Vermonter of the Month: Jason Fitzgerald

Jason FitzgeraldThis 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.

Father. Exercise Physiologist. Athlete. “Diaper Guy.” These are just a few ways one can describe Jason Fitzgerald, our November Vermonter of the Month.

In 2007, Jason was out for an early morning run when he started thinking about different ways to help Vermonters, and it hit him: diapers! According to the National Diaper Bank Network, 1 in 3 American families experience “Diaper Need” and lacks access to a sufficient supply of diapers. As a father, Jason understands the financial burden that purchasing diapers can put on a family, especially given the lack of public funding available specifically for purchasing diapers. With the help of his employer, Dee Physical Therapy (Dee PT), Jason created the Great Diaper Drive, which collects diapers for families assisted by the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS). Through sheer force of will, the drive, under Jason’s leadership, has collected more than 325,000 diapers over the past 11 years for Vermont families in need.

A native of Massachusetts, Jason came to Vermont as an undergraduate student at Champlain College. He left after college, but always knew that he would be back. So, when a job opportunity opened for him in Vermont, he jumped at the chance to return to the state he loved. Jason began working at Dee PT in 2007 where he currently serves as a Clinical Coordinator and Exercise Physiologist. At Dee PT, Jason is able to combine his professional pursuits with his passion for helping others to make a positive impact on the community. Here’s more about the amazing work that Jason is doing:

What inspires your work, both at Dee Physical Therapy and in the community?

My work at Dee Physical Therapy is inspired by my coworkers. They put so much into the job and care so much about the wellness of other people. I’m one of those people who enjoys coming to work every morning. I’m so fortunate to be able to come to work and know that I’m helping people get stronger and reach their goals.

My work in the community is inspired by my kids. I am lucky that I was put in a situation with Dee Physical Therapy that I was able to work at a place that allowed me to start a fundraiser. I want my kids to see that when you are put in these situations you should find ways to reach outside of the four walls you work in and try to help people every day.

Why diapers? How did you come up with the idea of the drive?

I start each day with an early morning run. I use this time to think and come up with different ideas. Some of these ideas seem amazing at the time, but when reflecting on them the next day, they often seem ridiculous. In 2007, I had two children both in diapers—Riley (now aged 14) and Kaia (12). I was out for my daily run when I thought about diapers—how expensive they are and how, as a parent, you are constantly worried about running out of them. I wondered if there were any organizations or fundraisers that collected diapers and I couldn’t think of any. When I went to work that day, I mentioned it to my coworkers who thought it seemed like a good idea. I then reached out to the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) to see if they would be interested in a fundraiser that collected diapers. COTS said that there was a need for families living in their shelters and seeking services from their organization, but that no one was collecting diapers at the time.

What has been the impact of the Dee PT Great Diaper Drive and what does it mean to you?

When the drive started in 2007, 6,000 diapers were donated and sustained a couple of COTS’ families. Now, as the drive has grown, we are able to collect enough diapers to last for an entire year for all of the families COTS serves. The impact of the drive is more than just diapers; it allows families to save money that would otherwise be spent on diapers for independent housing. We did the math and a box of 100 diapers can cost about $35. Depending on how many kids you have, what ages they are, and what’s going on with their bodies, a family can go through 10-12 diapers a day. Since the drive began 11 years ago, we’ve collected over 325,000 diapers. As a parent, there is nothing worse than knowing that you don’t have a diaper for your child. The diaper drive has taken away some of this burden that parents are dealing with on a day-to-day basis and is allowing them to save for housing.

This drive means a lot to me. I’m fortunate to be the one that gets to talk about the drive and spread awareness, but it really is the community around me that supports this effort. Through the drive, I’ve been able to make connections with amazing people. There are people that come back each year to donate diapers that they’ve been saving up all year. It’s a true community effort.

What’s your goal for this year’s diaper drive and where can people donate?

The goal is to collect 40,000 by December 21st. We’re on our way towards meeting this goal but want to collect as many diapers as we possibly can.  Donations can be dropped off between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Fridays at the following locations:

  • Dee Physical Therapy at 23 San Remo Drive, South Burlington
  • Dee Physical Therapy at The Field House, 166 Athletic Drive, Shelburne
  • Dee Physical Therapy at 52 Farmall Drive, Hinesburg

What advice do you have for other businesses (or individuals) looking to impact their community?

Look around you. See what resources you have and take advantage of them. I’m not a fundraising guy and it’s a lot of hard work, but I’m so glad I did it. Every year I think about how to make the drive more efficient and effective.

Ask for help. Vermonters want to help each other, including people they don’t know. This is a huge asset and a great part of living here.

Dee PT Diaper Drive PosterJason Fitzgerald

 

Tips for the Charitable Giving Season

Don't let scammers take the cheer out of your giving seasonAs a little girl, I fondly remember watching my dad open scores of charitable solicitations some containing gifts of greeting cards or address labels, others with a simple request to help their cause.  This giving season, I am now the one who opens the mail with thoughtful poise and consideration, “Which causes should I support this year?”  In this time of giving, many of you may be asking the same question.

To help you decide, I’ve outlined the steps that I take before giving:

1.  When I get a solicitation for a new cause that piques my interest, I research the cause before donating.  Helpful websites, like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Giving Wise Alliance (BBB), have information on charities.  Charity Navigator pulls its information from charities’ IRS tax documents and the BBB has an accreditation program for charities.

2.  I check and double-check solicitation mailing addresses and phone numbers.  I do this even with charities that I regularly contribute to.  I always ask fundraising callers to mail me the solicitation so that I can check the contact information.  If the mailing address and phone number does not pass this verification test, I contact the charity directly.

3.  I look for paid fundraiser information.  A paid fundraiser is a third-party solicitation company that, aside from the fundraising campaign, is not affiliated with the charity.  This means that a portion of the funds raised are split between the charity and the soliciting business.  Vermonters can ask if a third-party fundraiser is involved.  When they are, however, they should disclose this information upfront.  The Attorney General’s Office keeps a record of paid fundraisers registered in our state.  All Vermonters can look to see how funds are allocated between the paid fundraiser under the charities section on our website.  This information can also be requested by contacting the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

4.  I am mindful about the presence of disaster scams.  With the unknown that comes with natural disasters, giving following such events can seem imminent as evidenced by the aftermath of the California wildfires.  Unfortunately, less scrupulous efforts may attempt to take advantage of those who want to help.  Following the above tips will help to identify the scams.  For more on this topic, check out our blog.

These steps help me verify that my money is going to the cause that I intend, and not to a scammer.  It’s easy for a motivated scammer to create a realistic looking website to try to legitimize a fake charity.  If you receive a solicitation that seems suspicious, but just aren’t sure, give the Consumer Assistance Program a call.  We’ll help walk you through the steps that we would take before donating.

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin is in her tenth year of service with the Consumer Assistance Program.

Protect Your Credit: Get a Free Freeze

Credit on ice

Under the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, credit freezes are free of charge to anybody, regardless of whether or not they are victims of identity theft. This new law requires credit-reporting agencies to eliminate the cost of credit freezes, credit unfreezes (thaws) and yearlong fraud alerts to consumers.

Website Required:  The three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian must design a website, where consumers can go to request this credit protection. The sites must also provide the ability to opt-out of receiving solicitations in the mail for insurance or credit card approval.

Protection for Children: The act allows guardians to request on behalf of children younger than 16 years old to freeze their credit.

Military Credit Offers: Members of the military with access to active duty alerts can request to remove their name from prescreened credit card offers for two years.


Why Should You Consider a Credit Freeze?

Identity theft is a type of fraud, which can be extremely detrimental to your financial and personal well-being. Identity theft often occurs when a bad actor gets access to your social security number or financial account number. Many consumers believe they won’t become targets for identity theft, because:

  • They odds are slim and assume it won’t happen to them.
  • They don’t have much money in their bank accounts to steal.
  • They don’t have credit cards and assume this means they don’t have a credit history.
  • They don’t have a poor credit history and believe a scammer will not benefit from having their information.

These arguments do NOT prevent bad actors from opening accounts using your information. The main concern is not the money you have but whether new accounts can be open without your knowledge, or consent.


Protect Your Credit

Issuing a credit freeze essentially stops any credit-reporting agency from reporting your credit score or credit report to a lender. Credit reports help lenders decide whether or not to extend a line of credit or grant loans to consumers. Often, without the ability to see the credit report, lenders will deny the credit line or loan, therefore protecting the consumer from unwanted accounts in their name.

Concerned that you may seek a line of credit in the future?—The thaw can help with that. You can contact the company before you plan to take on a new line of credit and lift the freeze temporarily.

The credit freeze is the best line of defense against bad actors stealing your information and using it for their own financial gain. Now that this process is free, anyone can consider placing a credit freeze on their account!

For more information about credit freezes or credit fraud alerts, visit FTC.gov or call our consumer helpline at 1-800-649-2424.

Contributing Writer: Alexandra Esposito

Sources:  The Federal Trade Commission

Scam Awareness Tips When Disaster Hits

As a state, we learned about the importance of storm preparedness in the wake of Irene.  We are fortunate not to experience such disaster regularly.  We express heartfelt concern for those devastated by the effects of Tropical Depression Florence.  Though miles away from our homes in Vermont, such storms can still impact us indirectly.  Vermonters may want to donate to charitable storm relief efforts, for example.

Emergency Response

For National Preparedness Month, and in the wake of an unfortunate disaster, we’re reminding folks to include the following scam tips in your disaster preparedness toolbox:

  • Fake Charity Calls. Scammers prey on the vulnerability of people who want to help after a terrible disaster. Such scammers will pretend to be a charity, asking for donations. They may look legitimate, having a website or social media page (Facebook, Go Fund Me, etc.), or have instructions to text donations to a certain number.
  • Fake Clean-up/Repair Crew. After a storm hits, some illegitimate salespeople may knock on doors and offer to provide cleanup or repair services.
    • Tip: Always check out a business before engaging their services.  Ask for references and ask your friends for referrals.  Get contracts in writing.  Never offer upfront payment!
  • Fake Relief. FEMA scams may make rounds, where callers or door-to-door “inspectors” claim they are from the agency, offering help.  They may phish for your personal information or require payment from you to log your information.
    • Tip: Don’t pay anyone claiming to be from a disaster relief agency!  Don’t give out your information to unknown callers.  If you are seeking governmental assistance, go directly to the source.

We hope your friends and loved ones are safe and well.  If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program ago.vermont/gov/cap.

Back to School Shopping

August marks the close of the summer with school days just around the corner.Backpack on to school  For many, this means a lot of shopping must be done. From school supplies to sizing-up clothes, it’s back to school and retail shopping season.  Whether you shop in store or online, we hope to provide you with some helpful information to shop smart.

With the click of a mouse and the ability to shop late at night, online shopping is often thought of as easy.  We can shop online while in our pajamas, but the lax nature of online shopping can leave us open to be less aware of our purchasing decisions.  Before you buy online, we suggest that you explore the site and do some research.

mobile shopping

  • Review and take screen captures of the return policy and save them in a folder on your computer—just in case you have to return something later.  
  • Check out online reviews by typing in the name of the business and “complaints” to learn about others’ experiences.  

Countless times we have heard consumers say, “I would not have bought from this site, if I had read the reviews.” Reviews are telling of consumer experience, letting people know if they received the product they ordered and if they were satisfied.  Review sites can be helpful for both online and brick-and-mortar stores.  Use sites like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp to get more information before you buy.

retail clothesDid you know that retail supports more than 95,000 jobs and contributes more than 4.9 billion to the Vermont’s economy?  Or that clothing and footwear are exempt from Vermont sales tax?  If a retail location has a refund policy, they must post it at the point of display, the cash register, or the store entrance.  Don’t assume that just because you purchased something at a physical location you will be able to get a refund! Vermont’s Consumer Protection Rule 106 – Disclosure of Refund Policy informs about what is required of retail locations in disclosing refund policies.  Don’t forget, you can always call CAP at (800) 649-2424, if problems arise.

Happy shopping.  And, don’t forget to enjoy these last few days of summer!

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Sources:  National Retail Federation, Vermont Department of Taxes