Announcing: The Elder Protection Initiative

Last Friday, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, our office made an important announcement: we launched a new unit focused on protecting older Vermonters. It’s called the Elder Protection Initiative, or EPI.

Supporting and protecting Vermont's aging population


The EPI is team of attorneys, investigators and staff from across the VT Attorney General’s Office (from its Criminal, Public Protection and Human Services Divisions) who will act to address issues facing older Vermonters through collaboration with government and community partners, public education, legislation, and enforcement. To read more about EPI, visit its website here: http://ago.vermont.gov/epi

The Listening Tour

The EPI has roots in a listening tour the Attorney General’s Office just completed. Throughout April and May, to better understand the unique challenges that older Vermonters face, a team from our Office visited each Vermont county, listening to older Vermonters and organizations that serve them. We shared meals in tight-knit communities, went on Meals on Wheels delivery routes, and shared in the varieties of joys and anguish that our elders are experiencing. We listened. We learned. And after meeting with dozens of older Vermonters and over 230 representatives of 65 organizations, we want to help.

Through our listening tour, we heard older Vermonters and organizations that serve them repeat similar concerns, including:

  • Isolation and lack of transportation
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Food insecurity
  • Finding affordable and suitable care for loved ones with Dementia
  • Difficulty accessing available information and resources
  • Our systems are struggling to uphold older Vermonter’s safety, security, and dignity

To help older Vermonters and those who serve them, our office established the Elder Protection Initiative described above. As the EPI embarks on its work, it will continue to listen and stay informed about issues facing older Vermonters.

First Collaborations

Already, the EPI has worked with Vermont 2-1-1 to address one of the most common concerns heard on the listening tour—difficulty accessing information and resources on programs and services that are available to older Vermonters (and their caretakers) where they live, from transportation to food delivery services (like Meals on Wheels). Vermont 2-1-1 maintains a 24/7 hotline and a website that provides just this information. To access this free information, dial 2-1-1 or visit vermont211.org.

EPI-Learn what we're doing

The Executive Director of 2-1-1, MaryEllen Mendl explains, “The 2-1-1 statewide system has been built over the course of the last 13 years for a public-private partnership between United Ways of Vermont and state government.  Allowing for a quality-driven platform for the delivery of professional information and referral, and a database containing thousands of community resources.” 2-1-1 is also committed to enhancing its capacity to assist callers with concerns specific to elder abuse and exploitation.

Thank you, Vermont 2-1-1, for this outstanding commitment to Vermont’s elders!  We look forward to seeing this collaboration flourish and many more develop as we work to support the needs of Vermont’s aging population.  The initiative has just started its efforts in support of Vermonters.  There are more developments and solutions that will come out of this group’s work. To stay connected, check in regularly on the Elder Protection Initiative page on the Vermont Attorney General’s Office website.

Vermonter of the Month: The Mercy Connections “Justice League”

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General features Vermonters doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

This month we are honoring a team of people as our “Vermonters of the Month.” The Mercy Connections “Justice League” team works on the Justice and Mentoring program. The team is comprised of Joanne nelson, Director of Justice & Mentoring, Kelly Moran, Justice and Mentoring Coordinator for incarcerated or formerly incarcerated women, Mary Beth Barritt, Justice Liaison and Heather Gilbert, Program Facilitator.

Mercy Connections is an educational values-driven non-profit organization living the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy with an enduring concern for women. By compassionately nurturing self-sufficiency through education, mentoring, entrepreneurship and community, people are empowered to make significant life changes

Mercy Connections has 3 program areas that serve 300 participants: Education & Transition Programs (for adults who have faced adversity in meeting their personal, professional, and academic goals), Justice & Mentoring Programs (for people involved in the criminal justice system), and the Women’s Small Business Program (for aspiring female entrepreneurs).

Joanne, Kelly, Mary Beth and Heather have all dedicated themselves to lifting those around them who need help. The “Justice League” is doing essential work for Vermont women and we are honored to have them as our May Vermonters of the Month.

How has the team’s work impacted the community?

The Justice & Mentoring Program team alternates presence in the Treatment Court Docket to be able to receive referrals to the programs at Mercy Connections. In that action, we invite the women to a meeting with the director to become acquainted and to discover whether there is a desire to enroll in a class or program. Sometimes the referred woman is also interested in becoming a mentee in the Vermont Women’s Mentoring Program. The real impact on the woman is potentially multi-faceted. It is sometimes confidence-building to just get to Mercy Connections and enter a place that is not familiar. It is also clear that women feel and learn about a community here that is non-judgmental, educative, safe and brave and in that discovery, a potential participant may grow, relax and learn. There is something connective when the participant understands that Mercy Connections can become a supportive place, connected to the clinical and legal teams in the court docket, but that Mercy Connections is different. It is not mandatory, it is chosen freely…that ability to make a choice freely, well, that is often something that leaves a referred person empowered.

Executive Director, Dolly Fleming, has said that Mercy Connections “…weaves the social fabric of community and one’s [life]” and I believe that means that the (potential) impact on community is that Mercy Connections kind of weaves some of the very difficult, mandated parts of a recovering person’s life in with some of the softer, kinder, happier threads that every human being possesses. We think that holistic approach reflects something very positive on each person and on the community as a whole.

What is the biggest challenge?

We receive referrals to Mercy Connections which are not realized. They are not chosen by prospective participants.

On a challenging day, it may be hard to look at each individual accomplishment and realize joy against a very dismal system, (criminal justice, economy, racial and gender discrimination…), one that just doesn’t work for human beings.

In general, the challenges lie within the participant population and while we strategize and work hard, sometimes the biggest challenge is accepting that we can’t do more than we do.

What is rewarding about this work?

Our programs offer education to people. Education opens up doors. Open doors and access to more people means a more diverse, just world/community.

Knowing that we are working to offer possibilities for a more successful reentry process through the Vermont Women’s Mentoring Program and hence, a lower recidivism rate.

Working with participants who are rejected in many ways by society and learning how wonderful they are. How resilient they are. And how much they have to offer. Seeing a mentee’s face when she realizes we treat her and her mentor in the same respectful manner. That we don’t judge her based on the worst mistakes she has made. Being able to support mentors, some of whom have made serious mistakes, in a way that allows them to grow and give back.

What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

Become a volunteer for a worthy cause- one which speaks to the values you hold most dear. The action will allow you to realize greater purpose and meaning in your life.

Travel Tips

If it’s time for you to escape on a getaway, keep in mind that scammers love to target those with travel plans. Vacations should be relaxing. Don’t let unexpected scams and travel pitfalls stress you out! There are countless ways one can be scammed while planning travel. With all the R & R you have scheduled, don’t get bogged down worrying about scams. This mindset is what scammers rely on to bilk you of your money.

Before travel:

  • Ask details about what is included in prices and look for hidden fees
  • If booking online, verify that you are using a credible website and double-check that you are on the correct site, rather than a copycat
  • Always do your own research before accepting the word of the person engaged in selling

While on your trip:

  • If you are notified about unauthorized credit card charges, contact your credit card issuer directly by calling the number on the back of your card. You might not be checking your statement history, but your credit card company generally understands your purchasing trends and may have fraud protection in place to alert you if they suspect an issue.
  • If you are renting a vehicle, know the ins and outs of your own auto insurance coverage. The rental agency will typically offer to sell you their insurance, so be prepared for this when you step up to the reservation desk. Protect yourself further from rental accident damage fraud by photographing the vehicle with on-site identifiers in the background (this is handy if you don’t have a date feature on your camera) both at the time of the initial rental and upon return. That way, if there is a damage dispute, you have photo proof of how the vehicle appeared while in your possession.
  • Free Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi that is not password protected could be problematic. Don’t sign into your accounts while using free or unsecure Wi-Fi. Why? You don’t know who is watching your online activity. Keying your password into an account may seem harmless, but scammers tracing your steps can log into your account later and access everything. Sure, it’s nice to have free Wi-Fi, but use it to check the news or browse tourist attractions, not to do your online banking.
  • While in a foreign country, you may be asked if you would like the total to be displayed in US dollars. If you say yes, the exchange rate may not be based on the actual currency rate, but based on the rate in the retailer’s system. The retailer receives any amount you pay over the actual exchange rate and you could be charged a conversion fee as well. Credit cards convert the foreign exchange rate based on the actual currency exchange rate, which is more accurate and doesn’t favor either party. Credit cards may also charge a conversion fee, so check the card’s terms before you travel.

While traveling, you don’t have to stress every minute about the possibilities of what might happen, but it will help to keep the above scenarios in mind so that you don’t find yourself in a stressful situation.

Contributing Writer & Photo Credit: Crystal Baldwin

Vermonter of the Month: Luke Stafford

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Luke Stafford owns Mondo Mediaworks, Inc., a digital marketing agency specializing in content development for the web. He earned a BA in Journalism at Saint Michael’s College. After landing in Brattleboro with his wife, an artist, he worked in the marketing department at Mount Snow until 2009. He then founded Mondo, and in the eight years since it has grown into a 17-person shop. The company’s Values Statement is to build its surrounding community through economic development. It is proudly a certified B Corporation (“B-Corp”), which are for-profit companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Luke also sits on the board of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS).

How did you learn about becoming a B-corp, and why was it a fit for Mondo?

I’d been hearing about B-Corps for years, mainly from exposure to certified Vermont brands like King Arthur and Ben and Jerry’s. Because they are such large, product-based companies, I never thought seriously about our small marketing agency being eligible. One day I was explaining Mondo’s mission and values to our accountant, who operates an impact-driven business herself, and she recommended I speak to a local person who is knowledgeable on the certification process. Around the same time, a few of Mondo’s employees were learning about B-Corps. All of a sudden, it seemed doable.

Joining the B Corp movement is a fit for Mondo because, like a lot of companies, we’re run by people. And most people — or, I could argue, all people —  want to contribute  to something bigger than monetary profit in their jobs.

What prompted you to make economic growth in Brattleboro and Vermont as a whole part of Mondo’s mission?

Since I started Mondo in 2010, there was a broad values statement to “give back to the community.” We donated to local organizations and supported local events, but it didn’t go much further than that. Then, in 2015, I got my first glimpse at the data coming out of the Vermont Futures Project, which clearly projected that the Vermont economy would be in big trouble if we didn’t solve some serious problems around workforce and population. I resolved that I couldn’t sit idly by and let the projections become reality.

What impact have you had, with Mondo and independently, on your community?

Last year we paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries to Mondolians who live, shop and play in the Brattleboro area. Most of those jobs didn’t exist a few years earlier. Of course, we can’t attribute a thriving Main St. or a restaurant opening solely to new Mondo jobs, but it feels great to see new Mondolians investing in the community, whether it’s buying a house or just going to the movies in Brattleboro’s historic theatre. As for myself, I have the privilege of sitting on the boards of my local elementary school and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, where I advocate for programs and policies that make Vermont the best place to live for young families.

What inspires your work, both at Mondo and in the community?

You’re going to start thinking that I’m an overly obsessed fanboy, but really, it’s Vermont. Not just the lifestyle, but the landscape, the people, the… everything. I knew I was going to be a Vermonter immediately after my first snowboarding trip to Stratton when I was 14, and I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else. Specifically, my inspiration comes from my weekend hobbies: snowboarding, logging and processing firewood from our property, maple syrup making. Lately, my best ideas are surfacing during  pop-up camper trips with my family to Vermont State Parks. The four of us are working to join the “251 Club,” whereby we visit all 251 towns in the state. We’re only about 10% of the way through, but it’s been a great way to explore the state and make memories with our 2 daughters. Check with me in 10 years to see if we’ve hit all 251.

What have you learned from this community work?

Democracy is alive and well in Vermont. I was blown away when I attended my first Town Meeting Day. It’s a very beautiful thing that everyone in this state truly has a voice. But it’s also the frustrating thing, right? Because for everyone who wants to see change, there is someone who likes things the way they are, thank you very much. When I moved to Brattleboro 13 years ago, I got involved with a committee to build a skatepark in town, thinking we’d be able to accomplish the goal within a few years. But some townspeople did not want a skatepark in the downtown area. Their voices were heard loud and clear, which I very much respect. But it means that getting things done can take a long time. In the end, though, I trust the process.

What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

I understand that big time commitments to boards or volunteerism is not always possible. But I would argue that little gestures, added up, have a much bigger impact. Picking up a piece of litter on the street makes for a cleaner downtown. And that clean, inviting sidewalk may be the small detail that reminds residents, “Hey, this really is a great town. I love it here.” That person will speak highly of the town to others, and the message continues to spread. Our everyday actions, and how we choose to speak about our communities, have huge consequences.

What advice do you have for businesses considering a B-corp certification?

First, it’s not easy to be certified. At least it wasn’t for us as a young company. But it spurred us to make a lot of “grown up company” decisions about our policies and standards. It took us about 9 months and we hired a consultant/project manager to get everything we needed in place. Today, we have an employee who maintains our B-Corp status as part of her job, which involves everything from monitoring our electricity usage to organizing our volunteer days. But it’s 100% worth it. Some of our best job applicants come through the B-Corp job board, and it’s a helpful distinction during the recruiting process. We regularly attend B-Corp-sponsored events, where we’ve met other B-Corps and shared ideas about sustainable ways to grow our companies. But the biggest piece of advice I could give is that your values at the company come first; if it aligns with B-Corp requirements, awesome. But stay true to your values, always.

Avoid Scams & Identity Theft this Tax Season

April showers bring May flowers…and tax season.

Tax season is stressful enough without being worried about getting scammed. Yet threatening scammers pretending to be from the IRS make up almost half of the 5,000+ scam call reports that the Consumer Assistance Program received last year!

Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Tax Comissioner Kaj Samsom recently held a joint event to warn consumers and raise awareness about tax and identity theft scams. They informed the public that the IRS will never call you directly if you owe money.

Many Vermonters are also concerned about tax identity theft.

The first way to prevent this type of theft is to protect your Social Security number. Never give out sensitive personal information to an unknown entity. Make sure your passwords are secure and not easily guessed. If your Social Security number has been stolen, file your tax returns early so that no one else with stolen information has time to file a return on your behalf.

You can also register to monitor your information, so you know if there’s an issue such as a fraudulent tax return.  You can visit: https://www.irs.gov/payments/view-your-tax-account.

If a fraudulent tax return is indeed filed—your return is rejected because it is a duplicate file, or you are instructed to do so—complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. The IRS requests that you fill out this form online then mail it according to instructions.

You may also contact the Identity Protection Specialized Unit of the IRS at 1-800-908-4490. The Attorney General’s office urges Vermonters to:

  • Beware of unsolicited calls or emails
  • Don’t give out personal information
  • Be alert to scare tactics: Scammers demand immediate action or threaten arrest or court action. Don’t talk to them: hang up!
  • Don’t open attachments: hit delete!