On September 27, 2023

Vermont attorney general  addresses scam awareness, help

 

By Karen D. Lorentz

Editor’s note: This is part one of three stories on preventing becoming a victim of fraud and what to do about it if it happens to you. Part two will address popular scams and part three compute/internet  scams.

Every two seconds someone’s identity is stolen, giving criminals access to credit cards, loans, and bank accounts. The plethora of schemes aimed at parting you from your money and/or retirement funds include investment, computer, contractor, grandparent, romance, imposter, email, Ponzi, and lottery scams among others.

Most people are aware that scams exist. But then why do these criminals manage to rake in billions annually through these and new frauds? 

If you answered that by saying they just prey upon widows, uneducated, or seniors, oops, you lose. 

Half the scams are perpetrated on those under fifty, and they happen to smart people, too. Witness Bernie Madoff whose Ponzi investment scheme bilked millions from the likes of Steven Spielberg and 100 well-to-do fellow country-club members who trusted him. 

Why fraudsters succeed, tips for preventing being scammed, and what to do if one is scammed were addressed at the AARP Scam Jam held recently in Rutland. Greg Marchildon, AARP’s state director, noted that raising the education/awareness level is paramount to preventing anyone from becoming a victim of a scam. 

That point was reinforced by speakers from the Vermont Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and Department of Financial Regulation (DFR). They urged people to share scam information as well as experiences of being scammed with family and friends. 

It’s important to report an incident because while in the past there were very slim chances of getting your money back, progress is being made and while recovery is still a long shot, there are things you can do as this is starting to change. But time is of the essence so reporting should be done as soon as possible. 

Reporting also helps authorities investigate scams and to warn other Vermonters as they see patterns arise. Sometimes, AGO and DFR officials are able to stop a scam and occasionally help recover money lost to a scammer. Vermont officials also work in concert with the FBI and other national organizations and have had success in both stopping and prosecuting fraudsters. Law enforcement officials, banks, payment apps and gift card companies are going after criminals and beginning to succeed.

In her keynote address, Attorney General Charity Clark said that her office has 150 employees with 96 of them lawyers. In addition to providing legal services to the state and weighing in on legislative bills, they work in partnership with UVM to provide the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) which handles complaints and assists victims of scams. 

In addition to explaining CAP services, Clark gave a timely warning about home improvement scams. This scam involves imposter contractors who offer to do repairs but demand the money up front and then don‘t show up to do the work. 

Home improvement problems are among the top five common complaints yearly, she said, adding it was number two last year and that CAP has added a home improvement specialist to address the issue. 

It is particularly important to spread the word and to be aware of this fraud because so many Vermonters were affected by the July flooding and are ripe for being victimized by criminals who make it their business to take people’s money illegally.

Some of Clark’s advice included: pay in increments (never the total up front), get contracts in writing, and verify insurance. 

Other tips include:

Check the AG’s Fraud Registry for names of criminally convicted fraudsters (ago.vermont.gov/cap/home-improvement-fraud-registry)

Verify that a residential contractor is registered (sos.vermont.gov/residential-contractors/statutes-rules-respirces/#map)

Contact CAP to see if any complaints have been filed against a contractor you are considering (1-800-649-2424)

If no work was done and you paid, contact the AGO, CAP, and local law enforcement.

To help stop scams and fraud in your community, visit AGO.Vermont.gov/StopScamsVT and for consumer or scam problems, contact CAP at 1-800 649-2424 or GO.Vermont.gov/CAP.

 

 

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