SITE LAST UPDATED: February 8, 2006

Miscellaneous

  1. A recent flight that I purchased was severely delayed because of winter weather but the airline only offered to get me on their next flight possible. Don’t airlines have to compensate me for my time and trouble because of the delay?

    A: Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required by law to compensate passengers on delayed or cancelled flights. Each airline can have its own policies for what it will do for passengers in the case of a delay or cancellation. You can ask if the airline might provide a meal, a phone call, or endorse your ticket to another airline with an earlier flight. Many airlines will try to accommodate reasonable passenger requests but some airlines with very low fares may not offer any amenities in these situations. Make sure to understand the airline’s terms and policies, including cancellations, exchanges, or refunds, before you buy a ticket. Federal law requires the airlines to have a copy of their contracts for service available at the ticket counter. To file a complaint you can contact the Federal Aviation Consumer Protection Division at 202-366-2220 or call our consumer hotline.

  2. I’ve been noticing that snow has not been removed from many sidewalks in my area. Whose responsibility is it to keep them clean?

    A: Each city or town addresses the requirements for removing snow or ice from its sidewalks. Many towns in Massachusetts have ordinances requiring property owners to clear snow from the sidewalks next to their property or business within a certain time period. These ordinances also may have enforcement actions, such as fines, for those who don’t comply. Check with your local officials to find out what the regulations are in your area and to report any violations.

  3. My new year’s resolution is to get in better shape, so I’ve decided to join a health club. What are my protections if I don’t stick to my resolution and decide to cancel my health club membership?

    A: That is a great question at this time of year, since many of us join health clubs in January. In Massachusetts you have some specific rights when it comes to health club contracts and the ability to cancel them. Health club contracts are one of the VERY limited situations where there is a three day right to cancel under Massachusetts law. To cancel a contract, you must either deliver a written notice of cancellation in person, or send it by certified or registered United States mail, within three business days after the date of the contract or after the date you receive the contract. You must deliver or send the cancellation notice to the address specified in the contract, and you must also return all contract forms, all membership cards, and any evidence of membership.

    If you want to cancel a membership but you are beyond the three business days, you may still have other options. You may cancel if you move your residence or place of employment more than twenty-five miles from any health club operated by the seller, or a similar club that will accept your membership. You can also cancel if have a doctor’s order that you cannot physically or medically receive the services of the club for three months. You may also be able to cancel your membership if a planned club or location does not open, the club closes, or there is a substantial change in the operation of the health club or location. For more information on health clubs, please contact our office.

  4. My mother cannot continue to live alone and care for herself. She has told me she doesn’t want to go to a nursing home, so I am considering home care. Is there a way I can check on a home care provider’s background before hiring them to care for my mother at home?

    A: I can understand your concern about making sure that your mother is safe with the person you might hire. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health operates a Nurses Aide Registry Program that lists all certified nurses aides in the state and any findings of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation against them. You can contact them directly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 617-753-8413. They can provide information you need to decide on a home care provider for your mother.

    The Attorney General’s Office also has a brand new calendar for the year 2005, with helpful tips on a range of issues for seniors - Elder Fraud Alert calendar. For your free copy call 617- 573-5354 and start the New Year off on the right foot.

  5. How can I find out how long a company has been in business?

    A: For a Massachusetts company, you can contact the state Corporations Division at (617) 727-9640. If the business is not incorporated, the Division won’t have a record. In that case, you could check to see if there is a business certificate on file with the town clerk’s office where the company is located. The town clerk can tell you when the business filed its certificate.

  6. My business was the victim of what I would consider an unfair and deceptive practice under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, and I was wondering if your office could assist me with this?

    A: Although Chapter 93A, the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, does focus mainly on the rights of individual consumers, Section 11 of the law also prohibits the use of unfair competition that may harm a fellow merchant. To remedy the problem you currently face, you may wish to contact a private attorney, or your own in-house counsel if appropriate. I would also recommend that you file a written complaint with the Attorney General’s Office because we are always looking for patterns and trends of unfair and deceptive practices.

  7. A recent flight that I purchased was severely delayed due to a hurricane but the airline only offered to get me on their next flight possible. Don’t the airlines have to compensate me for my time and trouble due to the delay?

    A:Contrary to popular belief, airlines do not have to compensate passengers on delayed or cancelled flights. Compensation is only required when you are bumped from an oversold flight. Each airline can have its own policies for what it will do for passengers in the case of a delay or cancellation. You can ask if the airline might provide a meal, a phone call, or will endorse your ticket to another airline with an earlier flight. Many airlines will try to accommodate reasonable passenger requests but some airlines with very low fares may not offer any amenities in these situations. Make sure to understand the airlines terms and policies before you buy a ticket, including for cancellation, exchange, or refunds. To file a complaint you can contact the Federal Aviation Consumer Protection Division at 202-366-2220 or call our consumer hotline.

  8. I am about to move out of state and I’ve heard my goods will be automatically insured through my moving company without buying additional coverage. Will I be automatically covered if there is damage?

    A: there is some protection against damage to your property during an interstate move, but you may still want to opt for greater coverage. The moving company will provide you, at no additional cost, protection that covers 60 cents per pound in the event of loss or damage. This coverage is based on weight and not value of the item, so a damaged 10 pound television would be covered for $6.00, regardless of its value. For an additional cost, you can receive full replacement value protection from the moving company to cover the actual value of the repair or replacement of any damaged property. Always make sure you get the details about the coverage in writing to make sure the protection is right for the goods you are moving. For more information, please contact our office.

  9. I went in to look at a health club and was convinced to sign up right on the spot. The next day after thinking about it, I decided that the services offered weren't worth it to me right now. Is there anything I can do?

    A: Health club contracts are one of the VERY limited situations where there is a three day right to cancel under Massachusetts law. To cancel a contract, you must either deliver a written notice of cancellation in person or send it by certified or registered United States mail within three business days of the date of the contract or the date of the receipt to the address specified in the contract. You must also return all contract forms, all membership cards, and any other documents or evidence of membership.

    If you want to cancel a membership and you are beyond the three business days, you may have other options. You may cancel if you move your residence or place of employment more than twenty-five miles from any health club operated by the seller, or a similar club that will accept your membership. You can also cancel if have a doctor’s order that you cannot physically or medically receive the services of the club for three months. You may also be able to cancel your membership if a planned club or location does not open, the club closes, or there is a substantial change in the operation of the health club or location. For more information on health clubs, please contact our office.

  10. I recently received a package from a company which contained items that I had not ordered and now I am being billed. Is this right?

    A: That depends. Under Massachusetts law, if you receive goods that you did not actually order or request orally or in writing, you can consider them as unconditional gifts.

    You should check first, though, to see if you've done business with the company before. They may have included a clause in previous agreements with you that allows them to send you offers in the future. So, try to find any paperwork you may still have before treating the items as gifts. Although you are not required by law to do so, you might avoid possible problems if you intend to treat the item as a gift by notifying the sender, setting forth the facts and explaining your rights under the law. If you have any questions, or are having problems with a billing dispute, please contact our Office for assistance.

  11. Do agencies soliciting for police or firefighter unions have to register with your Office?

    A: If an agency is hired to raise money for a union or other non-charity and uses an appeal that would lead a reasonable person to believe that all or even a portion of the money raised will be used for charitable purposes, then they would be required to register as a professional fundraiser with our Public Charities Division. This would be true whether or not they use the word "charity" or "charitable" in the appeal. For other questions, or to check whether a charity or fundraiser is registered, please contact our Office.

  12. I have a wireless phone and was over charged by my service provider. After they looked into it they did agree I was over charged and will now place the extra payment towards a credit on my next bill. I would like to have the money back. Can't I just get the extra money back so I can use it toward something else?

    A: You do have the right to receive your money back as a direct payment rather than a bill credit. Many companies would prefer to credit your account because it is an easier transaction for them. Once the company confirms that you have made an overpayment, you have the right to insist on receiving the money paid to you directly. If you owe the company any money, however even if the bill is a current bill, the company would be able to deduct your outstanding bill from your overpayment. But once this is paid, you have the right to receive your money back as a direct payment rather than a bill credit.

    A company that applies your money to your account when there is no indebtedness is obligated to pay interest to your account at the current rate they use in assessing late payment charges since, in effect, you are lending them money. Under those circumstances, most companies would prefer to refund your overpayment. If the company objects and refuses to make such a payment, call the Utilities hotline at 1-888-514-6277. It is your money, after all.

  13. I received a check in the mail with a letter from Tom Reilly about some music settlement. What is this about?

    A: Well, the checks are from a multi-million dollar national settlement resolving antitrust allegations against the music industry. You or someone you know must have submitted a claim for a refund. The settlement returns over $67 million to more than 3.5 million consumers and provides an additional $75.5 million worth of music compact discs to public libraries across the country. Consumers who did submit a claim and do not receive a check should contact the claims administer, either online at http://www.musiccdsettlement.com/english/default.htm or in writing at:

    Compact Disc MAP Antitrust Litigation Administrator
    PO Box 1650
    Faribault, MN 55021-1650
  14. I have so much paperwork at home and I am not sure how long I should hold onto certain documents. Do you have any suggestions?

    A: There is no simple answer for this question. Depending on the paperwork in question, you could either get rid of it immediately, or you may have to keep it forever. For example, it is probably best to keep regular consumer receipts for the period of the store's return period, or, if you paid by credit card, until you have reconciled the receipt with your statement. Unless, of course, you made the purchase for a commercial reason or you need the receipts to do your taxes. The rule of thumb for tax purposes is to hold onto your information until the chance of an audit has passed. While this is usually three years, there are situations where this may take up to six years, so seven to ten years is a good idea for tax papers. It is generally advisable to keep credit card statements for one year, and car and loan payments and information should be kept for at least as long as you own the item in question. Other information, such as child support documentation, needs to be kept forever. If you are unsure of what you should keep, it's a good idea to contact the business or agency that provided the documentation for more information.

  15. I am having some legal issues and was told I needed an attorney, but how do I find the right one?

    A: There is a free referral service to help you find the right attorney for your needs. The Lawyer Referral Service is a nonprofit public service of the Boston Bar Association. The Service will provide an impartial referral to an attorney in your city or town who handles a specific kind of legal problem.

    You can call them Monday - Friday, 9 am- 5 pm at (617) 742-0625 or visit their web site at www.bostonbar.org. They will help you define your problem and then refer you to an attorney or other appropriate resources. The referral service is free, but your initial half hour appointment with your attorney normally will cost about $25.00. When you discuss your problem with the attorney, you also should agree on any additional fees before you proceed. The Massachusetts Bar Association and local bar associations all have these services too. You can reach the MBA at 800-392-6164.

  16. What information is considered "Nonpublic Personal Information" under the privacy law?

    A: "Nonpublic Personal Information" is any information about you that is not available to the general public. For example, if your telephone number is listed, it is available to the general public; if your number is not listed, it must be treated as Nonpublic Personal Information. This includes any information about you that a financial institution collects from you or other sources that is not available to the general public, and any information about your account, policy or credit card purchases or payment history. Even the fact that you applied for or received a financial service or product is considered Nonpublic Personal Information.

  17. I am negotiating with an oil delivery service and they are trying to get me to sign up for a "Full-Service Contract." Is this advisable?

    A: That depends on what you would like to get out of your relationship with the oil company. Some oil contracts include only the delivery of the oil, so you would need to make separate arrangements for customer service. Full-service contracts, on the other hand, often offer automatic delivery, and the use of service departments offering technicians and parts, sometimes with installation. Some full-service contracts entitle you to annual maintenance visits, emergency service, and free replacement of certain parts. You should determine what type of service will best serve your needs, what you feel you can afford, and then be sure the contract clearly spells all of this out.

  18. I own a small gas station, and a competitor has recently opened nearby. Although I generally would not complain about competition, this person is offering severely low prices, seemingly to steal my business. What can I do?

    A: Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts General Laws, often referred to as the Consumer Protection Act, focuses mainly on the rights of individual consumers in the marketplace. However, Section 11 of the law does also prohibit the use of unfair competition that may harm a fellow merchant. I would certainly recommend that you file a written complaint with the Attorney General's Office because we are constantly looking for patterns and trends of unfair and deceptive practices. To remedy the problem you currently face, Section 11 does also offer a private right of action to injured merchants, so you may wish to contact a private attorney or your own in-house counsel if appropriate.

  19. The nursing home where my mother is staying is trying to move her room, and I think it is only because she is now using Medicare to provide payment. Can they do this?

    A: No, under the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, they should not be doing this. Under these regulations, moving a resident to a different living area within the facility against his or her wishes is an unfair or deceptive practice. This obviously does not include the situations where a move may be necessary to meet the resident's health or safety needs. But in your situation, a nursing home may not move a resident merely because of a change in their payment status. If you have any other questions, or would like to report a potential violation of this rule, please contact Attorney General Tom Reilly's Consumer Hotline.

  20. I saw in the news today that a court has invalidated the National Do Not Call list. I had signed up for that list. Does it mean I won't be able to stop these annoying telemarketing calls?

    A: First of all, yesterday's court decision in Oklahoma has no impact on the Massachusetts Do Not Call registry. The Massachusetts law is still in effect, and if you are on the Massachusetts Do Not Call registry, it is still illegal for telemarketing companies to call you under most circumstances. If you haven't yet signed up on the Massachusetts Do Not Call registry, you should, and you will soon see a drastic reduction in the calls you get. You can sign up for the Massachusetts Do Not Call registry by phone at (866) 231-2255, or online at www.mass.gov/donotcall.

    With respect to the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call list, while its difficult to predict exactly what impact the court's decision will have, all reports are that the FTC and Congress will be making every effort to ensure that the national list goes ahead as planned.

    You should also know that signing up on the Massachusetts Do Not Call list does not prevent you from signing up on the national list, and in fact people who sign up on the state list will automatically have their telephone numbers added to the national list as well. Remember, though, that the do not call law does not prevent each and every call you may get. For instance, you may still get calls from non-profit organizations, from people conducting polls or surveys, from people collecting on debts, and from companies with which you have had a prior or current business relationship. It is also important to remember that telemarketers receive updated lists only every 90 days, so depending upon when you sign up for the list, it could take from one to three months before the phone calls stop.

    If any consumer has any questions about the Massachusetts Do Not Call registry, or wants to file a complaint against a telemarketer, you can do so either by contacting Attorney General Tom Reilly's Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400, or by downloading a Telemarketing Complaint Form from our website at www.ago.state.ma.us.

  21. I had leased space in a self-storage facility, and the owner is now forbidding me access to my possessions. Although I have not made my rental payments in a while, he will not even let me check on the condition of my property. Can this be right?

    A: Not entirely. Under Massachusetts law, if you are in default on your rental payments for at least five days, the self-storage operator may deny you access to the leased space in a reasonable and peaceable manner, although he must allow you the right to enter at any time for the sole purpose of viewing the space in order to verify the contents. You should also be aware that the owner of the facility does have an automatic lien on your property for rent, labor, insurance, or other charges in related to the storage of your property. Your rental agreement should contain this information, as well as notification that the operator may legally sell the property to satisfy this lien if the occupant is in default, and that the property is not insured by the operator for loss or damage. You can file a complaint with our Office and take advantage of our free mediation service, by contacting our Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400.

  22. With the new Do Not Call law, the number of solicitations I receive over the phone has definitely dropped, but how can I stop all the junk mail I seem to receive every day?

    A: There is probably no way to stop all of the junk mail you receive, but there are certainly a number of steps you can take to reduce the number of letters.

    First, contact the Direct Marketing Association and ask them to remove your name and address from the national mailing lists. You can reach them at:

    Direct Marketing Association
    Mail Preference Service Box 643
    Carmel, NY 10512

    Then contact the companies who are actually sending you the materials and ask them to take you off their lists as well. While you are in contact with them, you might also ask them where they got your information so you can also get to that source. You should also contact all of your financial institutions, including credit card companies, and any charities or non-profit groups that you have sent money to. All of these companies may potentially rent or sell your information to others. Finally, in all of your consumer transactions be alert and aware of the spreading of your personal information. Everything from product registrations, ordering from catalogs or online, and dialing toll-free numbers are ways in which others can obtain your information - leading to more solicitations down the road.

  23. Now that April 1 has passed and the new Do Not Call law has gone into effect, what can we do when these telemarketers are still calling?

    A: Yes, the Massachusetts Do Not Call Registry did begin on April 1st, however, it is important to keep in mind this new law will not stop all of the calls coming to your home, as there are some exceptions. These include:

    Non-commercial polls or surveys,

    • Calls made by tax-exempt, non-profit organizations,
    • Sales calls to an existing customer,
    • Sales calls made to consumers with their prior, express written or verbal permission,
    • Sales calls up to 90 days after consumers sign up,
    • Sales calls made primarily in connection with an existing contract or debt,
    • Calls made to consumers in response to a visit to that company's commercial location, or
    • Sales calls when a face-to-face meeting is required prior to sale.

    It is also important to remember that the telemarketers receive updated lists quarterly, so only those consumers who listed their phone numbers 90 days prior to the April 1st start date will be on the first Do Not Call List.

    If you are on the list already, and you feel that you have received a call in violation of the law, there are a couple of things you can do. First, you should file a complaint with our Office, either by downloading a Telemarketing Complaint Form from our website at www.ago.state.ma.us, or by contacting Attorney General Tom Reilly's Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400. Please keep in mind though, that while the Attorney General's Office is empowered to prosecute cases on the public's behalf, we are not authorized to provide legal representation or legal advice to individuals. However, this new law does allow for consumers themselves to take private legal action against the violators.

    Consumers can sign up for the Do Not Call registry by phone at (866) 231-2255, online at www.mass.gov/donotcall, or by regular mail at the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations, PO Box 1348, Boston, MA 02117.

  24. I have recently sold my home, and although I ended up selling it to someone I had found myself, a broker I had been working with previously is now billing me. If it was my efforts which finally found a buyer, how can he charge me?

    A: That depends on your agreement with the broker. Although there are different types of agreements between owners and sellers for the sale of real property, the most common contract used in Massachusetts is an "exclusive right to sell" agreement. Under this type of agreement, the listing broker is given the right to earn a fee for professional services if the property is sold by anyone, including to a buyer located solely through the efforts of the owner. So check your contract and then contact our office if you have any other questions or wish to file a complaint.

  25. I left my fur coat for summer storage at C.F. Carlson Fur in Framingham last spring, and when I called to get it back this fall the phone number was disconnected. I went to the store at 17 Haven Street, and it appeared to be deserted. What can I do to find out where my coat is now?

    A: The owner of C.F. Carlson was evicted from his store in May 2002 and the fur coats were transferred to All County Storage, a storage company in Lynn, Massachusetts. The owner of the Lynn storage company initially refused to return coats to consumers, and then tried to charge consumers up to $1000 per garment. The Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against All County Storage, and obtained a court order that required All County to transfer the fur garments to Towne & Country Cleaners, a fur storage company in Worcester.

    You should call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (617) 727- 8400 to find out if your coat is at Towne & Country. If your coat is at Towne & Country, the AG staff will give you the information you will need to pick it up.

  26. I paid a lot of money to a Notary Public to receive a green card. She claims that she can do legal work for me. It has been over a year now, and I have not received anything. How can I get my money back?

    A: Not only is it unlawful, for a person who is not an attorney to offer to provide legal services, but there are numerous scams targeting people seeking naturalization services. You can go directly to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to apply for a green card on your own behalf. If you prefer, or feel you need legal assistance for your particular situation, you should contact the Massachusetts Bar Association Legal Referral Service at (617) 654-0400 to find an attorney who specializes in immigration. For assistance in getting your money back, you should contact the Attorney General's Consumer Information Hotline at (617) 727-8400.

  27. Is it legal to pay waitresses less than minimum wage?

    A: According to both the Massachusetts General Laws and the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, any tipped employees may be paid according to the "Service Rate" which is $2.63 per hour, as opposed to the general minimum wage of $6.75. However, if the employee does not receive a total paycheck including tips at least matching the regular minimum wage of $6.75, the employer must make up the difference. You should also keep in mind that "tip pooling" is not allowed as well, so all employees should only receive their percentage of the money received for the amount of work done.

  28. There is a company attempting to put a lien on my house and I want to know if I will be protected under the Homestead Act?

    A: That depends. The Massachusetts Homestead Act does offer specific protections for a person's principal place of residence being seized in a legal proceeding - either up to $300,000 for any principal residence, or up to $600,000 for a home where all of the residents are either over 62 years of age, or disabled. There are exceptions to these protections, however, and very specific guidelines, including the fact that, in Massachusetts, you do need to take an affirmative step to register under the Act before any of the protections take effect. There are other considerations to consider as well before taking advantage of this Act, including the fact that because a creditor would not be able to attach the full value of the residence, homeowners protected under the Act would be unable to secure a second mortgage. Please contact our hotline for questions, or your local Registry of Deeds for more information and to register under the Homestead Act.

  29. Just a week ago I purchased a dog from a local pet shop. After a few days he seemed unusually sick to me so I took him to a vet who confirmed the dog was indeed sold to me with a disease. I did not expect this, is there anything I can do?

    A: If a licensed vet diagnoses a disease or congenital disorder in your new cat or dog within 14 calendar days after you purchase the pet, the pet shop that sold you the animal must provide a substitution or a full refund of the purchase price. This "Pet Lemon Law" governs all pet shops in Massachusetts and requires the businesses to be licensed with the State, and sets out other specific business standards they must follow.

  30. I am trying to arrange funeral arrangements for myself and have been offered a pre-paid arrangement to save my family costs in the future. However, I recently saw that your office is taking action against a local funeral home, which is making me nervous about proceeding. What should I do?

    A: Funeral directors are required by law when accepting pre-paid or "Pre-Need" down payments for funeral arrangements, to place these funds in a separate trust account and maintain proper records. A funeral a director in your area failed to do that, and that's the reason for our office's current action. What you can do to protect yourself is to make sure, first of all, that you receive and read a "Buyer's Guide to Pre-Need Funeral Arrangements." Ask the director you are thinking of doing business with for a copy - he is required to provide you with the Guide.

    Also, make sure you read carefully and completely understand any documents before you sign anything. Ask as many questions of the director as needed to make you feel comfortable with the transaction - a good funeral director will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Although you are allowed 10 days in which to cancel a pre-paid funeral agreement, try to be comfortable with the arrangement before signing any documents. For any other specific questions, please call our Consumer Hotline, and you may also contact the Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

  31. How do I get all of these telemarketers to stop calling me at home?

    A: As you may have heard, Massachusetts has just recently passed legislation creating a new "do not call list" for the Commonwealth. The bill is expected to go into effect sometime around January 1, 2003, so keep your eyes open for details on how you can take advantage of this new law. Until then there are still other steps you can take to limit the number of calls you receive. When you do answer a call from a telemarketer, you may request that they place you on their own "do not call list" which they are required to maintain. You may also consider getting an unlisted phone number. Keep in mind another way telemarketers receive your information is through contests, surveys, or sweepstakes that you may participate in, so protect your contact information if you do not wish to receive these calls.

  32. Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothing maker with stores across the U.S., recently debuted a line of T-shirts that I thought depicted Asians in a racist and highly offensive manner. Is this illegal? What can I do about it?

    A: Fortunately, there is a law (M.G.L. c. 272, § 98) that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and disability in a place of public accommodation. A public accommodation is a place that is open to the public, such as a restaurant, a public library, or a retail store.

    Although the T-shirts highlighted Abercrombie's insensitivity to the experiences of Asian Americans and to the Buddhist religion, their t-shirts did not necessarily discriminate against persons based on race, national origin, or religion in terms of admission to the stores or treatment in the stores. The First Amendment, which protects our right to freedom of expression, also allows for offensive and distasteful expression.

    However, Abercrombie & Fitch pulled the T-shirts from their website and from stores nationwide after receiving numerous customer complaints, which goes to show how powerful the voice of consumers can be.

    If you believe that a store or restaurant or any place of public accommodation has discriminated against you, you can file a complaint directly with the Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General's Office or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

  33. When the Attorney General sues a company for Consumer Protection Act violations, how are those fines decided?

    A: When the Attorney General sues under the state Consumer Protection Act, a court can impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for every act by the company that violates the law.

    For example, if a business is running a false ad in a newspaper, the court may decide to fine the company for every single day that the ad runs and those fines can add up quickly.

    If we settle a case before trial, our office will usually require that the company pay some amount of civil penalty. These amounts are over and above any restitution that goes to consumers.

  34. I'm moving out of Boston but plan to still live in Massachusetts, what tips can you give me to help me with my move?

    A: Here are some tips:

    • During unloading, check the goods carefully before signing off on their condition. Do not sign any receipt that does not document any missing or damaged goods.
    • Be prepared to make the payment for the move. Many movers require the charges to be paid in cash or by certified check. Do not assume that you can pay with a credit card.
    • Immediately address any complaints to the moving company. If the complaint is unresolved, contact the appropriate agencies: Mass Dept. of Telecommunications and Energy, Transportation Division, at (617) 305-3559.
  35. How do I know what professions require a license before I work with them?
  36. A: You can use the state's Mass.Gov website portal to find license information by category or keyword. It serves as an index of licensing in Massachusetts and allows you to:

    • Find out what professions require a license
    • Look up the license of a professional or business
    • Find information on how to apply for a license
    • File a complaint on a license holder.

    You can also gain information by calling the Division of Professional Licenses at (617) 727-3074.

  37. Are there any free lawyers I can speak to?

    A: There is a free referral service to help you find the right attorney for your needs. The Lawyer Referral Service is a nonprofit public service of the Boston Bar Association. The Service will provide an impartial referral to an attorney in your city or town who handles a specific kind of legal problem.

    You can call them Monday - Friday, 9am-5pm at (617) 742-0625 or visit their web site at www.bostonbar.org. They will help you define your problem and then refer you to an attorney or other appropriate resources.

    The referral service is free, but your initial half hour appointment with your attorney normally will cost about $25.00. When you discuss your problem with the attorney, you also should agree on any additional fees before you proceed. The Massachusetts Bar Association and local bar associations all have these services too. You can reach the MBA at 800-392-6164.

  38. My health club recently sent me a notice that they were closing the facility that I joined and transferring my membership to another health club. Can they do that?

    A: No. If your health club closes its doors, and you do not wish to join the other location, you have the right under Massachusetts law to cancel your membership contract. If the health club is unwilling to release you from the contract, you may want to call our Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 and file a complaint for mediation.

  39. My dry cleaner lost the clothes I left to be cleaned. What can I do?

    A: You may want to contact the Northeast Fabricare Association (800) 446-1174 and file a complaint. This organization is set up to resolve disputes between dry cleaners and consumers. You can contact our Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 .

    If you can't resolve the issue through Northeast Fabricare, you always have the option of filing in small claims court.

  40. Is there an agency I can call to complain about all the autodialer marketing calls I get at home?

    A: Yes, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, (TCPA) imposes restrictions on the use of automatic telephone dialing systems (these systems are also called autodialers). The terms automatic telephone dialing system and autodialer mean equipment which has the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator and to dial such numbers.

    The TCPA also directed the FCC to adopt regulations to protect residential telephone subscribers' privacy rights to avoid receiving telephone solicitations to which they object.

    The FCC's rules require that any prerecorded message call made using an autodialer must release your telephone line within five seconds of the notice by a telephone network signal to the caller that you have hung up.

    You may send a typed or legibly printed letter regarding suspected violations of the TCPA or the FCC's rules to:

    Federal Communications Commission
    Common Carrier Bureau
    Consumer Complaints
    Mail Stop 1600A2
    Washington, D.C. 20554
  41. My health club wanted me to sign a form that would not hold them liable if I were to hurt myself on their equipment. Can they make me sign this?

    A: It is perfectly legal for a health club to demand you sign the agreement if you wish to join. You may wish to compare other health club contracts for clubs in your area to see whether they also have such a clause. If you are actually injured, it would be up to a court to determine whether the clause was applicable under the circumstances of the injury (for instance, if you could show that the equipment was defective and the club knew about it when the injury occurred).

  42. I went to Fenway Park the other day for a Red Sox game. My friend never made the game. Could I have resold his ticket?

    A: You can resell your extra tickets as long as you sell it for face value. The Attorney General's Office, the Department of Public Safety, and courts in Massachusetts have made it clear that the ticket-resale law in Massachusetts penalizes only those engaging in the business of reselling tickets. It is the occupation and not an isolated act which is forbidden.

  43. I have heard and seen some advertising for a consumer publication called Angie's List. They say to check with them if you are thinking of hiring a service person. What is Angie's list?

    A: This is a telephone and Web based company that collects information from its members on service businesses they have dealt with, such as plumbers, dry cleaners, and contractors. It is a more formalized version of a neighborhood referral system, where you ask your neighbors about service people they have hired. According to the company, the only way a business is listed with them is by recommendation from their members, and if problems arise and the business does not resolve them, it is taken off the list.

    As you know, we recommend that when you hire a service person, you check with our Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 , the Better Business Bureau, the Office of Consumer Affairs, and the appropriate licensing board, to see if business is licensed or registered, and to see if there are complaints filed against it.

    We also suggest that you check with friends and neighbors for information, and check the references they provide. If you are embarking on a home improvement project, check out "The Attorney General's Consumer Guide To Home Improvement." Local area publications may also give you information to help you make choices, as well as giving you useful information about steps to take before you enter into an agreement.

  44. I signed a one-year contract with a health club, but now I have developed a medical condition that prevents me from using my membership. Can I cancel?

    A: All health club contracts in Massachusetts are required to contain a clause allowing you to cancel your membership. You might, for example, be able to cancel your contract if your doctor verifies that, because of a medical condition, you cannot use the facility for a period in excess of three months. If you need to cancel your contract under that sort of provision, you should receive a refund for the unused portion of your membership. You should expect to be required to send a letter from your doctor to the health club documenting your medical condition. Check your written contract with the health club for specific information and contact the Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 if you encounter problems.

  45. I am 71 years old, I was told there was a elder hotline I could call to file complaints and seek mediation.

    A: That's right. You can call our Elder Hotline toll-free at (888) AG-ELDER (888-243-5337). The Elder Hotline is for seniors 60 years and older. You can reach the hotline Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Elder Hotline staff can then record your complaint and assist you through mediation.

  46. How can I find out how long a company has been in business?

    A: For a Massachusetts company, you should call the state Corporations Division. Their telephone number is (617) 727-9640. If the business is not incorporated, the Corporations Division won't have a record. In that case, you should check to see if there is a business certificate on file with the town clerk's office. The town clerk can tell you when the business filed its certificate.

  47. We have been hearing about physical and verbal attacks, and acts of bigotry, against Arab-Americans and Muslims in their places of worship, at their businesses, in schools and in the workplace. What legal protections are afforded to people who believe they have been harassed or discriminated against because of their national origin or religious beliefs or, who have been the target of threats of violence or actual violence?

    A: First, it is very unfortunate that a pattern of collective blame and scapegoating of Arab-Americans and Muslims -- and people who are perceived as such (Sikhs and people of Indian ancestry) -- seems to be emerging. Arabs and Muslims are important and valuable members of our communities. It is contrary to the principles that this nation was founded upon to single out and lay blame on these Massachusetts residents, and in many cases, American citizens, on the sole basis of their ancestry and creed.

    Fortunately, there are many Massachusetts and federal laws which render the reprehensible conduct we have been seeing unlawful, including the hate crimes statute which the AGO enforces. If an individual has been the victim of a violent act, or been threatened with violence based on his or her actual or perceived ethnic origin or religion, he or she should immediately report the conduct to the local police for investigation and prosecution and to the AGO. Similarly, anti-Arab and or Muslim slurs, malicious comments, bigotry, threats, or discriminatory conduct in housing, employment or places of public accommodation (e.g. restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters) should be reported to the AGO which stands ready to aggressively enforce the G.L. c. 151B which makes such conduct unlawful. (Also, complaints for housing and employment discrimination should be filed with the MCAD.) You can contact the AG's Civil Rights Division at (617) 727-2200 x 2691

  48. How can I find out more information about the multi-state settlement with Bausch and Lomb, Inc.?

    A: Several states, including Massachusetts, have entered into a settlement with the New York-based contact lens manufacturer Bausch and Lomb. Bausch and Lomb allegedly inflated the prices of its replacement lenses after determining that consumers could only purchase them from eye care professionals. The settlement will allow consumers to receive a $120 "benefit package" that includes rebates on future purchases, products, and coupons.

    If you have purchased replacement contact lenses from Bausch and Lomb, Johnson & Johnson Vision Products, Inc. or CIBA Vision any time since January 1, 1988, you are eligible to receive the rebate and benefit package. You can obtain more information about the benefit package and the rebate by calling Bausch and Lomb at (888) 707-5880 or logging onto www.freecontactlensrebates.com.

  49. Do you have to send a business a demand letter before you can sue under the Consumer Protection Act?

    A: That’s a frequently asked question, and, yes, you do need to send a demand letter.  The Consumer Protection Act, Chapter 93A, protects consumers from unfair or deceptive conduct in the marketplace.  Before you take action under this law, you need to send the business a 30-day demand letter.  This letter informs the business of the complaint and gives them an opportunity to settle before going to court.

    You may be interested in receiving the Attorney General’s brochure, “A User’s Guide to the Consumer Protection Statute.”  You can contact our Consumer Hotline to obtain a copy of that brochure.

  50. I know there is no general 3 day right to cancel contracts but I’ve heard there are specific situations where there is such a right. What  are those situations?
      
    A: Laurel, you are right that there is NO general 3 day right to cancel contracts.  However, you can cancel contracts over $25 for personal or household purposes signed away from the seller’s principle place of business, such as in your home or at a home show, by midnight of the 3rd business day after you sign the contract (contracts made over the telephone from home are not covered in this way).  In addition, you also have a separate three day right to cancel timeshare purchases, health club memberships, and mortgage refinancing. Please remember that only these specific situations have an automatic 3 day cancellation period in Massachusetts. For all other contracts, make sure to read all terms carefully, and find out about any cancellation policies before you sign.

  51. Recently, I took my empty aluminum cans to a redemption center to get my deposits back but they did not give me the full amount back on each can. Can they do this?

    A: Generally speaking, the store from which you purchase a beverage must refund to you the full 5 cent deposit when you return that bottle or can there.  Also, if you return the empty bottle or can to another store that sells the same type, size and brand of container, that store, too, must accept your return and pay you the full five cents, even if you did not purchase the beverage there.   If you instead take your empty to a stand-alone redemption center, one that does not sell beverages as well as redeem them, that center is free to refund to you less than the full 5 cents you paid as a deposit.

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