What happened when I went to do a credit freeze……

Recently, I went to visit my grandmother. She is nearing ninety, sharp as a tack and financially savvy. She manages her own investments (and those of other family members), and has a keen grasp of marketplace trends. As our talk turned to my work, the recent Equifax breach came up.

Following the Equifax breach, our office has been recommending that folks consider placing a security freeze on their credit reports. A security, or “credit” freeze on your credit reports doesn’t affect your accounts, but it prevents any new accounts from being opened with your information. A security freeze is the most effective way to prevent unauthorized accounts. However, it’s not something most folks think about on a regular basis, even those who pay close attention to their finances and credit.

I asked my grandmother if she had placed a security freeze on her credit reports, and was unsurprised to learn that she had not. So, I offered to help my grandmother set those up, thinking that I would also gain some useful insight into the process I could bring back to my daily conversations with Vermonters as they struggle to respond to the breach.

We decided to try, first, to set up the freezes online. We logged on to the Consumer Assistance Program website, where I knew we could find links to the credit bureaus’ freeze pages in the Equifax information we have posted there. I launched a new tab for each, and we began entering the information they requested.

For all of these, some sensitive information is required. You will need to enter your Social Security Number. If you are not comfortable doing that online (which we totally understand), then you may wish to call the credit bureaus on the phone, or write to them through the regular mail. Once that information is entered, they will proceed to ask a number of questions to try and verify that you are, in fact, yourself.

A battery of questions about my grandmother’s past addresses, credit accounts and relatives came up. These were multiple choice questions, and sometimes confusing. We had to think carefully about each question, as a wrong answer would prevent us from completing the process. Some questions offered answer options that were all unrelated, and we had to be sure to select “None of these” where no answer was accurate.

After we got through these questions, we were able to submit the request. In three out of four, we successfully placed the freeze. One of the four (TransUnion), would not proceed, and required us to call an automated telephone line. We called the number, and completed the freeze process on the phone in just a few minutes.

Some folks may find that they cannot complete any of these online requests. You may have to send in what seems like a lot of supporting documents (like utility bills, mail, copies of ID, etc.). This is likely because there may be conflicting information, and the credit bureau wants to make sure you are who you say you are.

This process isn’t easy, but it is important. If you find you are having difficulty getting through the process, or have questions, give our office a call (800-649-2424). We may not be able to come for a visit, but we are happy to help!

-Jason, CAP Program Coordinator

Announcing Vermonter of the Month: Mohamed Basha

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.

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Mohamed Basha is the President, CEO and IT Person of TLC Homecare & Nursing. After moving from Chennai, India as a young child, he lived in New York City and New Orleans for a year. He finally settled in Vermont, where he grew up in Burlington.

Mohamed founded TLC in 2006 because he saw a need for a homecare provider who took a holistic approach in providing care and there was no other organization that offered supportive staffing services to local healthcare providers.

After numerous side jobs (such as working in the IT department of two small businesses, driving a taxi on weekends, and waiting/catering during the summer) Mohamed decided to pursue a Nursing Degree from Castleton State College. He also holds a B.A. in Health Science from Castleton and an Associate Degree in Liberal Studies from Community College of Vermont.

When Mohamed is not hard at work running TLC, he can be found spending time with his wife, Allyson, and two children, Nina and Zane. He also enjoys long walks in the summer and riding his motorcycle while enjoying the beauty that Vermont has to offer. He graciously took the time from his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions:

What inspires your work with TLC?

After graduating from nursing school, and working in various healthcare setting, I saw a dire need for home care providers to help seniors age in place.  I further saw a need for flexible staffing providers to help healthcare facilities staff their needs without burning out their own staff.


What impact has TLC had on your community? 

Currently we serve over 200 older adults throughout Vermont and in Upper Valley area.  Out of which, and I am proud to say this, we serve over 70 Veterans in this region.  Furthermore, we are quite active nationally and locally in helping the causes that affect majority of our seniors.  For over four years, we have sent TLC staff to Washington DC and Montpelier to advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association and raise awareness of its impact in our community.  We help raise money, through Golfing 4 Life and other activities, for Cancer Patient Support Services.  We assist with delivering Meals on Wheels at least once a month.  We also partake in various walks, runs, and fundraising events to give back to our community.

What have you learned from your work at TLC?

No two days are ever alike.  Every day brings a set of new challenges and I am always learning something new each day from my staff and the people that we serve.  Nevertheless, it is the stories from seniors who survived the Great Depression and World War II that comes to mind whenever I am asked this question.  Their ability to face adversity and overcome severe obstacles serves as a reminder that we can achieve anything we want if we are persistent and willing to work hard.

What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

Giving back to the community can be as little as picking up the trash around your neighborhood to spending countless hours volunteering for other organizations.  However, it is the intention and the willingness to want something better for others is what counts at the end of the day.  So do not be afraid to do even a small part, they all add up to making a bigger impact in our community.

Stay Safe Online

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and next Tuesday is National Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day. Now is a good time to check-in on your computer use and internet safety. To the average computer user, the tasks required to be secure can be overwhelming. But, StaySafeOnline.org allows you to find all the information you need in one place.

You can search StaySafeOnline.org by area of interest. Learn how to:

With the site’s easy to follow tips and resources, your computer and internet experience can be safer. Having trouble with the above list?  Get started with the below tips:

Passwords – Make sure they are secure.  A combination of numbers, letters, and symbols is best.  Use a unique password for every account.

Antivirus Protection – Don’t use a machine (computer, mobile phone, etc.) that does not have virus protection.

Unsecured Wireless Networks – Use them cautiously.  Tapping into a free hotspot may be tempting when traveling, but depending on who is watching (and you never know who is), you could be putting your information at risk.  Never login to your personal accounts when using free wireless.  If you do, you might be giving all your information to a scammer.

Securing Your Internet – This task is simple.  If you have an online account with your internet provider, login to change the router’s name and the pre-set password.  Having trouble doing it on your own?  Just call the company for help.

Scams – For most, using the internet is virtually free.  So, many scams start online.  The Computer Tech Support scam can start with a pop-up message that claims your computer is at risk for viruses, advising of a phone number to call to rectify the issue.  Email scams often conform to a phishing scam, claiming to be a financial institution that says you need to reset your password.  Other forms of email scams include attachments or links that, when downloaded, infect your computer with viruses. Click here to sign up for our office’s scam alerts.

Failing to take precautions regarding computer and internet safety is like keeping your front door wide open to a neighborhood thief. Don’t do it.  Be smart about your computer use.  Take precautions to combat scammers before they target you.

Do you own a small business and have concerns about data security? Join us at Tech Jam on October 20th for information – details and registration can be found here.

How did they get that? Credit reporting and your personal information…

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In the wake of the massive breach of consumer information at Equifax, many people are asking how, and why, Equifax has so much information about so many of us. One of your first questions might be something like:

“I have never been a customer of Equifax; how can they have any of my personal information?”

Many consumers may never have even heard of Equifax before, let alone been a customer of their consumer services. So how could so many have been affected?Equifax is one of a few national companies that collect and report consumer credit information. These companies, often called “credit bureaus” or “credit reporting agencies”, get regular reports about your credit history from banks, financial institutions, landlords, utilities and even employers. The credit bureaus then put all of this information from different businesses about your use of credit together into a single file — your “credit report”. Some of the bureaus have developed a scoring system to rate how “safe”, or how “risky” your credit habits may be, compared to other consumers. Any time you apply for a loan, credit card, utility account, etc., the lender will get your credit report from one or more of these bureaus. Using the credit report, the lender will review your credit history to decide whether to open an account for you, and what interest rate they wish to charge (often based upon the perceived “risk”).

The credit bureaus also supply information to companies for marketing purposes. If you have ever received an invitation to apply for a credit card in the mail, or other kinds of solicitations like that, it is likely the sender got your mailing address from a credit bureau. Marketers buy mailing lists from the credit bureaus that are tailored to meet their desired customer characteristics. For example, a credit card company may wish to market a new travel credit card. They might contact the credit bureau to buy mailing lists of people who have other travel cards, airline accounts, etc., and who may meet certain age, income or other demographic criteria.

With so much of our personal, sensitive financial information at their disposal, you may wonder how these credit bureaus are regulated. There are some specific laws, both federal and state, that govern how credit bureaus should report, manage and protect your information. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets out such standards as the rights of consumers to dispute items on their credit report, security requirements, and more. Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act includes a subchapter on Fair Credit Reporting that requires, among other protections, that a company get your consent before they can access your credit report. Both federal and Vermont state law require each of the credit bureaus to provide you with a free credit report each year (meaning you can get two from each bureau, each year). There are also specific laws that require companies to keep sensitive personal information as secure as possible, and to report to law enforcement and consumers quickly if they discover a breach of those security measures.

It is likely that policy-makers in the state legislatures, Congress and regulatory agencies will be reviewing the current laws and rules in place to protect consumer information, considering the scale of the breach at Equifax. If you have concerns or thoughts about the current law, you may wish to contact your legislators to discuss these issues and keep up to date on any proposed changes. Our office will be active in these areas, and will be working to keep Vermonters informed throughout. If you have questions about consumer protections, or a complaint about a business that you would like assistance with, contact our consumer hotline, or file a complaint online.

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.