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.

Protecting Vermonters One Blocked Call at a Time

Before we get started, raise your hand if you’ve ever received a scam call. Everyone, right?

CAP is looking to get better solutions in the hands of Vermonters to fight robocalls. CAP is studying various robocall blocking options to protect Vermonters from this scourge.

First, CAP obtained a grant from The State Center to test call-blocking devices for seniors, who are often the targets of scams.  CAP provided 115 call-blocking devices free-of-charge to Vermont seniors.

CAP studied the effectiveness of these blocking devices in protecting seniors, who include some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Call-blocking devices help stop scam calls from coming through your phone line in two ways – many come preloaded with a list of recognized scam numbers that are automatically blocked from being able to call in; the devices also allow consumers to choose to block other phone numbers.

Vermonters who participated in the project reported that the call-blocking devices were useful in blocking scam calls – 72% said the devices were either “effective” or “very effective” in stopping unwanted calls. An overwhelming majority (89%) also said the devices were either “simple” or “very simple” to use. Another key finding from the project is that having a call-blocking device made the participants feel safer in answering their phones and helped to decrease the amount of stress and anxiety that scam calls had caused. You can’t put a price tag on peace of mind.

Second, in cooperation with the telecom carriers, CAP is also preparing a guide to robocall and scam call blocking options that will be released later this month.

Third, CAP continues to collect scam reports from Vermonters. CAP uses scam reports to identify the need for alerts, and to provide education and outreach. Scam reports also help CAP track the number and type of scams affecting Vermonters. Awareness is the best way to protect Vermonters from becoming victims of scams.

CAP also reports the information to the Federal Trade Commission, which has a task force on fighting robocalls. Occasionally, the information can lead to investigation of scams, but law enforcement has few tools to undertake these expensive cases.

Are you interested in call-blocking devices or other ways to stop unwanted calls? The FTC has information available at their web-site.

Our office has also set up a scam alert system to provide consumers with information about new scams and scam trends. If you would like to sign up, visit our web-site or give CAP a call.

Always feel free to contact CAP to report scam calls you are receiving. Our office can be reached at 1.800.649.2424 (toll free VT) or 802.656.3183.

 

5 Tips on Giving Wisely

Thinking about giving this holiday season? Here are five tips to help ensure that your contribution is going to a charity in need for a cause you support.

1- Research the charity. Understand how your money will be used by the charity before you donate. Websites like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator make it easy to find this information.

2- Know who’s asking you for money. Ask if the person contacting you for a donation is a paid fundraiser. A paid fundraiser is paid to raise money on behalf of a charity, but is not an employee of the charity. These payment arrangements can vary widely. For information about the payment arrangement between the paid fundraiser and the charity, visit the “Charities” page on the Consumer Assistance Program’s website, or call 1-800-649-2424.

3- Don’t feel pressured to give over the phone. If you are interested in donating, but don’t want to give payment information over the phone, ask the charity to mail you information. This will give you more time to make your decision and research the charity.

4- Be cautious of scams. Fraudsters use the same contact methods as legitimate charities (phone, mail, email) and will try to trick you into “donating” money. Be wary of unsolicited emails asking you to donate, even if the email looks legitimate or you have heard of the charity. Stop and think before you click the link! Call the charity and ask if they are collecting donations by email. Or, hover your cursor over the link before clicking on it. If there is a redirected link that does not go to the charity’s website, it could be a scam. If you receive a request for a donation by phone, ask for detailed information about the charity, including the exact name of the charity and how your money will be used. If the solicitor refuses to give this information, or if they ask you to pay by wire transfer, cash, or prepaid gift card—don’t engage! It’s likely a scam.

5- Consider volunteering. Giving comes in more ways than just money. If you are interested in volunteering this holiday season, contact a charity in your community to see how you can help. Giving your time can be just as valuable as giving your money.