resources and information.  If you would like to report a fake contact tracer contact the Federal Trade Commission here.

Employee Spotlight

Christopher N. Henry Esq. has joined the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) as General Counsel. He comes to OCABR from the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) where he was most recently Chief of Staff. He was also the Director of DPU’s Transportation Network Division, and served as Division Counsel for Transportation Oversight. Previously, Henry was an Assistant District Attorney in the Suffolk D.A.’s Office.

Christopher N. Henry Esq.
Date published: September 10, 2020
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