Letter from the Undersecretary
Dear Massachusetts Consumer,
It is officially Fall and I hope everyone is settling back into their routines. There’s a lot happening this month when it comes to consumers. Did you know that September is National Life Insurance Awareness Month, National Mortgage Professionals Month, and of course, National Preparedness Month? These awareness dates help spread the word that consumer protection is a priority.
The unofficial motto of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) is, “an informed consumer is a prepared consumer.” So, this month, I want to make sure you know how important it is to be prepared in all your consumer activities.
If you’re purchasing a home soon, be sure to know the difference between mortgage lenders, mortgage brokers, and mortgage loan originators, all of which are licensed by the Division of Banks. If you’re planning ahead and thinking of purchasing a life insurance policy, make sure you’re working with professionals licensed to do business in Massachusetts. The Division of Insurance's tips in this newsletter can assist in helping you make the right coverage choices.
Additionally, in the briefs below, you can learn more about the different types of Robocalls; what to do if you are a potential victim of identity theft; and how to detect cable and satellite provider scams.
My staff and I are dedicated to protecting and empowering consumers across the Commonwealth through outreach, advocacy, and education. We also ensure a fair playing field for the businesses that our five agencies regulate: the Division of Banks, Division of Insurance, Division of Occupational Licensure, Division of Standards, and the Department of Telecommunications and Cable. Each agency has a Consumer Services Unit dedicated to answering questions and resolving complaints. Even if you don’t feel prepared, rest assured that our team is, and we are ready to help you!
Finally, in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month which kicked off this month on September 15 and will be celebrated through October 15, I would like to honor and acknowledge all the Latino-owned and operated businesses across the Commonwealth, many of whom hold licenses through OCABR. Our office has seen firsthand the positive impact that diversity in business has on our communities through the OCABR Licensee Recognition Program. We are proud to support and celebrate the success and contributions of our Hispanic neighbors this month and every month.
Please stay informed with all the latest consumer advocacy and updates across our agency by following OCABR on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and our brand new Instagram account, or by checking out our most recent posts on the Mass Consumer Affairs Blog on Mass.gov/OCABR.
Edward A. Palleschi
Undersecretary, Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
Robocalls and the Do Not Call List
Nowadays a majority of people receive daily robocalls—phone calls with a robotic voice on the other end usually selling you something, or providing a call to action. Robocalls utilize a computerized autodialer to deliver prerecorded messages. Oftentimes, scammers initiate these calls with the goal of taking advantage of unassuming consumers.
Although illegal robocalls are on the decline due to call-filtering technology, and actions taken by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), consumers are continuing to receive unwanted calls. Specifically, this year alone Americans have received an average of 4.3 billion unsolicited calls per month.
Therefore, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation compiled the below tips to help you avoid illegal robocalls:
- Silence unwanted robocalls on your smartphone using built-in features. In your phone settings this call filtering option is available on Android, Google’s Pixel, and iPhone (minimum iOS 13) devices.
- Take advantage of services offered by most phone carriers to block illegal robocalls. Mobile service providers like T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon usually apply blocking settings automatically.
- Do not answer phone calls from unknown numbers. Engaging in calls from scammers often marks your phone number as ‘active’ or ‘valid’ which may lead to more unwelcome communication.
Not all robocalls are illegal, however. If you give a company or retailer written permission to call you and they solicit through a robocall, they are practicing legal tactics. The FTC rules also allow specific robocalls without your permission, such as political calls, charities seeking donations, or informational calls reminding you about appointments, orders, and emergencies. Consumers can prohibit some legal robocalls by signing up for the Do Not Call Registry.
The Do Not Call Registry prohibits certain telephone solicitations and requires companies making unsolicited calls to refrain from contacting registered individuals. All Massachusetts residents can sign up and will remain on the Do Not Call List, unless otherwise removed. While this may decrease the number of unwanted calls you receive, there still may be some exempt from the Do Not Call List, such as politicians, debt collectors, healthcare providers, charities, or calls that are purely informational.
Keep in mind that many of the robocalls you receive may be from bad actors that do not abide by the law, and therefore will not be governed by the Do Not Call Registry.
Report suspected Do Not Call Registry violators to the FTC and FCC. Visit the Office of Consumer Affairs website for more information on the Massachusetts Do Not Call List.
Scam Alert: Cable and Satellite Discounts
With inflation eating into your wallet, consumers are searching out discounts and coupons on everything from clothes, food, travel, and utilities more than ever, but not all offers may be legitimate. The Better Business Bureau recently warned of an uptick in cable and satellite provider scams based on reports of con artists impersonating cable television representatives and offering deals and bill rebates.
Fraudsters have been calling, emailing, or sometimes even knocking on residents’ doors, promising reduced rates or cash-back deals on service plans. These scammers often claim that consumers must sign up with personal information and/or remit payment to receive a discount. However, upon receipt of their next billing cycle, they find out there was no money-saving opportunity, and their personal information or cash had been stolen by the impersonator.
Another iteration of the scheme is a reverse tactic, where these cable provider impersonators are issuing threats instead of promises of rewards. A scammer may allege that the customer has missed payments, and once baited, the scammer might vow to disconnect service unless provided with money or personal data.
If someone contacts you claiming to represent a cable or satellite company, keep in mind the below tips from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation to avoid getting swindled:
- Resist pressure: Fraudsters often construct sophisticated disguises, even going so far as to mimic your cable company’s hold music during calls, demanding quick payment, or asking for personal information in return for deals that appear too good to be true; all of which are almost always scams. Take your time to evaluate the call or interaction, don’t be afraid to hang up or walk away from something that does not seem right.
- Verify identity: Use verifiable phone numbers or email addresses found on a company or organization’s official website or invoice to make return calls or follow up.
- Never give personal information over the phone during an unsolicited call. Instead, try signing up for a discount online or calling your provider yourself about promotions instead.
- Submit payment using conventional methods: Do not make payments to your cable television company through a prepaid debit card, gift card, peer-to-peer payment application, or cryptocurrency. If someone claiming to be a representative for your service provider requests these types of payments, it’s a scam. Scammers usually ask for money in these forms because it is difficult to track and dispute.
If you suspect you’ve been scammed report the incident to your cable or satellite company, the Massachusetts Attorney General, and the Federal Trade Commission. For more information about cable services in the Commonwealth visit the Department of Telecommunication and Cable’s website.
What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Identity Theft
Your identity encompasses everything about you: your memories, experiences, name, address, relationships, and hair color, to name a few things. When someone takes pieces of your identity from you it is scary and infuriating. Unsurprisingly, identity theft is on the rise across the country with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receiving nearly 1.4 million reports of the crime in 2021.
Identity theft is when someone fraudulently acquires or uses another individual’s personal identifying information. Personal identifying information is considered details that categorize who you are, such as name, address, social security number, telephone number, and email address. When a bad actor gets a hold of these sensitive details, more fraudulent acts may be committed like opening utility accounts or credit cards in the victim’s name, or even using the data to evade criminal charges.
Regardless of how stolen personal information is used, it’s an invasion of privacy. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to minimize your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Shred bills, offers of credit, and other mail including your sensitive information. Criminals can obtain your information by searching through your trash. Don’t throw away private documents without destroying or redacting them.
- Regularly review financial statements and credit reports. If you spot an unusual transaction, suspicious activity, or any unauthorized actions, report and dispute these items immediately. You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report each year through AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Consider freezing your credit. A credit freeze is free to consumers and prevents access to credit on your behalf until you temporarily lift or remove the security measure. You must place and lift credit freezes with each major credit reporting agency (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union).
Oftentimes, identity theft is found after it has already occurred and there are typically signs indicating that your identity has been compromisedIf you notice odd transactions, increased credit offers, or strange bills for accounts you do not own— act quickly and contact the corresponding companies. Unsolicited communication requesting sensitive information should also be noted, never provide personal details over the phone if you did not initiate the conversation with a verified individual.
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, file a police report with local law enforcement and place a fraud alert on your credit reports by calling at least one of the three consumer reporting companies to indicate that creditors must follow certain procedures to open/change accounts in your name.
To report possible identity theft, contact the FTC online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft, or by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338). For more information related to identity theft visit the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s website and the Consumer's Checklist for Handling Identity Theft.
Choosing the Right Insurance Policies
During preparedness month it is important to reevaluate your insurance needs. Insurance is necessary to ensure you are ready for a potential disaster. Life, auto, home, and health insurance are just some of the options to consider when evaluating coverage options. The Division of Insurance (DOI), an agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, administers the Commonwealth's laws pertaining to the protection of insurance consumers through the regulation of the insurance industry.
Purchasing the right policy with proper coverage is essential no matter which product you are considering. You should make sure that you understand commonly used insurance terms, such as deductible, exclusion or underwriting, before choosing the right coverage plan and provider
In recognition of National Preparedness Month this September, and in collaboration with the Division of Insurance, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation has prepared the below tips for purchasing and evaluating insurance policies:
- Check the license of insurance companies or professionals you plan to work with. Insurance companies and producers (agents and brokers) must be licensed by the Division of Insurance to sell insurance in Massachusetts. Visit DOI’s website to verify insurance licenses.
- Read and comprehend your policy before signing. Make sure you agree to everything written in the policy because the policy is a legally binding contract. The insurance company offering the coverage, or your agent, should be able to help you with an analysis of the appropriate coverage for your situation, but it is up to you to choose the right policy for your needs.
- Compare insurance companies’ rates and terms. The DOI promotes a healthy, responsive, and willing marketplace for consumers who purchase insurance products. This allows consumers to shop around for policies that fit their lifestyle.
- Keep records. In case the insurance company your policy is held with does not honor something they promised you, make sure that you get all quotes, offers, and information in writing. That way, you have the information available to you if needed later.
For more information and consumer, resources visit the Division of Insurance’s website. The agency also accepts online complaints against licensees. DOI's Consumer Services Unit can attempt to resolve complaints within their jurisdiction but does not advise consumers, make recommendations, and provide suggestions with regard to the selection of an insurance company or agent.
OCABR Licensee Recognized: Claremont Insurance Agency, Inc.
Undersecretary Edward A. Palleschi recently honored this family-owned and woman-led business with OCABR’s Licensee Recognition Certificate of Excellence.
This award recognizes licensees for their commitment and positive contributions to their community.
Founded in 1939, Claremont Insurance is licensed through the Division of Insurance and has been serving their clients across the North Shore and Boston for generations.
OCABR on the Move
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|Date published:||September 29, 2022|