Scam Awareness Tips When Disaster Hits

As a state, we learned about the importance of storm preparedness in the wake of Irene.  We are fortunate not to experience such disaster regularly.  We express heartfelt concern for those devastated by the effects of Tropical Depression Florence.  Though miles away from our homes in Vermont, such storms can still impact us indirectly.  Vermonters may want to donate to charitable storm relief efforts, for example.

Emergency Response

For National Preparedness Month, and in the wake of an unfortunate disaster, we’re reminding folks to include the following scam tips in your disaster preparedness toolbox:

  • Fake Charity Calls. Scammers prey on the vulnerability of people who want to help after a terrible disaster. Such scammers will pretend to be a charity, asking for donations. They may look legitimate, having a website or social media page (Facebook, Go Fund Me, etc.), or have instructions to text donations to a certain number.
  • Fake Clean-up/Repair Crew. After a storm hits, some illegitimate salespeople may knock on doors and offer to provide cleanup or repair services.
    • Tip: Always check out a business before engaging their services.  Ask for references and ask your friends for referrals.  Get contracts in writing.  Never offer upfront payment!
  • Fake Relief. FEMA scams may make rounds, where callers or door-to-door “inspectors” claim they are from the agency, offering help.  They may phish for your personal information or require payment from you to log your information.
    • Tip: Don’t pay anyone claiming to be from a disaster relief agency!  Don’t give out your information to unknown callers.  If you are seeking governmental assistance, go directly to the source.

We hope your friends and loved ones are safe and well.  If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program ago.vermont/gov/cap.

Vermonter of the Month: Kiran Waqar

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.

Kiran Waqar

Advocate. Volunteer. Mentor. Organizer. Poet. These are just a few ways one can describe Kiran Waqar, our August Vermonter of the Month.

Kiran’s commitment to community service began while in the tenth grade, when she organized a blanket drive benefiting Syrian refugees. While Kiran’s accomplishments since then are too numerous to list, her dedication to service and social justice—as a creator of the slam poetry group Muslim Girls Making Change—is inspiring generations of Vermonters; leaving many of us asking, “What can I do to make a change in my community?

Our office had the pleasure of meeting Kiran when she served as an intern with the Vermont Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit in 2017. During which time, she came up with the concept of Vermonter of the Month “as a way to engage with all sorts of Vermonters.”  In relaying her vision, she shared that “By choosing numerous types of Vermonters with varied achievements you can reach out to a diverse group. I thought that was important.”  While celebrating the one-year anniversary of Vermonter of the Month, we are so delighted to be recognizing its esteemed creator as our August honoree!

Kiran recently graduated from South Burlington High School and will be studying International Studies at American University this fall. We sat down with her earlier this month to talk about her plans for the future and thank her for all that she has done, and continues to do, for Vermonters.

What motivated you to become and advocate, and continues to inspire you today?

I’m motivated to advocate because I have the ability to do so. As the daughter of two immigrants from Pakistan, I grew up with a global perspective. I also grew up knowing the privileges I have as an American citizen. Knowing this, it seemed obvious to me to use the privileges that came with my identity to try to make a larger impact. I also am aware of my identity as a Muslim woman, particularly as one who chooses to wear the hijab. Taking up space is important for me as my identity is constantly being mischaracterized. Something that keeps me going is thinking about if I didn’t share my story, who would?

You’ll be leaving Vermont soon for college, what are you going to miss the most?

Probably the community I’ve found here. I’m going to miss my slam (poetry) family, my friends, my family, my mosque, and everyone who supported Muslim Girls Making Change in so many ways. I’m going to miss long car rides with my fellow poets, the amazing conversations with people post performance, and the joy of seeing new poets take stage. I’m especially going to miss Maglianero Cafe where our poetry journey started and Young Writers Project that fostered and supported it along the way.

What advice do you have for other Vermonters, young and old, hoping to make an impact on their communities?

I would say that every single person can make an impact and that it doesn’t have to be big to be effective. The smallest acts can have large effects and you never really know how you’re going to impact someone. Just being there and speaking your truth can touch someone in ways you don’t know, so I would say be authentic. Don’t try to censor yourself or cater yourself to the audience. It’s most important that you be whatever is most honest for you because you never know who needs to see that.

Kiran Waqar and TJ Donovan

Kiran WaqarKiran Waqar, Ted Hobson, Charity Clark and Chester

Back to School Shopping

August marks the close of the summer with school days just around the corner.Backpack on to school  For many, this means a lot of shopping must be done. From school supplies to sizing-up clothes, it’s back to school and retail shopping season.  Whether you shop in store or online, we hope to provide you with some helpful information to shop smart.

With the click of a mouse and the ability to shop late at night, online shopping is often thought of as easy.  We can shop online while in our pajamas, but the lax nature of online shopping can leave us open to be less aware of our purchasing decisions.  Before you buy online, we suggest that you explore the site and do some research.

mobile shopping

  • Review and take screen captures of the return policy and save them in a folder on your computer—just in case you have to return something later.  
  • Check out online reviews by typing in the name of the business and “complaints” to learn about others’ experiences.  

Countless times we have heard consumers say, “I would not have bought from this site, if I had read the reviews.” Reviews are telling of consumer experience, letting people know if they received the product they ordered and if they were satisfied.  Review sites can be helpful for both online and brick-and-mortar stores.  Use sites like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp to get more information before you buy.

retail clothesDid you know that retail supports more than 95,000 jobs and contributes more than 4.9 billion to the Vermont’s economy?  Or that clothing and footwear are exempt from Vermont sales tax?  If a retail location has a refund policy, they must post it at the point of display, the cash register, or the store entrance.  Don’t assume that just because you purchased something at a physical location you will be able to get a refund! Vermont’s Consumer Protection Rule 106 – Disclosure of Refund Policy informs about what is required of retail locations in disclosing refund policies.  Don’t forget, you can always call CAP at (800) 649-2424, if problems arise.

Happy shopping.  And, don’t forget to enjoy these last few days of summer!

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Sources:  National Retail Federation, Vermont Department of Taxes

Vermonter of the Month: Dan Fraser

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.

Dan Fraser at Dan and Whits

Through helping raise over $1 million for local nonprofits and providing second chances at employment, our July Vermonter of the Month, Dan Fraser of Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, is proving that small businesses can have BIG impacts on their Vermont communities.

Dan D. Fraser is the Vice President and Treasurer of Dan & Whit’s, a family-owned general store which is fondly considered the unofficial community center of Norwich. Dan began working at Dan & Whit’s (named after his grandfather, Dan S. Fraser) afterschool for two hours a week while in the 4th grade. As an adult, Dan continued his dual responsibilities of school and store for many years while working as a special education teacher and continuing to work at the general store. For 14 years, Dan worked in the Hartford (Vermont) and Dresden (New Hampshire) school districts before leaving to focus solely on his work at Dan & Whit’s.

After meeting with Dan and hearing about the positive work he is doing in his community, it’s clear that the same passions and beliefs that informed his work as an educator have carried over to his business. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Dan and Whit’s or meeting Dan, just look to the banner hanging outside of the store—”Hate Does Not Grow In the Rocky Soil of Norwich, Vermont”—for proof of this.

What sets Dan and Whit’s apart from other general stores? What is the mission?

Our motto is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”—produce, meat, grocery, gas, hunting/fishing, clothing, hardware, lawn/garden, beer/wine, etc.  We are the epicenter of town. Houses are sold locally in reference to us—“Just 2 miles from Dan & Whit’s.” We are the “community center” of Norwich. Our mission is to serve our customers. We set ourselves apart from other general stores in terms of size and product selection. We are open every day from 7am – 9pm, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas when we close at noon.

 What inspires your work, both at Dan and Whit’s and in the community?

What inspires me—well, giving back to our community, supporting the needs and organizations of our customers creates loyalty.  It’s a win-win.  We like to make things happen when people say that it is impossible. I love a challenge.  Helping others is so easy, and so rewarding. We support almost every sports team, religious organization, and non-profit in town and the Upper Valley. We do a monthly wine tasting, pairing with a different non-profit each month.  We began this in December 2010 and have raised over $50,000. We also have Milk and Egg Monday where customers can purchase milk/eggs that we deliver to the Upper Valley Haven homeless shelter.  Wednesdays are Pizza Wednesday and we donate $1 from each pizza sale to a non-profit.

In December 2013, I began “The 19 Days of Norwich, 1% for the Upper Valley Haven,” where we donated 1% of sales to local homeless shelter. Soon, all the businesses in town joined us. During the second year, many businesses in the Upper Valley joined us—over 100 businesses participated! In 2017, our fifth year, our cumulative total raised is over $1 MILLION!!!

 What have you learned from your work with Dismas of Vermont?

With my background in special education, we employ many individuals with special needs. In addition, we have paired with Dismas of Vermont for many years now to employ newly paroled persons. I have learned that with additional layers of support, this can be very successful. Everyone has something to offer and deserves a second chance.  We also employ homeless individuals who are guests at the Upper Valley Haven.

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

Think outside the box. Talk to nonprofits in your community and see how you can pair to solve issues and provide employment opportunities. Take the first step and get involved.

Dan and Whit's general storeTJ Donovan with Dan Fraser at Dan and Whit's

Dan and Whit's bottle redemption bell

TJ Donovan with George Fraser at Dan and Whit's

TJ Donovan, Dan Fraser and George Fraser standing outside of Dan and Whit's

 

Sun Protection Products and UV Exposure Risk

Enjoy the Sun, not the burnWe’ve had some nice days here in Vermont.  Though most people may not greet a sunshiny day with concern about ultraviolet (UV) protection, it is something we must be mindful about.  UV radiation comes from the sun and man-made sources like tanning beds.  The most common cancer in the United States, skin cancer, is primarily caused by too much UV exposure.  The most obvious way to avoid UV exposure is to seek shade, or cover up, but for the times that you must be in the sun, a good sunscreen is recommended.  There is no one sunscreen that will prohibit exposure to all types of UV rays.  Even sunscreen labeled with 100% SPF only protects against 99% of UV rays.

What to look for in a sunscreen:   Sunscreen

  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more
  • “Broad Spectrum” on the label
  • No waterproof claims (water resistant is okay)
  • Unexpired and ideally good for at least 2 years

The sun emits many kinds of UV rays.  SPF helps to protect against UVB, which primarily causes sunburn.  But, just because you don’t get a burn, doesn’t mean your skin hasn’t encountered risky sun exposure.  The Broad Spectrum label informs that the sunscreen has been shown to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.  Sunscreen waterproof claims have been debunked by science, so, products can no longer make that claim.  They can still say “water resistant,” and must state for how long the product would continue to work after swimming or sweating.

Sunglasses can provide great protection too.  UV radiation from the sun can damage the cornea, lens, and other parts of the eye.  Cataracts can also develop from too much sun exposure.

What to look for in sunglasses:

  • Full coverage of the entire eye, wraparound, or close-fitting frames to screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.  Choosing larger frames can help.
  • Glasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays (may be
    labeled with UV protection of UV400 or more)

Parent and ChildWhether it’s under a tree, tarp, or behind some awesome shades and a hat, we hope you can get outside and enjoy the sunshine as much as possible this summer!

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Sources: The American Cancer Society, Mayo Clinic