Announcing Vermonter of the Month: Sarah Waring

This is the first of 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.

Sarah Waring serves as the Executive Director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) building a regenerative, locally based, healthy food system in the NEK and beyond.

Sarah was born and raised in Glover, VT, but spent a decade outside of the state, working in the Rocky Mountains and in Washington DC. Her background includes community development, federal land use planning and management, conservation, outdoor education and non-profit work.

Since coming to the Center for an Agricultural Economy in 2013, she has worked with the Board and staff there to increase the viability of the VT Food Venture Center (VFVC), a shared-use food business incubator and food hub, designed to support entrepreneurs and farmers with industrial kitchens, storage, and technical assistance. She graciously took the time from her busy schedule to answer a few of our questions:

What inspires your work with CAE and VFVC?
First and foremost, I get to work with visionary people, who are also grounded, intelligent and hardworking. That’s motivation to do my own best work. Whether its our staff and volunteers, the farmers who are stewarding the land, or the entrepreneurs who are growing their businesses, we have wonderful people around us. But then secondly, our mission is critical to our region – because we need to build a place-based economy, with local ownership. Its also critical to the globe – because our food system is broken. We can make changes to global trends, like hunger, global warming and more, by starting locally to fix our food system. So that’s the urgency behind the work we do!

What impact has VFVC had on your community?
In the past few years, the VFVC has developed Farm and Food Business Services; working with 18-20 farmers and 12-15 food businesses each year to deep dive into operational viability. The team has also begun the state’s only Farm to Institution processing program – purchasing local farm products from small and medium scale farmers to process and selling to colleges, hospitals and schools. In three years, the sales of locally grown and processed vegetables through the VFVC has grown by 230%.
What have you learned from your work at CAE?
I’ve learned more about food safety than I ever knew before! But really, I do get to work with folks who have deep knowledge of the land, the plants or animals they take care of, or the business model and the food product they are creating. As far as the work we do to support these folks, I’ve been lucky to re-learn that we can’t do this larger food system work alone. All things that are most worthwhile will take partnership, and our organization and team works hard to build trust with our partners.
What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?
I think the best thing I can say is this – look at the assets and gaps in your own region. Take your time to do your homework on what efforts already exist, and make sure you practice collaboration – because goals and activities go further with many hands being involved! We can create positive impacts on our own, but we can create them even faster with others.

Identity Theft and Information on the Equifax Data Security Breach

What can I do, right now, to protect my information?

To check if you were personally affected by the breach, you may visit Equifax’s website: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

To place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit files, visit the three credit reporting agencies’ websites linked below or call:

EQUIFAX or 1-800-349-9960
EXPERIAN or 1-888-397-3742
TRANSUNION or 1-800-680-7289

The best way to know that no one is using your personal information is to monitor your credit. We are recommending that Vermonters review their credit reports now, and regularly, to make sure that no unauthorized accounts are being reported. You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies annually, online, at www.annualcreditreport.com, or you can mail in a form.

Additionally, you may want to consider placing a security freeze on your credit reports. This is the most effective step you can take to block unauthorized use of your personal information. However, it does carry some costs and can create some minor difficulty if you need get a loan, credit card or other credit account. A security freeze does not affect your ability to use accounts that you have now. Find out more about freezing your credit files below and from the Federal Trade Commission.

Who is Equifax? Why should I be concerned?

Equifax is a consumer credit reporting agency. Equifax gathers and provides credit information based on an individual’s borrowing and bill-paying habits.

Equifax suffered a major data security breach on July 29, 2017. Over 240,000 Vermonters were potentially impacted and are vulnerable to identity theft. The information stolen includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. In addition, credit card numbers and certain dispute documents with personal information were accessed. Equifax will be sending letters to all affected consumers.

As of September 10th, we can assure Vermonters of the following:

  1. No waiver terms or binding arbitration will be imposed on consumers who go to the Equifax website to learn if they are affected.
  2. No waiver terms or binding arbitration will be imposed on consumers who enroll in the one year of free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring (“TrustedID”) being offered as a result of this breach.
  3. No waiver terms or binding arbitration will be imposed on consumers who request a credit report freeze as a result of this breach.
  4. Equifax also provides an “opt out” of the standard waiver or binding arbitration clause related to its terms of use for other products and services beyond items 1-3 above. Consumers may do so by writing within 30 days to: Equifax Consumer Services LLC, Attn.: Arbitration Opt-Out, P.O. Box 105496, Atlanta, GA 30348. Be sure to include your name, address, and Equifax User ID, as well as a clear statement that you do not wish to resolve disputes with Equifax through arbitration.

You can contact the Attorney General’s office at 800-649-2424 or AGO.CAP@vermont.gov with further questions.

What is identity theft?

A breach does not necessarily mean you are a victim of identity theft. A breach means you are now susceptible to identity theft.

Identity theft is the unauthorized use of another person’s personal information to obtain credit, goods, services, money or property (for more information on Vermont laws regarding privacy and data security, click here).

Identity theft may involve fraudulent use of credit card or bank account information.  In some cases, your social security number and other personal information may be used to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses, lines of credit, loans or other consumer accounts.

I think I am a victim of identity theft. What steps should I take?

  • Review your credit reports carefully for any unauthorized accounts. You can obtain your free credit report from each of the Credit Reporting Bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com.  If you find anything that should not be there, be sure to save a copy of the report.  Then, contact the credit reporting agency to dispute all inaccurate items.
  • Place a fraud alert or consider a freeze on your credit reports. Freezing your credit report could help prevent unauthorized creation of new accounts using your information. Freezing your credit report does not mean freezing your bank account, or that you won’t be able to use your credit card. You can find out more information from the Federal Trade Commission about fraud alerts and freezing your credit files.
  • To place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit files, contact the three credit reporting agencies listed here:

EQUIFAX 1-800-349-9960
EXPERIAN 1-888-397-3742
TRANSUNION 1-800-680-7289

        You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number               and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly         range from $5 to $10 to place a freeze.

        After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a           confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or                 password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose         to lift the freeze.

  • Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • File an “identity theft” police report and ask for a copy for your records. Find your local police agency.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Write down the name of anyone you talk to, what s/he told you, and the date of the conversation.
  • Follow-up in writing with all contacts you’ve made about the ID theft on the phone or in person. Use certified mail, return receipt requested, for all correspondence regarding the theft.
  • Keep copies of all correspondence or forms relating to the ID theft.
  • Keep the originals of supporting documentation, like police reports and letters to and from creditors; send copies only.
  • Keep old files even if you believe the problem is resolved.

I still have questions, where can I find out more?

Find out more about identity theft by visiting the Federal Trade Commission. You can also contact us at 800-649-2424 or AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

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