Recognizing Government Impersonation Scams

It can be intimidating to receive phone calls that claim to be from the government. Some of these calls can be threatening, while others offer false opportunities for government grants or entitlements. Calls and scams impersonating the government have been on the rise since 2014. The IRS scam, impersonating the Internal Revenue Service, has ranked as the number one reported scam in Vermont since, making up 41% of the top scams reported to CAP in 2018. Last year, the social security number phishing scam (SSN), impersonating the Social Security Administration, was the second highest reported scam, making up 18% of the top scams. Together, the two government imposter scams were 59% of the top scams reported in Vermont. This year, the SSN scam is on track to be number one, with 755 already reported to CAP. Recognize common government impersonation scams.

SSN Phishing and IRS Scams

Identify It: Scammers claiming to be government offices, like Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service may claim your SSN has been compromised, or that you have back taxes.

What to Know: It is important to remember that these government agencies would never contact you over the phone or through email. These agencies mail communications and would never threaten you for information or payment over the phone.

Treasurer’s Office Scam

Identify It: Government scams can come in many different forms other than the well-known IRS and SSN scam. Recently, CAP has been notified about a scam call that claims to be from the State Treasurer and that the recipient owes money related to student loan debt.

What to Know: Spot this scam by looking out for debt calls that threaten legal action if payment information is not given.

Government Grant Scam

Identify It: Sometimes, government impersonators claim that you are eligible for a federal grant. They say things like, “Because you do not owe back taxes, you qualify for a government grant.”

What to Know: If you did not apply for a grant, you shouldn’t be contacted.  You would never have to pay for fees or taxes before receiving a grant. Watch out for false claims that you are entitled to something that you never knew about.

Spoofing Government Numbers

Identify It: Scammers may sometimes use technology known as spoofing. This is when they mask their actual phone number so that your caller ID will show you a different number entirely.

What to Know: Sometimes they will use this to make their number look like they are coming from your area code, while other times the caller ID on your phone may even show as “US Government,” “IRS,” or “SS administration”.

If you suspect that you are being targeted by a scam, the best thing you can do is not respond. If you answered the phone, then hang up. If you have been emailed, do not respond. Do not call back any numbers that you are given. Never give out your personal or financial information to an unknown party claiming to be the government. If you are worried that some claims may be legitimate, call the department directly, using a number you know to be valid.

If you would like to report a scam or have any questions, please reach out to CAP by calling us at 1-800-649-2424 or emailing AGO.CAP@Vermont.gov

For more information about government imposter scams, please check out the FTC’s guide on how to recognize these scams and tips on combatting them: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0048-government-imposter-scams

Contributing Writer:  Mollie Shea Feeley
Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Sources:
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0048-government-imposter-scams
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/07/whos-pretending-be-government-now
Infographic source: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0519-irs-imposter-scams-infographic)

Help Stop Service Member Charity Scams

Scammers will say just about anything to get your money! Unfortunately, this includes pretending to be charities. For Military Consumer Month, we’d like to share some information about how you can securely give to legitimate charities who support our service members, and avoid scams.

For more information, watch and share this video produced by the Federal Trade Commission: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/audio-video/video/stop-veteran-charity-scams

If you receive a charity solicitation over the phone, ask questions!

As noted in our post from November 2018, it’s important to do your homework before giving. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Research the cause before donating. Helpful websites, like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Giving Wise Alliance (BBB), have information on charities.
  2. Double-check solicitation mailing addresses and phone numbers. Ask fundraising callers to mail you the solicitation first, so that you can check the contact information.
  3. 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. For information about paid fundraisers, see the “Charities” section on the CAP website.
  4. Still unsure?  If you receive a solicitation that seems suspicious, but just aren’t sure, give the Consumer Assistance Program a call: (800) 649-2424. We’re happy to help.

Contributing Writer: Madison Braz
Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Resources: Federal Trade Commission

Service Members, Veterans, and Families Burdened by Imposter Scams

July is military consumer month, and here at the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) we hope to spotlight the most common type of scams affecting service members and veterans— imposter scams.

122,500 Military consumer complaints in FTC

Last year, more than 36,000 service members, veterans, or family members reported an imposter scam nationwide. Imposter scams take a variety of forms. For example, some imposters say they are calling to offer technical support or that they are from the Social Security Administration, while others pose as friends or family members with an emergency. The common thread is that they all involve a scammer pretending to be a trustworthy person, to convince you to send money or personal information.

Here are some examples of common imposter scams:

Social Security Administration

The scam: Scammers call and pretend to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA). They say your Social Security number (SSN) has been suspended because of suspicious activity or it being involved in a crime.

What to do: Be wary of responding to unsolicited contacts, and never provide personal information to someone you don’t know. If you feel that your Social Security number has been compromised, call CAP for more information and visit identitytheft.gov to file a report.

Needy Friend or Relative

The scam: Scammers claiming to be a grandchild, friend/relative or romantic interest contact consumer, reportedly in distress and needing money to be wired or transmitted with a reloadable card, gift card (like iTunes), PayPal account payment, cash or check/money order. 

What to do: Call your friends or family members on known phone numbers to ensure that they are safe. Never wire or otherwise send funds unless you can verify the emergency.

Tech Support

The scam: A phone call or pop-up message on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft/Windows or another well-known tech company. The scammers will say that there’s a virus or other problem with your computer and try to persuade you to give them remote access to resolve the issue.

What to do: If you get a phone call you didn’t expect from someone who says there’s a problem with your computer, hang up. Never call a number in a pop-up that warns you of computer problems. Real security warnings will never ask you to call a phone number. Legitimate customer service information usually won’t display as a pop-up. Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google do not call you to notify you of malware on your computer.

Robocalls

The scam: If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall. Technology has made it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to hide from law enforcement by displaying fake caller ID information. The automated voice on the other end of the line may claim to be a utility, or government agency.

What to do: Hang up the phone, don’t call back, and do not provide any personal information.

Gift Card Scams

You may be asked to take a picture of or read numbers off the back of the card, which is like sending cash. Don’t do it!

The scam: Some imposters contact you with an urgent need for money, and ask you to pay with gift cards right away. The imposters will often tell you to go buy popular gift cards (like, iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon) at a store near you. Once you buy the gift cards, the callers will then demand the gift card number and PIN on the back of the card. Those numbers provide the scammer with immediate access to the money on the card. After you provide these numbers, the scammers typically disappear without a trace.

Gift cards are like cash—if you buy a gift card and someone uses it, you probably cannot get your money back. Remember, gift cards are for gifts to people you know and trust, not payments.

What to do: If you paid a scammer with a gift card, call the company that issued the gift card right away and alert CAP. When you contact the company, tell them the gift card was used in a scam. Ask them if they can refund your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back. Also, tell the store where you bought the gift card as soon as possible.

If ever you are unsure about a scam, give CAP a call.  We take scam reports every day and are familiar with the type of scams out there, so can help issue spot the red flags when something suspicious arises. Call us at 800-649-2424.


Contributing Writer: Madison Braz
Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Resources: Federal Trade Commission, IdentityTheft.gov

Vermonter of the Month: Victoria Lloyd

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.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Victoria “Tori” Lloyd

Earlier this month, we celebrated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and the one-year anniversary of the Attorney General Office’s Elder Protection Initiative (EPI). Over the last year, EPI has participated in statewide working groups, undertaken enforcement actions and criminal prosecutions, and advocated to strengthen laws and agency coordination to protect older Vermonters and vulnerable adults. Through this work, we met our June Vermonter of the Month, Victoria “Tori” Lloyd—a tireless advocate raising awareness and supporting prevention of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

After years in service to the State of Vermont as an investigator with Adult Protect Services, Tori formed a nonprofit group designed to bring together public and private stakeholders to prevent and mitigate financial exploitation. The group, Financial Abuse Specialist Team of Vermont or FAST, was formed in 2011 and seeks to end exploitation of elders and vulnerable Vermonters. Building on the success of the Vermont chapter, Tori formed FAST of America four years later in 2015, bringing her advocacy efforts and technical assistance nationwide.

Currently, FAST of Vermont is focused on educating professionals who provide direct services to older Vermonters about the topic of financial exploitation. It is also working to expand statewide coordination in addressing financial exploitation, including through the use of case reviews and the creation of a rapid response team to financial exploitation.

To that end, in June 2018, Tori organized a tristate conference on financial exploitation for Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine FAST members and other professionals (including the EPI) working to remedy and prevent the financial exploitation of elders. Tori’s organization, FAST of VT, also recently hosted a convening between the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and public and private stakeholders from across Vermont regarding the financial exploitation of older adults.

The need for advocacy like Tori’s is clear—by 2030, 1 in 3 Vermonters will be age 60 or older. Nationally, of this 60+ age cohort, 1 in 10 adults experience some form of mistreatment each year. This mistreatment can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial exploitation (often by family members or caregivers), and psychological and emotional abuse.

Thank you, Tori, for fighting to ensure that older and vulnerable Vermonters are able to age with justice, dignity, and respect.

Vermonters of the Month: Early Educators

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.

May 10th marked National Child Care Provider Appreciation Day. We want to thank Vermont’s early educators for all that they do for Vermont’s children and families by honoring them as our May Vermonters of the Month. To do this, we asked Let’s Grow Kids, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure affordable access to high-quality child care for all Vermont families by 2025, to help us highlight the stories of two inspiring early educators—Betsy Barstow of Nature’s Niños and Samara Mays of Montpelier Children’s House.

Early educators play a critical role in the development of our youngest Vermonters. According to Let’s Grow Kids, 70 percent of Vermont children under the age of 6 have all available parents in the labor force, meaning they’re likely to need some form of childcare. This, coupled with the fact that the first five years of a child’s life is when the brain is developing most rapidly, provide early educators with the opportunity to help children build a strong foundation for all future learning and development.

“Our early educators are literally building the brains of Vermont’s future leaders by giving young children the nurturing care and early learning opportunities that will set them up for success in school, work and life,” says Let’s Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards. “They’re with our children during the most critical time of development and they are supporting families as well as employers. We all benefit from the incredible work early educators do every day.”

We had the opportunity to meet Betsy Barstow and Samara Mays at their programs, in Adamant and Montpelier respectively, to hear their stories and see their amazing work in action.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Betsy Barstow at  Nature’s Niños
Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Betsy Barstow at Nature’s Niños

Betsy Barstow

Drawing on nearly 30 years of experience as a teacher, Betsy Barstow is shaping the lives of prekindergartners (Pre-K) at her 52-acre homestead in Adamant, Vermont. Her program, Nature’s Niños, is a nature-based Spanish-English Act 166 Pre-K. As a licensed Vermont Early Childhood Educator and Registered Family Child Care Home Provider with experience as a teacher in South America, Betsy offers both a bilingual Spanish-English program and a Spanish Language immersion program for children ages 3-5.

The students at Nature’s Niños spend most of their day outside—exploring nature, sharing stories and meals, and creating a sense of community while learning Spanish language and aspects of Latin-American cultures. Betsy’s philosophy on early education is simple, but incredibly impactful—”Young children are meaning makers. As they grow, they are busy making sense of the world around them, making relationships with the people in their life and building a self-concept. They are forming ideas about what the world is like and how to be in this world.” Betsy says it’s her intent to “show that the earth is an interesting, fascinating and beautiful place, that the people in it may be caring and responsive and that the individual is a valued contributor to the community no matter what his/her age.”

Why did you get into the early education field? What’s the most rewarding thing about your work?

I’ve always related well to children and wanted to do something that had an impact on their lives that encouraged development and a love of learning. Teaching touches lives and opens doors—I wanted to have a part in that. As a college student, I double majored in Elementary Education and Special Education at Trinity College. When I graduated, I moved to Cali, Colombia where I taught in a bilingual school and dreamed of starting my own school someday. When I returned to Vermont in 1988, I worked as a teacher in several local schools, teaching Spanish and art to different age groups. Influenced by becoming a mother and raising two children with my spouse and later working in the East Montpelier Elementary preschool, I realized how profound this period of time is in creating the foundation of a person’s life and decided to enroll in the Vermont Higher Education Collaborative (VHEC). The master level classes I took provided me with an additional endorsement in early childhood education. Vermont’s Act 166 allowed me to design a home-based Pre-K program that enables me to share my love of nature and multi-cultural based experiences, similar to those that I gave my own children, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

The most rewarding aspect of this work is being a part of these children’s lives, offering them experiences and watching them grow. My curriculum introduces the philosophy of the three cares—caring for self, caring for others and caring for the earth. This fosters a love of nature, a sense of beauty and an appreciation for the world around us. It also creates a community of caring for each other and ourselves. It is rewarding to see children become considerate, curious learners with a sense of wonder, thus laying the basis for lifelong learning. 

What do you think is important for Vermonters to know about early education?

Early education is broader than when a child goes to a home, school, or center-based program, it includes their experiences at home and in the community. For a young child, all experiences, are part of their education and form their life view, the habits they develop and their self-esteem, how they relate to others, pursue their interests and navigate life.  Additionally, I would like Vermonters to know that because of Act 166, and their contributions, all children have the opportunity to go to a Pre-K program to learn, grow, and develop.

How does your program support the community?

Nature’s Niños supports the creation of community among the children’s families and the act of community service.  Our beginning of the year picnic and other family events, are intended to help build relationships and develop support systems. We reach out further to the community by sharing some of the harvest from the school garden with local organizations like the Twin Valley Senior Center and the FEAST nutrition program at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center. The children learn through these acts of service that if you have food, you share it.

Why is early childhood education important for Vermont?

As Vermonters, we may bear in mind that children are future adult citizens and ask ourselves how we all can foster and be involved in nurturing an engaged, empathetic, secure, and globally minded citizenry. We can ask questions to facilitate children’s thinking, quest for answers, creative expression and spend time with them to let them know that they are valued and loved.

What impact, if any, has being an early educator had on your life?

Being an educator inspires my own creativity when I think about what kinds of experiences I want to offer and it gives me pause to reflect on what core values I feel are important to share. It has also allowed me to build lasting relationships with the children I’ve taught and their families that extend beyond when the children leave the program. This has given me a tremendous amount of joy in my life.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Samara Mays at the Montpelier Children's House
Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Samara Mays at the Montpelier Children’s House

Samara Mays

Samara Mays’ journey into early childhood education began during her own childhood, when her father, Larry Parker, operated a daycare out of their home and later opened the Montpelier Children’s House in 1984. Now, 35 years later, Samara serves as director, co-owner, and a teacher at the Children’s House, continuing the legacy of her father—who is currently enjoying retirement.  

Memories from Samara’s childhood and early adulthood are intertwined with the goings-on at Children’s House. She spent many afterschool hours and summers working alongside her father and other teachers observing the art of communicating respectfully and engaging joyfully in the education of young children. Though she initially moved away from the field of education and pursued a master’s degree in Rural Sociology, Samara was called to service when her mother became ill and her father increasingly found himself needing to be away from the program. While working for a Montpelier-based nonprofit, she filled in at Children’s House where she could—early in the morning, the occasional lunchtime and late afternoons. Each time feeling joy and ease as she slid back into the familiar routines of the program and her true calling, early education.

Samara left her nonprofit job after the birth of her second child, and, after a while began to care for other children in her home. She formally joined Children’s House in 2010, when her youngest child reached enrollment age and she was able to naturally transition the home care she provided for of other children over to Children’s House.

“During my time at Children’s House, I have grown considerably as an educator and administrator. I have been endlessly grateful for the support and knowledge of those I have become connected to in the field – teachers, colleagues, mentors and of course, children and families. I am walking a path where, like my students, I am constantly curious and enthusiastic about the hundred ways to know, investigate and experience the world together.” Samara says, “I am tremendously proud of my little school.”

Why did you get into the early education field? What’s the most rewarding thing about your work?

As a young person, early education touched so many aspects of my life but as a career, never crossed my mind. Watching my father grow the business made clear that it was very hard work for comparatively little compensation. That said, when I moved back to town in my mid-20’s I was drawn to the family business with a new perspective, particularly about how engaging, challenging, and rewarding it is to work with children and  families. When I started at Children’s House, there wasn’t a clear decision that I would take over the business—just that I was dipping my toes in the water a little bit. It was a huge learning curve, particularly learning about the business management aspects of the job. I started taking classes at Community College of Vermont to get my Director’s Credential and I really got hooked on learning about how children grow, develop and acquire knowledge and understanding. I really love the science behind early childhood education. I formally took over as Director about five years ago. Children’s House is 35 years old this year and I’m really proud to continue the program’s legacy forward into the future. I understand and value the huge importance of high-quality early education—not only for the healthy growth and development of young children, but also for our local economy. Families need access to high-quality, affordable care for their children.

The most rewarding thing about my work: I love facilitating learning and discovery. When you give a child the right environment, and the time and space for them to construct their own knowledge and understanding, you get to witness that spark of discovery that occurs. Imagine the magic and wonder of creating a new color for the first time! Working with young children allows me to share in the joy and wonder of discovering the world all over again. I also treasure the relationships made with children and their families. Early childhood is a marvelous and messy time, and we get to be in the thick of it with children and their families.

I also have to mention how rewarding it is to work with my co-teachers. Working in early education requires that you think on your feet and adapt to the constantly changing needs of the children and the group. My co-teachers are endlessly brilliant, flexible and creative. Working in a busy and fast-paced environment requires a special kind of communication and trust that we’ve been able to cultivate over time. I’m so grateful to have found dedicated and talented early educators that are as passionate as I am about the value of our children’s earliest years.

What do you think is important for Vermonters to know about early education?

This is a big one! High-quality early education is the foundation of growing healthy humans. We know that birth to five is the most important period for brain development. Every experience, every interaction becomes a part of how children create their understanding of the world, their relationships with others and their sense of themselves. Investment in early education pays off—we know this. High-quality early childhood education has been found to benefit children through adulthood and this benefit is even realized in subsequent generations. We’re learning how important it is for children to develop social and emotional skills and how these “softer skills” are predictive of later school success.  If we (meaning Vermont and the United States) want good outcomes for children and families there must be real and sustained investment in early education.

High-quality early care requires that we, as a community, make the decision to invest in early educators. Working in early education asks teaching professionals to subsidize the cost of childcare by making less money than peers with the same amount of education and often forgoing benefits such as health insurance, dental and retirement. It isn’t fair. While our program works hard to compensate teachers as well as we can, we’ll always come up against the challenge of affordability for families. Finding a balance that honors the value of early educators with livable compensations and maintains accessibility to all families is the challenge that every early education program will continue to face.

How does your program support the community?

We provide care for 25 children and families, most of who live in and around Montpelier. As an Act 166 prequalified partner, we are able to provide publicly funded Pre-K to our students for ten hours a week, 35 weeks a year. This absolutely helps with the total cost of tuition for families. We operate ten hours a day, year-round. Our availability and public funding mean we can be supportive and accessible to working families. We also provide warmth, continuity and community to our young people.

Our program aims to be in partnership with young families. As a parent myself, I am well aware of both the joys and the challenges that are part of these years. We all juggle a seemingly endless list of to-dos. Our goal is to provide a nurturing place for kids to experience joy and be a part of something bigger than themselves—even when growth comes with pains. If we do this well, we make space for parents to work, and meaningfully engage in our community and economy. By providing access to high-quality, affordable care we fill a need for communities such as Montpelier to attract young families. In that way, we are an essential part of the local economy.

Why is early childhood education important for Vermont?

As I’d mentioned earlier, high-quality early education is foundational. It is the foundation on which we grow Vermonters who are eager and enthusiastic learners, individuals who can manage relationships and work through conflict, problem-solvers who are ready to tackle new and challenging issues. This is the foundation we are setting for the next generation of citizens.

In the shorter term, high-quality early education is an absolutely necessity to attract and retain young people to Vermont. Families need and value quality care for their children so that they can work and support this state’s economy. Without adequate childcare options, growing businesses is a non-starter.

What impact, if any, has being an early educator had on your life?

I think that being an early educator is not what you do, but who you are. To me it’s one of those professions that becomes a part of your whole life. I truly love the work that I do. It is engaging, challenging and never, never dull. I get to work with incredible people whose skills and dedication to children and families are truly inspiring. I have the tremendous privilege of sharing in the early years of people’s children and am grateful for the trust that they have placed in me.

I am not an early educator because I love kids (which I do, of course) but because I feel a responsibility to do my part to protect childhood—to ensure that the young people in my care know that they are loved, valued and capable. All children deserve the opportunity to feel as though they are a part of something bigger than themselves and are responsible not only for themselves but for one another. Creating a school that instills this knowledge is the best way that I know of to be a citizen. It is hard work and demands your whole heart. It is worth every minute.