Vermonters of the Month: Lawyers Fighting Hunger

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.


Fighting Hunger One Lawyer at a Time

For our September Vermonter of the Month, we are honoring all of those who donated to this year’s 3rd Annual Lawyers Fighting Hunger Food Drive. This collaboration with the Vermont Foodbank and the Vermont Bar Association raised over $8,000 and more than 4,400 shelf-stable, non-perishable food items in just two weeks. Overall, in the three-year history of the Lawyers Fighting Hunger Food Drive, the Vermont legal community has raised more than $35,000 and collected over 11,000 food items. Thank you to all the Vermont lawyers and law office staff who made this year’s drive a success.

A recent study by the Vermont Foodbank and Feeding America shows that one in four Vermonters (around 153,000 people) turn to food shelves and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families.  These numbers include an estimated 33,900 children and 26,010 seniors. All food and funds collected during this year’s food drive went directly to the Vermont Foodbank and over 200 Vermont Foodbank-partner food shelves and meal sites around Vermont.

Thank you to all the Vermont lawyers and law office staff who made this year’s drive a success.

Bauer Gravel Farnham, LLP

Bergeron, Paradis & Fitzpatrick, LLP

Biggam Fox Skinner, LLP

Bradley D. Myerson Law Offices

Cohen Consumer Law

Dinse, PC

Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC

Justice for Victims Legal Clinic

Maley and Maley, PLLC

McNeil, Leddy & Sheahan PC

Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Paul Frank + Collins P.C.

Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC

Sheehey Furlong & Behm P.C.

Stitzel Page & Fletcher P.C.

Vermont Bar Association

Vermont Department of Financial Regulation

Vermont Law School

Vermont Legal Aid, Inc. – Rutland Office

Vermont Public Utility Commission

Vermont Trial Lawyers Association


Chief Rob McDougall, Environmental Division, and Nicole Whalen of the Vermont Foodbank present Lawyers Fighting Hunger “friendly competition” award to Attorney Ben Traverse of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, winner of the large firm division.
Members of the Attorney General’s Office with food drive donations.
Rob McDougall, Chief of the Environmental Division, presents Lawyers Fighting Hunger "friendly competition" award to representatives of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, winner of the large firm division.
Chief Rob McDougall, Environmental Division, and Assistant Attorney General Alison Stone present Lawyers Fighting Hunger “friendly competition” award to Attorney Elizabeth Schilling of the Vermont Public Utility Commission, winner of the medium firm division.

Medical Cancer Swab Screening Scam

Consumers have reported receiving calls or online solicitations for free medical cancer screening kits in exchange for Medicare information. While cheek swabs are used in common screenings for illnesses and genetics, unprompted and unsolicited calls or online advertisements for free cancer screening kits are a scam.

Phone. Often this scam begins with a phone call, letting consumers know that their doctor has referred them for a free cancer screening kit. The caller then asks for Medicare information, claiming their insurance will cover the kit. The cancer screening kit does normally arrive at the home of the consumer but it typically does not go to a cancer screening facility, or if it does, consumers are required to pay out of pocket.

Internet. This scam can also originate as an online advertisement. The advertisement will state consumers can receive a free cancer screening kit. Clicking on the advertisement will bring consumers to a separate page to provide contact information as well as insurance and Medicare accounts.

Medical swab and screening scams poster

Signs to spot a cancer screening scam:

  1. An unsolicited phone call or internet advertisement stating qualifications have been met for a free cancer screening kit.
  2. The products claim Medicare or other insurance providers will cover the cost.
  3. Often described as free in exchange for Medicare information
  4. The seller claims a doctor has approved a referral for the cancer screening kit.
  5. Personal identifiable information (Medicare information, Social Security Number, Date of Birth) is requested.

Never provide personal information over the phone or online if you’re unsure where this information is going or you were contacted without request. If you receive a cancer screening device without requesting one or provided your Medicare information to an unknown scammer, call Medicare right away to report fraud at 1-800-MEDICARE.

If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

Contributing Editor:  Alexandra Esposito
Content Editor:  Crystal Baldwin

Sources: AARP
Medicare
OIG Department of Health and Human Services

Vermonter of the Month: Bess O’Brien

Vermonter of the Month 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.

Bess O'Brien with TJ Donovan
Bess O’Brien with Attorney General T.J. Donovan

Our August Vermonter of the Month is director, producer, and arts activist Bess O’Brien—Vermont’s truth-teller.

Bess began working in film when her husband Jay Craven hired her to produce his first short movie High Water. From there, she went on to co-produce Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom before starting to make documentary films.

Through filmmaking, Bess has shined a light on issues affecting Vermonters. Her recent filmsComing Home, All of Me, and The Hungry Heart—depict important issues like reintegration into communities after incarceration, body image and eating disorders, and the opioid and prescription drug crisis in Vermont.

In December, our office hosted a screening of Bess’ film Coming Home for staff. The film follows five Vermonters returning to their communities after being incarcerated. It highlights the amazing work that the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) program is doing in Vermont—helping people reintegrate into their communities and showing the power of compassion and empathy.

In 1991, Bess and Jay established Kingdom County Productions (KCP). The nonprofit’s focus expanded in 2009 to include performing arts; bringing shared arts-based community events to the Northeast Kingdom. Today KCP is dedicated to “transforming community through film, performance, and experiential learning.”

We met up with Bess at the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival to ger her perspective on the importance of storytelling in Vermont.

You’ve been described as “Vermont’s truth-teller.” What inspires you, or drives your passion for this work?

I am interested in telling stories that go to the root of the problem, whether it be drug addiction, incarceration, foster care, etc. I want to hear voices from people who are often not seen and are invisible. I want their voices heard. By telling their stories change can begin to happen.

Why is documentary filmmaking and the arts, in general, important in a rural state like Vermont?

Because Vermont is small, telling stories and sharing the lives of people who are often silenced can make a difference. We are a small state so a documentary film that tours to 15 towns can truly start a conversation!

Why did you and your husband Jay create Kingdom County Productions?

To tell stories that are rooted in Vermont.

How do you strive to transform “community through film, performance, and experiential learning?”

By bringing the arts to rural areas and to folks who often don’t experience the arts it raises awareness and forms a strong community.

What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?

Tell the truth, talk to people who are outside your comfort zone, have empathy and raise people’s voices!

Bess O’Brien with Attorney General T.J. Donovan

Attorney General Donovan Joins Fight Against Illegal Robocalls

Robocalls are annoying. But, when a scammer is on the other end of the call, they can also be dangerous. That’s why Attorney General Donovan with attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., formed a public-private coalition with 12 phone companies to implement anti-robocall strategies to help protect consumers from illegal robocalls and make it easier for attorneys general to investigate and prosecute bad actors.  

The Anti-Robocall Principles address the robocall problem in two main ways: prevention and enforcement.

12 phone companies—AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, and Windstream—will work to prevent illegal robocalls by:

  • Implementing call-blocking technology at the network level at no cost to customers.
  • Making available to customers additional, free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools.
  • Implementing technology to authenticate that callers are coming from a valid source.
  • Monitoring their networks for robocall traffic.

These phone companies will assist attorneys’ general anti-robocall enforcement by:

  • Knowing who their customers are so bad actors can be identified and investigated.
  • Investigating and taking action against suspicious callers – including notifying law enforcement   and state attorneys general.
  • Working with law enforcement, including state attorneys general, to trace the origins of illegal robocalls.
  • Requiring telephone companies with which they contract to cooperate in traceback identification.

Moving forward, phone companies will stay in close communication with the coalition of attorneys general to continue to optimize robocall protections as technology and scammer techniques change.

If you have received an illegal robocall, you can act by reporting it to the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP). CAP tracks scam trends occurring throughout Vermont, and provides timely alerts about rising scams. Call CAP toll free at (800) 649-2424.

Recognizing Government Impersonation Scams

It can be intimidating to receive phone calls that claim to be from the government. Some of these calls can be threatening, while others offer false opportunities for government grants or entitlements. Calls and scams impersonating the government have been on the rise since 2014. The IRS scam, impersonating the Internal Revenue Service, has ranked as the number one reported scam in Vermont since, making up 41% of the top scams reported to CAP in 2018. Last year, the social security number phishing scam (SSN), impersonating the Social Security Administration, was the second highest reported scam, making up 18% of the top scams. Together, the two government imposter scams were 59% of the top scams reported in Vermont. This year, the SSN scam is on track to be number one, with 755 already reported to CAP. Recognize common government impersonation scams.

SSN Phishing and IRS Scams

Identify It: Scammers claiming to be government offices, like Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service may claim your SSN has been compromised, or that you have back taxes.

What to Know: It is important to remember that these government agencies would never contact you over the phone or through email. These agencies mail communications and would never threaten you for information or payment over the phone.

Treasurer’s Office Scam

Identify It: Government scams can come in many different forms other than the well-known IRS and SSN scam. Recently, CAP has been notified about a scam call that claims to be from the State Treasurer and that the recipient owes money related to student loan debt.

What to Know: Spot this scam by looking out for debt calls that threaten legal action if payment information is not given.

Government Grant Scam

Identify It: Sometimes, government impersonators claim that you are eligible for a federal grant. They say things like, “Because you do not owe back taxes, you qualify for a government grant.”

What to Know: If you did not apply for a grant, you shouldn’t be contacted.  You would never have to pay for fees or taxes before receiving a grant. Watch out for false claims that you are entitled to something that you never knew about.

Spoofing Government Numbers

Identify It: Scammers may sometimes use technology known as spoofing. This is when they mask their actual phone number so that your caller ID will show you a different number entirely.

What to Know: Sometimes they will use this to make their number look like they are coming from your area code, while other times the caller ID on your phone may even show as “US Government,” “IRS,” or “SS administration”.

If you suspect that you are being targeted by a scam, the best thing you can do is not respond. If you answered the phone, then hang up. If you have been emailed, do not respond. Do not call back any numbers that you are given. Never give out your personal or financial information to an unknown party claiming to be the government. If you are worried that some claims may be legitimate, call the department directly, using a number you know to be valid.

If you would like to report a scam or have any questions, please reach out to CAP by calling us at 1-800-649-2424 or emailing AGO.CAP@Vermont.gov

For more information about government imposter scams, please check out the FTC’s guide on how to recognize these scams and tips on combatting them: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0048-government-imposter-scams

Contributing Writer:  Mollie Shea Feeley
Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Sources:
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0048-government-imposter-scams
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/07/whos-pretending-be-government-now
Infographic source: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0519-irs-imposter-scams-infographic)