On November 30, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell announced proposed regulations that would require businesses to clearly disclose the total price of a product at the time it is presented to consumers, provide clear and accessible information on whether fees are optional or required, and simplify the process for cancelling trial offers and recurring charges. The proposed regulations are issued pursuant to the Attorney General’s rule-making power under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. The stated purpose of the proposed regulations is to close gaps within the state’s consumer protection laws and to combat unfair and deceptive business practices related to fees charged across various industries.
The regulation would apply to all acts or practices performed in connection with any advertising or marketing, solicitation, or offer of sale that is targeted to or results in a sale in Massachusetts. “Product” is defined to include, but is not limited to, goods, services, and programs and “sale” includes lease, rent, or barter. The proposed regulations include:
- Requiring businesses to clearly, conspicuously, and prominently disclose the total price of a product — including all fees, interest, charges, or other necessary expenses, but excluding shipping charges, taxes, and any fees required by federal, state, or local law — when a product is advertised and presented to consumers.
- The nature and purpose of fees must be clearly explained and sellers must disclose whether such fees are mandatory or optional/waivable or refundable.
- Businesses would be prohibited from requiring consumers to provide personal information, including billing and credit card information, prior to disclosing the total price of a product.
- Requiring businesses to provide readily available methods of cancelling automatic renewal contracts, including a requirement that contracts entered into online must be accompanied by an option to cancel online.
- Businesses must clearly disclose the time period during which a consumer must cancel a trial offer in order to avoid incurring a financial charge, such as an automated payment or recurring fee, along with the exact calendar date that a consumer would be expected to incur such a charge.
- For automatically renewing contracts or trial offers exceeding 30 days, businesses would be required to provide at least five (but no more than 10) days notice to consumers of the date on which they must cancel in order to avoid any additional charges, along with clear cancellation instructions.
In addition to the actions taken by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Trade Commission, Massachusetts joins California in regulating so-called “junk fees.” As discussed here, as of July 1, 2024, California will prohibit advertising, displaying, or offering a price for a good or service that doesn’t disclose all mandatory fees or charges other than taxes or fees imposed by the government. Companies that don’t comply with the new law could face steep penalties.
Massachusetts proposed regulations have the support of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who stated, “American families lose tens of billions of dollars each year in hidden and misleading fees. Attorney General Campbell’s proposed rule will protect consumers, promote honest competition, and put money back in working people’s pockets. I’m proud to see Massachusetts leading the way in the fight against junk fees.”
The Attorney General’s office is accepting comments on the proposed regulations and will hold a public hearing on December 20.