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

Health Care Scams Loom

Health is very important. To stay healthy, we may get the urge to try new health care products or medicine without knowing a lot about them. Unfortunately, health care scams loom. Below is what you should know about health and medical product scams.

Health and medical product scams try to convince the consumer that there is a “cure-all” medicine, treatment, or product at a very low cost. These scams may surface as an email, an advertisement on the internet, or as a phone call. The scammers may claim to be linked to doctors or hospitals. The offers may look real, but the products could be fake and endanger a person’s health.

Signs to spot a health or medical product scam:

Medicine bottles
  1. An unsolicited email/advertisement offering a popular medication at a very low price.
  2. The products are very cheap and offer “cure-all” characteristics.
  3. The seller claims a prescription is not necessary.
  4. You’ve never heard of the product.
  5. The mentioned doctor is not real.
  6. There is no scientific data on the product.

If you find a new health and medical product that you are unsure of, always ask a trusted and licensed healthcare professional about it. If you find a suspicious healthcare website, do not give any personal information or financial information. Always do research and get the facts to stay informed and stay safe.

If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

Contributing writer: Courtney Thayer

Tips for the Charitable Giving Season

Don't let scammers take the cheer out of your giving seasonAs a little girl, I fondly remember watching my dad open scores of charitable solicitations some containing gifts of greeting cards or address labels, others with a simple request to help their cause.  This giving season, I am now the one who opens the mail with thoughtful poise and consideration, “Which causes should I support this year?”  In this time of giving, many of you may be asking the same question.

To help you decide, I’ve outlined the steps that I take before giving:

1.  When I get a solicitation for a new cause that piques my interest, I research the cause before donating.  Helpful websites, like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Giving Wise Alliance (BBB), have information on charities.  Charity Navigator pulls its information from charities’ IRS tax documents and the BBB has an accreditation program for charities.

2.  I check and double-check solicitation mailing addresses and phone numbers.  I do this even with charities that I regularly contribute to.  I always ask fundraising callers to mail me the solicitation so that I can check the contact information.  If the mailing address and phone number does not pass this verification test, I contact the charity directly.

3.  I 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.  When they are, however, they should disclose this information upfront.  The Attorney General’s Office keeps a record of paid fundraisers registered in our state.  All Vermonters can look to see how funds are allocated between the paid fundraiser under the charities section on our website.  This information can also be requested by contacting the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

4.  I am mindful about the presence of disaster scams.  With the unknown that comes with natural disasters, giving following such events can seem imminent as evidenced by the aftermath of the California wildfires.  Unfortunately, less scrupulous efforts may attempt to take advantage of those who want to help.  Following the above tips will help to identify the scams.  For more on this topic, check out our blog.

These steps help me verify that my money is going to the cause that I intend, and not to a scammer.  It’s easy for a motivated scammer to create a realistic looking website to try to legitimize a fake charity.  If you receive a solicitation that seems suspicious, but just aren’t sure, give the Consumer Assistance Program a call.  We’ll help walk you through the steps that we would take before donating.

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin is in her tenth year of service with the Consumer Assistance Program.

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

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin

VT Scam Alert System is Live

Last week our office sent out the first scam alert through the VT Alert System to warn Vermonters about an active utility disconnection phone scam (listen to the alert here).

This exciting program started three weeks ago when the Attorney General’s Office partnered with Vermont Emergency Management to use their existing “VT Alert” emergency notification system. The system lets you get instant alerts by email, text message, or a phone message. We’ll be using this system to alert Vermonters about scams going around the state. You must sign up to get these alerts.  So far, 677 people have signed up through our website and over 3100 signed up through the VT Alert portal!

We don’t want to send out too many alerts, so we’ll only use the system to let you know about scams that are new, have changed, or are happening most often. We also might send you alerts about scams that are happening in your town or county specifically.

Signing up is free and easy. Call us at 802-656-3183 or 1-800-649-2424 (toll-free from a VT phone). You can also visit our website consumer.vermont.gov and click on “Sign Up for Scam Alerts!”  You can choose to get alerts by text message, email, or a prerecorded telephone message from Attorney General Donovan.

We want to help you stay informed and stay ahead of scammers trying to defraud Vermonters.  Once you sign up for the Scam Alert System, we encourage you to spread the word by sharing the alert message with your friends, family, neighbors, and communities.  Together we can get informed, spread the word, and stop the scams.

Example of an email alert:

VT Alert Scam Alert Example

Our office would like to extend a special thank you to our partner at the Vermont Department of Pubic Safety, Emergency Management System–and in particular Director Erica Bornemann, Public Information Officer Mark Bosma, and Administrator Randy Bronson.

VT Alert Logo

 

 

 

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin