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This blog is generated by many contributing writers that are staff of the Consumer Assistance Program of the Attorney General's Office or the Attorney General's Office.

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.

Navigating Health Care Can Be Tough: CAP Has You Covered!

Have you ever felt stressed out by the health care system? You’re not alone. Figuring out your health care options can be confusing. Here’s the good news—there are FREE programs available to help!

Dog with stethoscope

Here’s a list of common questions CAP gets about health care and the FREE resources available to Vermonters:

Overcharged by your doctor’s office?

  • File a complaint with our office. CAP provides a complaint mediation service, we can you help fix billing problems. To get help, call our office at 1-800-649-2424 (toll-free in Vermont) or submit a complaint on our website.

Not sure why you can’t get Medicaid?

  • Vermont Legal Aid has a Health Care Advocate Office. They have a helpline that all Vermonters can use. They can help you learn about coverage options offered on Vermont Health Connect. They can help you figure out what care plans cover. To get help, call the HelpLine at 1-800-917-7787 or fill out their online help request form.

Confused about Medicare?

  • Contact the Agency on Aging. Their State Health Insurance Assistance Program can help you with Medicare, Choices for Care, and Social Security. Call their HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or call your local Agency on Aging.

Need help paying a dental bill?

  • Vermont 2-1-1 can help you find local resources to help. 2-1-1 is a program of United Ways of Vermont. They provide information and referrals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also call about emergency food and shelter, counseling, and child care. To get help, dial 2-1-1 (or 802-652-4636 – from outside of Vermont) or visit their website.

Have an insurance complaint?

  • Contact the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation’s Insurance Division. The Insurance Division regulates insurance in Vermont. To get help with filing a complaint, call 1-800-964-1784 or file a complaint online.

Still not sure who can help? Call CAP at 1-800-649-2424! Our team of consumer advisors are dedicated to helping Vermonters get the support they need. If CAP can’t help you, we’ll figure out who can.

Contributing Writer:  Lauren Jandl
Photo Credit:  Annalee Beaulieu

Congratulations, You’re A Winner!

Have you received a letter, email, or even a Facebook message telling you that you have won a sweepstakes or lottery prize, such as thousands of dollars and a car? Have you been asked to send money to cover taxes or registration fees so that you can receive your prize? If so, you are being targeted by a common scam – no real sweepstakes prize would ask you to pay taxes or fees.

Sweepstakes Scam example

Scammers may pretend to be legitimate businesses such as Publisher’s Clearing House or Reader’s Digest, or may use a similar sounding name. You may even receive a check in the mail that looks legitimate. The scammers claim they have sent you some of your prize so you can use the money to cover the cost of fees or taxes. Do not deposit the check – it is fake! Scammers hope that you will send them real money from your account before the bank realizes that the check has bounced.

You may be instructed to not tell anyone about “winning” to protect your prize. This is an attempt to isolate you so your friends and family can’t warn you about the scam. Don’t take the scammer’s advice – call CAP at 802-656-3183 or 1-800-649-2424 (toll free VT) and we can help you determine if you are being scammed.

Remember: if you won a real sweepstakes prize, you would never need to pay a fee to claim your winnings. Never send money to get money!

Contributing Writer:  Annalee Beaulieu

Buying and Selling on Online Listing Sites

Most Vermonters love a good deal.  So, we know how appealing it can be to search for discounted products through online listing sites.  And, when the deal of the century is finally located, we know how easy it is to want to act quickly, rather than question if the deal is too good to be true. But sometimes the most important thing you can do is stop and verify an online offer before you pay.

At CAP, we typically hear about the times people get scammed online, rather than the times they found a great deal.  Vermonters report scams to our office so we can assist them if there is a way to recoup their money and so that other consumers are made aware that there are scammers lurking online, looking to take your money without earning it.  A couple of weeks ago, we heard from a gentleman hoping to close a deal on purchasing an excavator.  He fulfilled his end of the deal by wiring more than $16,000.  After receiving the funds, the scammer went dark.  This Vermonter was lured into the scam through a blatant lie; from a Craigslist post, he was connected to a realistic-looking eBay site to fulfill his order.  The site however, was not eBay.  The money that was wired was gone within a few moments.

Last year (2016) 122 Vermont consumers reported online listing scams to our office. And, fourteen people reported monetary loss due to wire transferring funds in response to an online listing. The year before (2015) nineteen people reported loss by wire transfer.

Listing scams take on many forms.  Sometimes the scammer responds to a seller post, overpays with a check, and asks for the remainder to be wired back.  Sometimes the post is for a fictitious rental property and the scammer is looking for the deposit and first month’s rent to be sent.  Sometimes the item being sold is a used car, riding lawnmower, or construction equipment.

Scams even happen when you are looking for that perfect puppy or pet to expand your family, but the transport of the animal is held up at the airport or elsewhere.  People have reported trying to buy wedding dresses, only to be bilked of their wedding budget due to scam activity.  The point here is, listing scams can happen with any kind of product or service when you least expect it.  The key to prevention is knowing the signs, taking an extra moment to verify an online offer before you pay, and if you are the victim of a scam report it to our office.

The Attorney General will continue to alert Vermonters about new and ongoing scams.  In the meantime, here are some helpful tips to help you avoid online scams:

Tips to prevent Online Listing scams

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin

Welcome to CAP Connection

Welcome to CAP Connection, the new blog for the Consumer Assistance Program of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.  The Consumer Assistance Program has been connecting with local Vermont communities for more than 35 years.  Our hope in producing this blog is to make the information and experiences that we gain by connecting with Vermonters available to everyone.  When it comes to scams, the best form of prevention is awareness.  When problems arise, it’s helpful for consumers to know they have a place to go for help.  When it’s difficult to locate appropriate resources, we may be of assistance too.  Ultimately, through this blog we hope to connect Vermonters to resources and information that will be helpful and useful.

This blog replaces the previously produced Pure Vermont Newsletter, which was issued for four years.  This new communication format is intended to provide the public with up-to-date access to consumer and business news and information.  Check back often for scam alerts, general consumer and business information, business compliance assistance, and reports on consumer and business experiences in the marketplace.  Connect with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office on Facebook and/or Twitter to get the latest updates.  Links to this blog will also be posted on social networks when a new blog is updated.  Don’t hesitate to continue to contact our office to report your concerns.