College Graduates, Beware of Loan Consolidation Scams

Check out the Policy in Action story about CAP by UVM Today.

At the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP), we always get a bit nostalgic during graduation season.  It is a time of passage as we bid farewell to students that once worked in our office as part of our service-learning course.  We hope that they will take with them the skills they learned while providing service to citizens of Vermont.  Specifically, we hope they will know how to spot scams.  We caution students to be especially suspicious about student loan consolidation scams. 

We urge graduates to beware of student loan consolidators that lure grads to pay for their services when the amount of school loans seems daunting.  Scammers may claim to offer consolidation services, require payment, and then offer nothing in return.  In Vermont, all debt consolidation companies, also known as debt adjusters and debt management companies, must be licensed with Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation.  

As student loans come due, there are many resources available to students to help navigate repayment:

            Vermont students can access VSAC for free guidance by calling 800-862-3177

            The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides student loan tools and resources

            The Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group provides help with disputes about federal student loans and grant programs

If you are contacted by a company soliciting payment from you to help manage your student loan debt, hang up.  Instead, connect with student loan management options by reaching out to the resources above.  If you have been contacted by a scam consolidation company, contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 to report it.   

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Health Care Scams Loom

Health is very important. To stay healthy, we may get the urge to try new health care products or medicine without knowing a lot about them. Unfortunately, health care scams loom. Below is what you should know about health and medical product scams.

Health and medical product scams try to convince the consumer that there is a “cure-all” medicine, treatment, or product at a very low cost. These scams may surface as an email, an advertisement on the internet, or as a phone call. The scammers may claim to be linked to doctors or hospitals. The offers may look real, but the products could be fake and endanger a person’s health.

Signs to spot a health or medical product scam:

Medicine bottles
  1. An unsolicited email/advertisement offering a popular medication at a very low price.
  2. The products are very cheap and offer “cure-all” characteristics.
  3. The seller claims a prescription is not necessary.
  4. You’ve never heard of the product.
  5. The mentioned doctor is not real.
  6. There is no scientific data on the product.

If you find a new health and medical product that you are unsure of, always ask a trusted and licensed healthcare professional about it. If you find a suspicious healthcare website, do not give any personal information or financial information. Always do research and get the facts to stay informed and stay safe.

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

Contributing writer: Courtney Thayer

National Consumer Protection Week: Debt Settlement Awareness

Debt can be a major source of stress and financial strain. In fact, the average Vermonter has nearly $10,000 in credit card debt, according to the Burlington Free Press. For National Consumer Protection Week, we’re sharing important information about debt settlement programs.

Helpful services

There are free services that can help you settle your debt. You can find some resources at VTLawHelp.org.

Additionally, you can work directly with your creditors to negotiate a debt settlement without using a third party. The CFPB has great step-by-step information about how to do this here. There are also nonprofit debt settlement services you use instead of using private, for-profit companies that can come with risks.  Local Community Action Agencies are a great resource for free advice too.  

Be careful in dealing with for-profit debt adjusters

If you choose to use a for-profit debt settlement option, it’s important that you use caution. These private, for-profit businesses may offer to settle your debts for less than what you owe by working directly with creditors.

The Federal Trade Commission provides the following cautions:

“You should be aware that “creditors have no obligation to agree to negotiate a settlement of the amount you owe.  There is a chance that your debt settlement company will not be able to settle some of your debts — even if you set aside the monthly amounts the program requires.

“Debt settlement companies also often try to negotiate smaller debts first, leaving interest and fees on large debts to grow.”

Because “debt settlement programs often ask — or encourage — you to stop sending payments directly to your creditors, they may have a negative impact on your credit report and other consequences.”

Avoiding scams

There are many debt settlement scams out there. Any company offering debt settlement or debt adjustment services in our state must be licensed with the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.  You can check a license online by searching the business name on nmlsconsumeraccess.org.

Find out more

You can learn more about debt adjusters on our website:https://ago.vermont.gov/consumer/money-and-credit/debt-adjusters/

If you have any questions about next steps, you can always contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424. 

You can take action to tackle your debt, but be cautious of organizations that may try to take advantage. You have the power to protect yourself and your finances. 

Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

National Consumer Protection Week: Protect Your Neighbors from Scams

When you gather for Town Meeting day to tackle issues in your community, take a moment to spread the message about scams. By having a conversation with our neighbors, together we can work to stop scams.

Earlier this year, we released the top scams reported to our office in 2018.  This information is still up on our blog, which you can review here. Knowing the common scam categories can be useful in identifying scams, but this shouldn’t be the only information you share. Scams come in all different forms and adapt over time. During National Consumer Protection Week, you can commit to being scam savvy and sharing what you know with others.

Know the Signs to Spot Scams:

Remember:  If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!

Suspect:

  • Unsolicited Communications: If you didn’t ask for a contact, question why you are receiving it, even if you get something in the mail. Verify the info shared against information you know and trust. Classic unsolicited communications are computer tech support pop ups messages and phone calls.

  • Demands for Urgent Response: Scammers will demand a fast response from you to take advantage of the fact that you are busy. Anytime an immediate response is requested, slow down and take your time. It is in the urgency of the moment that people respond to scams. Imagine how a busy restaurant might respond to a sudden claim of electricity disconnection during the busy lunch hour.  The scam recipient may be more likely to respond for fear of losing lunch profits.

  • Requests for Personal Information: Shut down requests for such information by contacting a source you know and trust instead.  For a bank account, the phone numbers referenced in your statement may be a good resource; for a credit card the number on the back of your card is a good option. Never respond to requests to reset your password by clicking on link in your email. Never provide your information in response to unsolicited communications.

  • Requests for Payment:  Scammers have success in requiring odd forms of payment that are difficult to be tracked down, like gift cards, wire transfers, and peer to peer transaction services.

Gift Card Scams

How to Spot:  You are asked to pay outside of a vendor store/website by reading off the numbers on the back of the card or by taking a picture of the back of the card and sending it.

Common gift cards requested include:

  • Apple iTunes
  • Google Play
  • Walmart
  • Target

Remember: Unless you are using the card for the actual relevant company, do not pay with gift cards! Watch out for copycat websites too!


Wire Transfer Scams

How to Spot: You are asked to pay by wire transfer.

Common wire companies used:

  • Your bank!
  • Western Union
  • Money Gram
  • RIA Financial

Remember:  Sending a wire transfer is like sending cash! Never send a wire transfer to someone you don’t know!


Peer to Peer Payment Scams

How to Spot:  You are asked to pay using a P2P service. You may even already use this service to make other payments.

Common P2P companies used:

  • Paypal Friends and Family (No Paypal buyer purchase protection)
  • Facebook P2P in Messenger
  • Apple Pay
  • Venmo
  • Zelle
  • Cash App
mobile shopping

Remember:  Sending through P2P is typically instantaneous, leaving little room to make fraud disputes. Never use a P2P to send money to someone you don’t know!

Scammers want your money. They’ll adapt these methods, or resort to old methods of payment, like cash, check or money order. If you think you’ve encountered a scam, but aren’t sure, call our office at 800-649-2424. Find out more from the FTC.

By sharing this information and your general awareness about scams with others, you can help stop scams! To become more informed, you can sign up for Scam Alerts on our website, connect with our office on social media, and invite others to follow us.  Always hang up on scammers. For even more information about scams, visit our website.

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

National Consumer Protection Week: Used Car Buying Guidance

It’s National Consumer Protection Week! Check in all week for consumer information you should know.

Today, we’re informing consumers about buying a car. Buying a car is often one of the largest purchases made in a consumer’s life. Its vital consumers take the time to review and research their options prior to purchasing a car. These online guides can help:

It’s important to thoroughly check out any vehicle you intend to buy, including its warranty! On dealer sold used cars, the Buyer’s Guide informs about warranty coverage. There are many types of warranties and they vary in the amount of coverage they provide. A car may be sold without a warranty, so it’s important to check this out.

In an effort to encourage you to know before you go car shopping, you can call the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

Finally, if you have concerns about a car purchase, you may also contact the Consumer Assistance Program to discuss complaint options. CAP may provide complaint mediation, refer to agencies and organizations that may help, or provide an attorney referral, such as to the Vermont BAR Association’s Referral Service (800-639-7036) or to Vermont Legal Aid (800-889-2047).