Sales calls, charity calls and scams

The phone rings, you pick it up and the caller launches into a well-rehearsed pitch. How do you know if this call is worth hanging on for? What happens if you agree to something over the phone and later change your mind? Under Vermont law, you have options!

Phone calls

The Sales Pitch: First, you have a right not to receive sales calls if you don’t want them. You can register your number with the National Do Not Call Registry to block future sales calls. This doesn’t prevent charity calls, surveys or scams, but it does prohibit other sales calls. Already registered? You only need to do it once, so if you are still getting actual sales calls, hang up and report the calls.

Did you agree to purchase something over the phone? For telephone and home solicitations in Vermont, consumers generally have the right to cancel for a full refund within three business days. If you need help with a phone or in-home sale, contact us!

The Charity Call: Many charities hire paid fundraising companies to help them solicit donations. In Vermont, any charity using a paid fundraiser must register with our office, and report how much of the donations received go to the fundraiser. You can find this information on our website under “Charities”, or give us a call at 800-649-2424.

Watch Out for Scams!: Phone scams affect thousands of Vermonters each year, and some victims lose a lot of money. Scammers are good at what they do, and target everyone. If you get a call and someone asks you to verify personal information, give a credit, debit card number or banking information over the phone, or wants you to wire money or send a gift card, it’s likely a scam! Hang up, and contact us before you give out any information or send money.

If you have questions about a phone call, or need help with a consumer issue, contact us today!

Your consumer rights in Vermont: buying retail and rent-to-own

We all get them in our mailboxes and on our doorsteps – those colorful flyers advertising the “Biggest Sale Ever!” or the “Lowest Prices of the Year”. We may see signs for a big “Going out of business – Everything Must Go!” sale in the window of a local store.

Sometimes the deals are real. Sometimes, though, the deals really are “too good to be true.”

As a Vermonter, you have certain rights in the retail and rent-to-own marketplace. Vermont’s Consumer Protection Rules prohibit certain kinds of deceptive advertising, pricing and sales tactics that are only designed to trick consumers into something they don’t want to do. Here are some examples:

  • The “Bait and Switch”: Ads feature a popular item at a great price, but when you get the store, all of those items are mysteriously sold out, and only a more expensive or inferior product is available.
  • The “Un-sell”: Ads draw you in for a great deal on a product you want, but when you get there, the sales person only wants to show you something else… for a worse deal.
  • The “Huge Discount!!”: Unbelievable discounts that turn out to be… unbelievable. Stores inflate the “former price” by huge margins to claim big discounts, when the real market price discount is actually much smaller.
  • The “Renting is your best value”: Rent-to-own ads that claim you can save money by renting instead of buying out right. Compare the interest and total costs to buying with cash, or even on a credit card.
  • The “You Won!” Contest: Shiny, official-looking ads that appear like lottery tickets, claiming you won a big prize, but when you go to the business to claim your winnings, all you get is a bum deal.

Don’t get caught un-prepared, know your consumer rights and, if you have questions or concerns, call us at 800-649-2424!

Welcome to National Consumer Protection Week!

Do you know your consumer rights? National Consumer Protection Week is a collaboration among state, federal and non-government organizations and agencies to raise awareness about consumer rights in the marketplace.

In addition to federal consumer protections, like the Do Not Call registry and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that puts limits on how third-party collection agencies can contact you or collect a debt, Vermont law has some important, and sometimes unique, consumer protections.

Each day this week we will be posting information about important rights you have as a Vermont consumer. check back here, on Facebook or on Twitter to learn more each day about these important protections!

Q + A with Co-Chief of the Community Justice Division, David Scherr

Attorney General T.J. Donovan has been spearheading criminal justice reform, most recently calling for reforms to the bail system so low-income Vermonters don’t get stuck in jail for low-level crimes. In 2016 he created the Community Justice Division to protect public safety, increase fairness, promote equal access to justice, and reduce incarceration. He was also a leading advocate for the passage of Act 61, which expanded pre-trial services and diversion. Act 61, among other provisions, created the Tamarack Program, a treatment-oriented diversion program aimed at adults with serious mental health and substance abuse issues. Since Act 61 took effect in July of 2017 the rate of referrals to diversion programs has more than doubled statewide, from 10% to 24%.

We caught up with Co-Chief of the Community Justice Division David Scherr to get more background on why criminal justice reform matters and how we’re making a difference here in Vermont.

David Scherr, Co-Chief of the Community Justice Division.

What is the reason for the creation of the Community Justice Division? Why is this issue so important to the Attorney General?

The Attorney General created the Community Justice Division to focus on the issues of criminal justice reform. The division seeks to increase public safety by promoting equal access to alternative justice programs and increasing fairness in the application of the law. The division does everything from administering the statewide Diversion and Pretrial Services Programs to creating new legislation that supports criminal justice reform efforts—including initiatives like bail reform.

These are key issues for the Attorney General. He made them a cornerstone of his platform during his candidacy, and he created this new division to enact real reform.

What work is going on nationally on criminal justice reform? How does Vermont fit into that?

There is an amazing amount of work being done nationally on criminal justice reform. States across the country, and the federal government, are making significant changes in how they approach crime, punishment, and rehabilitation. Nationwide people recognize that mass incarceration is an unjust and ineffective way of dealing with crime—particularly nonviolent crime. It is also systemically racist, incarcerating African American men at disproportionate rates.

The same problems exist in Vermont and need Vermont solutions. Vermont has the most disproportionate rate of incarcerating African American people in the nation. Our office is working hard to provide equal access to justice and strongly supports efforts to root out systemic racism in our criminal and juvenile justice systems.

What inspired you to work in criminal justice reform?

Before I arrived at the Attorney General’s Office I worked mostly as a public defender based in Burlington while working on cases all over the state. In my role as a public defender I saw firsthand the challenges, inequities, and unfairness of our criminal justice system. The people involved in the system are largely poor, with few resources—economic or social—to provide support.

Underlying causes of behavior, like addiction and mental health issues, are not adequately addressed in the standard criminal justice system.  By assisting people with the issues that lead to offenses and recidivism we are protecting public safety by making it less likely that people will reoffend.

Although I enjoyed helping people one at a time my view of our system made me want to have a system-wide impact by changing policies and laws. The Attorney General’s office has given me a place to do that, and I am grateful.

What are the Attorney General’s Office’s goals regarding criminal justice in Vermont over the next 5-10 years? How are we getting there?

Our long-term goals are to increase public safety by having robust alternative justice systems—working in close cooperation with our public health system—to adequately address underlying causes of criminal justice involvement, and to reduce the incarcerated population to the people who really need to be there. The work we are doing presently around our Diversion and Pretrial Services programs, along with legislative and policy efforts like bail reform, will move us in the right direction.

Thanks to David Scherr for sharing his expertise today! You can follow up with any questions you might have at david.scherr@vermont.gov.

Vermonter of the Month: Sharon Russell

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.

Sharon Garafano Russell is the Executive Director of the Rutland City Rescue Mission, better known at the Open Door Mission. The Open Door Mission houses 51 people and this year they provided 36,000 meals in the Soup Kitchen which serves residents of the Mission and people on the street. They have a staff of 11 that work around the clock providing meals, clean bedding and a clean and safe home for both residents and those just staying a few nights. The Mission serves three meals a day and runs on the proceeds of their thrift store, an annual golf tournament and individual donations. Under Sharon’s leadership, this structure has become a model for veteran shelters across the country.

Sharon has dedicated her life to helping the disenfranchised, supporting all people independent of their appearance, past or place in life. She has received countless awards over the years, most recently “The Unsung Hero Award” from her alma mater Mount St. Joseph Academy (MSJ Class of ’65).

After growing up in Rutland, Sharon completed her bachelors in early education from the University of Maryland. She then taught special education and served as the head of the Adult Education Program at the Brandon Training School for eleven years. This was followed by the state exam for social work, which led her to the Open Door Mission.

Sharon lives in Rutland with her two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

What inspires your work with the Open Door Mission?

What inspires me most is I went to MSJ and was always taught by nuns who said we should pay our good luck forward, and so too again when I attended The College of St Joseph. Second, and probably the most important, is that Jody Fish, a classmate at MSJ, went to Vietnam and never returned. That is why I contract with the VA to work with veterans.

What impact has the Open Door Mission had on your community?

The impact on our community is that the disenfranchised and the homeless veteran has a warm bed and 3 hot meals daily in our soup kitchen, where we serve 120 meals daily. We also serve folks from the street. There is nothing better then to see a small child go home with a full tummy and a smile–it makes my day–or when a veteran who has been on the streets in larger cities tells us how special our food is.

What have you learned from your work at the Open Door Mission?

Every day I learn something new. A few of those lessons are: but for how my life has been I could be on the streets; I have learned that labels are for cans, not for people; and we don’t always know what is causing people to have addictions or mental illness. I have learned if each one of us tries, we can make a difference in the world.

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

My advice for others is to make a impact on the community, stop and look around. You will see the need. Don’t judge people, for you will find that most are good people who have chosen that road that is too often traveled. I suggest instead, as Robert Frost wrote, to take the one “less traveled” in order to make a difference.