Match or Mooch? Preventing Romance Scams

Too often, Vermonters reveal to us that a scammer lied to them about being in a long-distance relationship. These scams can be heartbreaking. They are not uncovered until the love interest asks for money—or once money gets sent. Sent money can’t be retrieved, making the betrayal more painful.

Vermonters lose tens of thousands of dollars each year to romance scams. This scam continues to affect more people than other wire transfer scams. So, what’s going on?

Most romance scams initiate through dating websites and apps, like Match, Zoosk, Senior People Meet, OK Cupid, and Meet Me. Connecting online and through apps makes it easy for scammers to hide their identity. You could be chatting daily with a person who describes themself as “tall, dark, and good-looking”—but is not. Scammers succeed because online dating gives the option of communicating without ever meeting in person, or talking on the phone.

Not all online dating is bad. In fact, Consumer Reports found in a survey that 44% of respondents said online dating led to a serious long-term relationship or marriage. With such high odds in finding “the one,” how can you continue to use online dating and stay safe when looking for love?

We’ve created a table to help you determine if you’re being contacted by a MATCH or a MOOCH.

In 2016, a law was passed that requires internet dating services to notify Vermont members of noticeable changes in their account, such as when their account is hacked and being used maliciously by a romance scammer. Internet dating services must also alert Vermont members who had previously corresponded with a newly banned member, letting them know they may have been contacted by a romance scammer. So this Valentine’s Day, protect yourself from romance scams and find a match, not a mooch.

Contributing writer & graphic: Crystal Baldwin

Vermonter of the Month: Darcie McCann

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.Darcie McCann has served as the Director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber for 23 years. She is a native of the Northeast Kingdom, and supports her community in myriad ways.

Darcie is an avid sports fan, known for her chocolate chip cookies, writes a biweekly column for the Caledonian-Record and has been involved in many local community groups and organizations. This includes: mentoring local students, serving on the boards of the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital and Burklyn Arts Council, participating in the Regional Tourism Council and her local church, and supporting Vermont chambers across the state as President of Chamber Benefits, Inc.

Darcie tirelessly promotes the NEK as a place to visit, or live and start a business. She travels to Eastern states and Canada, and plans the Colors of the Kingdom and Business Celebration events through her role at the Chamber. She also spearheaded the creation of an Online Business Resource Guide — an exceptional effort to bring vibrancy back to the Kingdom.

Darcie returned to the Kingdom after a career in journalism, after serving as the executive editor of the Wellesley Townsman in Massachusetts and a reporter and section editor at a San Diego paper. She worked in college public relations at Merrimack College and Lyndon State College before taking the Northeast Kingdom Chamber post. Married for 29 years, the recently widowed mother of two adult children is looking forward to her daughter getting married in May 2018.

How did you get involved with the Chamber?

I got persuaded to try for the Northeast Kingdom Chamber position by the previous director, a good friend, who was leaving the post for another job.  I figured I would stay at the chamber job, tops, for 10 years … and here I am, celebrating my 23rd year at the chamber. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t still love it and it wasn’t a challenge. I never know what the next day will bring.

How have you supported the community through your work with the Chamber?

Working at a chamber in the Northeast Kingdom means that you not only have to look at the economic climate of the region but also its socioeconomic variables. I have tried to not only get involved with regionwide and statewide organizations that strengthen the economic landscape but look at the reasons why we have historically had the weakest economy in the state and work to solve those problems as well.

How does supporting the NEK business community support the community at large?

The Northeast Kingdom business community is, in fact, your neighbors. What we strive to do at the chamber is to remove some of the roadblocks that businesses face to help our fellow residents succeed. We not only help bring in additional business through aggressive marketing but also save them money through our many discount benefit programs. I am a native of the Kingdom. I think that is one of the reasons I am still here at the chamber after 20 years; when you love a place so much, you want to see it not only flourish but thrive.

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

My advice for anyone thinking of helping out in their community or region is that it is not a burden but a privilege. I have gotten far more from being involved in the Kingdom than I have given, I can tell you that. I have gained a legion of friends, satisfaction from helping the Kingdom and a really broad and diverse support system. If you love what you are doing, it is never a chore.

Holiday Scam Wrap-up

Here are three scams you should know about this holiday season:

1) “You’ve won” – callers tell you you’ve won something, but claim you need to pay a fee to collect the winnings or prize. If you win something, they will pay you—not the other way around.

2) “You’ve got a package” – scammers send you a text message stating that a mystery package has been delivered to your local post office. Do not click on any links in the text message or reply. If you have questions about a package delivery, contact the US Postal Service directly at www.usps.com or call 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).

3) Utility disconnection – callers claim to be the power company and threaten to disconnect service if money is not sent immediately. Your power company does not make threats like this. This is a scam!

 

Vermonter of the Month: Jimmy Cochran

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.

Born in Burlington, Jimmy Cochran is the son of Bob Cochran, one of the “Skiing Cochrans” family of Richmond. Jimmy was on the U.S. Ski team from 2005-2009. He represented the U.S. in the Winter Olympics in 2006 and 2010, and in the World Championships in 2005, 2007, and 2009. Jimmy is now at the helm of Cochran’s, the nation’s first IRS 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt ski area, as general manager.

Cochran’s ski area was started by Mickey and Ginny Cochran in 1961 in the backyard of their property in Richmond. It hosts weekly races and training for eight local high schools, shares the hill with 800 kids from elementary school programs, facilitates races and training for the next generation of Olympic hopefuls in the Cochran Ski Club, and provides an approachable and accessible place for youngsters to learn to ski. As it says on their website, “No child will be denied the opportunity to ski or ride.”

What sets Cochran’s apart from other ski areas? What is the mission?

Cochran’s is unique as a non-profit ski area. Our mission is to provide affordable skiing and race training to local kids and families. This means that Cochran’s is directly supported by the community we serve. Pretty much everyone that skis or snowboards here has in some way given time or money. In this way we are really more of a co-op.

Many wonderful people have found little (and big) ways over the last 57 years to make this ski area go. My favorite thing about this place is how many different people are willing to get emotionally invested. Every day people show up look around, create and act on a vision that could be something like improving hiking and mountain bike trails, making snow, teaching kids to ski, fixing equipment, helping to run races, or making dinner for our Friday community ski night.

This support even comes from the bigger ski areas. They recognize that by helping Cochran’s introduce new folks to the sport, many of those families will graduate to a bigger mountain in a season or two. When we need a part for a broken snow-cat or a snowmaking pump dies (knock on wood), we have a huge network to call on.

The community impact primarily consists of kids and families being given the opportunity to be included in a predominantly exclusive sport.

What goes into a “Friday Community Ski Night”? 

“Friday Night Lights” is our community ski night. $5 ticket, $12 dinner (kids $6), a dual slalom course and laps on the famously fast rope-tow. Dinner is made by a volunteer family/s. I’m always amazed at the culinary alchemy that occurs in our little snack bar.

How many kids/families have skied at Cochran’s for low or no cost? 

Effectively everyone that skis at Cochran’s is skiing at low cost. 1/3rd of our yearly operating budget comes from donations and ALL capital improvements have been paid for with fundraising dollars. We also aim each year to provide at least 10% of passes, tickets, lessons, training fees to be free for deserving families.

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

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, recognize that there is a ton of background work required for a volunteer to be productive, let things develop, change, and be imperfect as the situation merits, and most importantly… say thank-you thank-you thank-you thank-you thank-you.

Net Neutrality Fake Comments: Find out if You’re Affected

What would you think if you saw your name and home address on a public comment addressed to a government agency – but… you never actually wrote a comment?

That is what has happened on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s website in the online public comment space on net neutrality. Attorney General T.J. Donovan has determined that perhaps hundreds or even thousands of Vermonters may be affected by “fake comments” submitted to the FCC on this vital issue. One such Vermonter, Montpelier resident Irene Racz, was shocked to see a comment submitted to the FCC in her name opposing net neutrality – a position contrary to her actual views.

Now, the Attorney General is raising awareness about fake comments on the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rule change. His efforts follow an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who first alerted the public about tens of thousands of possible fake comments using stolen identities on the site.

Since the public comment period opened last April, Americans have submitted millions of comments—the vast majority in favor of preserving net neutrality. However, the process appears corrupted by an onslaught of fake comments. For example, news reports suggest that almost half a million fake comments have been linked with Russian email addresses.

Attorney General Donovan is calling on Vermonters to see if their names were stolen for false comments – and to report it to our office using a simple web tool if you are affected. Please check the Consumer Assistance Program’s portal to search the FCC database and the reporting tool at: https://www.uvm.edu/consumer/fake-fcc-comments

Any Vermonters who do find fake comments issued under their names should report it to our office and contact the FCC directly to request that phony comments be withdrawn. Additionally, Vermonters who have not submitted comments and wish to do so should enter them before the planned FCC net neutrality vote on December 14.

Attorney General Donovan and 12 other Attorneys General submitted comments to the FCC in July in favor of preserving net neutrality rules for a fair, free and open Internet. The current rules protect consumers by ensuring choice, transparency, and fairness. For example, it bars service providers from establishing “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for consumers depending on partnerships or premiums.

Your voice is essential to this process.