Gift Card Scams on the Rise in Vermont

Vermont Scam Alert by the Vermont Attorney General

The Consumer Assistance Program has recorded a 220% increase in gift card scams with loss reports since December.

Gift card scams take many forms; however, all request a gift card as payment and for the numbers on the back of the card to be provided to the scammer.

Be in the know:

  •    Using gift cards as payment is like sending cash.

  •    Providing the numbers on the back of the card is like giving cash:  Scammers may ask you to take pictures of the  card or relay the numbers of the phone.

  •    Scammers may say you must pay with a gift card because your credit card or another form of payment won’t work.

  •    Scammers may claim that using the gift cards will provide you certain incentives or free money opportunities.

  •    Gift cards are only valid forms of payment when used with the card’s identified retailer.

  •    Retail businesses can’t refund gift card funds that have been spent.
Gift Card Scams video produced by the Federal Trade Commission

Watch out for this and other similar scams that ask you to act quickly by providing gift card information, cash or money order, or by sending a wire transfer or peer-to-peer payment.

If you are asked to pay with a gift card, contact CAP right away at 1-800-649-2424.

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Stay safe online this Valentine’s Day!

Looking for love online? The Consumer Assistance Program is here to help you make sure that your personal information and money are secure!

Romance Scams

How it works: The scammer creates a fake profile on a dating site or app. They may also initiate contact through Instagram, Facebook, Words With Friends, or Google Hangouts. Then, the scammer strikes up a relationship with their victim, gains their trust, and maintains sustained contact.

Spotting the scam: The scammer spins a story and asks you to send them personal information or money. They may ask you to send gift cards, mail cash, or wire them money via Western Union or MoneyGram.

What to do: End all communications with the scammer. Block the individual and/or report them to the website or app company. Do not send money or reveal personal information such as: social security number, bank accounts, credit card numbers, photo of your driver’s license, etc. If you have sent money or given the scammer access to sensitive information, call the Consumer Assistance Program.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

For more information about Romance Scams, see our blog post from February 2018.

Sextortion Emails

How it works: You receive an email from an unknown source. The message claims that they know your passwords and have planted malware on your computer. They claim that the malware has captured evidence of all your computer activity – including sensitive photos or visits to adult websites.  They threaten to share this evidence with all of your email or social media contacts. The scammer demands hush money in the form of gift cards, Bitcoin, or wire transfers.

Spotting the scam: The message might look generic and have numerous typos. They demand that you respond quickly, maybe within 24 hours. The passwords they claim to have appear to be old or may be log-in information you use for a website.

What to do: Do not reply to the message. Do not send money or personal information. Change your passwords to ensure your online security, especially if a website you use has recently experienced a data breach. Do not click on any links or attachments on the email. Make sure that your antivirus software is up to date.

Adult Website Pop-Ups

How it works: You are visiting an adult website when a pop-up message appears. The pop-up might be flashing or include sound. The pop-up may claim to be “Windows Support” or state that “Your computer may have a virus!” It is designed to pressure the user into a sense of panic. The message might prompt you to call someone for technical assistance.

Spotting the scam: Real computer tech support specialists will never ask you to call them in this manner. The pop-up may demand immediate action, payment, or prompt you to download something.

What to do: Turn off your computer and disconnect from the internet. Make sure that your antivirus software is up to date and functioning. If necessary, you may decide to seek out assistance from a trusted tech support professional.

Remember: some scammers are betting that topics of romance and sex can be sensitive or even embarrassing. Please don’t let these feelings keep you from calling CAP to get help! The reality is that we regularly hear from consumers who have been affected by these scams. Pick up the phone and give us a call if you feel you may have been scammed: 1-800-649-2424.

Census 2020: Know the facts!

What is the Census?

According to the United States Census Bureau, the Census counts every resident in the United States. Mandated by the Constitution, the Census takes place every 10 years. The data collected by the Census determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is used to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities (U.S. Census Bureau).

“The Census asks questions of people in homes and group living situations, including how many people live or stay in each home, and the sex, age and race of each person. The goal is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.” U.S. Census Bureau

Why should I complete the Census?

Federal funds, grants and state support are based on population totals collected by the census. The federal money is spent on schools, infrastructure, hospitals, and many other programs. Businesses, developers, and local governments also use census data (U.S. Census Bureau).

Know the facts.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Census Bureau will start mailing out (and, in some areas, hand delivering) invitations to participate in the 2020 Census in mid-March. You should receive your invitation by April 1. You can respond to the Census: online, by phone, or by mail (FTC).

The Census asks: how many people are in the home at the time you complete the form; their sex, age, race, ethnicity; their relationships to one another; phone number; and whether you own or rent the home (FTC).

You can see all the questions asked on the 2020 Census on the Census Bureau’s website.

Look out for scams!

Scammers may pose as census workers to steal your personal information, which can be used to commit identity theft.

If you are visited by a census worker in-person, they must show a photo-ID. If you would like, the census worker may also provide you with their supervisor’s official contact information and the phone number to a regional office (FTC).

The Census will never ask for: your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, passwords, money or donations, or anything on behalf of a political party. Note: the 2020 Census will not ask citizenship status (FTC).

The Census Bureau may call you to follow up, or they might call if a census worker visited your home while you were away. To verify the call, use the Census Bureau website (FTC).

Still have questions about the Census?

Visit the Census Bureau’s Frequently Asked Questions page, or call: (301) 763-INFO (4636) or (800) 923-8282.

As always, you can also call the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program: (800) 649-2424.

Stay connected!

To receive official email updates from the U.S. Census Bureau, visit their website.

Charity Fraud Awareness Week

October 21-25, 2019

Charity fraud is, unfortunately, all too common. But don’t be discouraged. You can still make your charitable giving count by following the tips below to identify the bad actors from the good:

Tip #1: Do your Research

Visit websites like Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau Charity Information for Donors to learn more about a particular charity. If you receive a call asking for donations, ask questions like:

“Who are you and what is the name of this charity?”
“Where is the charity located?”
“How would my donation be used?”
“Are you a paid fundraiser?”

Tip #2: Learn about Paid Fundraisers

Some charities hire paid fundraising companies to help them solicit donations. In Vermont, any charity using a paid fundraiser must register with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, and report how much of the donations received go to the fundraiser. Visit the Attorney General’s website to learn more and access donation information, or call the Consumer Assistance Program: 800-649-2424

Tip #3: Spot the Scam

Scammers use phone calls, mailings, door-to-door solicitations, and emails to trick people into “donating” to their “cause.”  

  • Phone calls: Scammers will pressure you to give money right away. They might ask you to send cash or wire money, and they will not give many details about what the donation is for.
  • Mailings: You might receive a letter in the mail thanking you for a pledge you never made. This is a signal that the mailer is a scam. If you receive a mailer that you’re unsure about, do your homework by searching online, or call the Consumer Assistance Program.
  • Door-to-door: When someone knocks on your door to ask for a donation, the pressure is on. Remember that you are under no obligation to give. Ask for more information and do your research. If you cannot get legitimate information about the charity, odds are it is a scam.
  • Emails: Think before you click! Phishing emails look similar to messages from legitimate sources and use email addresses that seem familiar. Be cautious with suspicious emails and call a charity directly if you have questions. Don’t use a phone number on the suspicious email; look it up separately.

Some common charity scams in Vermont include:

  • Pastor imposter scams: a scammer posing as a local religious leader asks you to donate to a cause using gift cards via email.
  • Fire or police organization imposter scams: a scammer calls asking for donations to a local or national first responder organization. If you get a suspicious solicitation, hang up the phone and call your local firefighter or police station to get more information.
  • Disaster scams: Scammers ask you to donate to a charity that provides relief for people who have experience natural disasters, except the charity doesn’t exist or they are impersonating a real charity. Always do your research before giving money or personal information.

Tip #4: Call the Consumer Assistance Program!

If you feel unsure about a charity solicitation or believe you have donated to a scam, call the Consumer Assistance Program! The Consumer Assistance Program can help identify warning signs, provide paid fundraiser information, and help you recover from scams.

Consumer Assistance Program: ago.vermont.gov/cap or 800-649-2424

Together, We Can Eliminate Elder Abuse

Nationally, of the 60+ age cohort, 1 in 10 adults experience some form of mistreatment each year.”[1] National Center on Elder Abuse

For every case of reported elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, about 23 instances go unreported.”[2] VT Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Aging and Independent Living

Elder abuse occurs in many forms: physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment and financial exploitation.  Elder abuse can occur in any setting and can be by a person or entity.  There could be a preexisting relationship of trust—and in most cases victims know their abuser—or a connection can be new.[1]

Each of us can play an important role in preventing elder abuse.  The first step is recognizing and identifying signs of abuse.  These steps are outlined by the Attorney General’s Elder Protection Initiative and the Department of Aging and Independent Living in this linked release commemorating World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Knowing how to contact the agencies and organizations that can assist is essential to eliminating elder abuse.  To simplify the reporting process, the following is a list of resources.

REPORT CONTACT
Life-threatening
situation
911
Suspected elder
abuse, neglect or
exploitation, including
financial exploitation
Local Police and
Adult Protective Services of the
Dept. of Aging and Independent
Living (800-564-1612), if about a
vulnerable adult
Abuse of a person
living in a nursing
home, assisted living
facility, or board and
care home
Long Term Care Ombudsman of VT
Legal Aid (800-889-2047)
Concerns regarding
licensed health care
facilities
Survey and Certification of the
Dept.of Aging and
Independent Living
(888-700-5330)
Domestic Violence VT Network
Domestic Violence Hotline
(800-228-7395)
Sexual Violence VT Network Sexual Violence Hotline
(800-489-7273)
Misuse of Social
Security
Benefits
Social Security Administration
Office of the Inspector General
(800-772-1213)
Medicaid Fraud and
Abuse
VT Attorney General’s
Medicaid Fraud Unit (802-828-5511)
Unauthorized Real
Estate Transfers
Vermont Legal Aid (802-775-0021)
Broker and Investment Advisor Fraud Dept. of Financial Regulation:
Securities Division (802-828-3420)
Bank Fraud Dept. of Financial Regulation:
Banking Division (888-568-4547)
Insurance Agent,
Adjuster, or
Carrier Fraud
Dept. of Financial Regulation:  
Insurance Division (800-964-1784)
Scams and
Identity Theft and
Consumer Fraud
VT Attorney General’s
Consumer Assistance Program
(800-649-2424)


If you are still not sure who to contact, call United Ways of Vermont 2-1-1 information and referral hotline (dial 211 or 802-652-4636).  They are a great resource, connecting Vermonters to organizations and agencies.  They have committed to enhancing their referral work specifically for calls related to elder abuse and exploitation.

We can all commit to ending elder abuse by serving those in our communities that may be preyed upon.  Here, at the Consumer Assistance Program, to help prevent financial exploitation in scams, we distribute scam alerts and encourage recipients to share the information with friends, neighbors and loved ones.  Anyone can sign up by calling us at 800-649-2424, or by visiting our website ago.vermont.gov/cap/stopping-scams.  The Elder Protection Initiative has even more information on how you can help on the Get Involved page.

More Resources:  
WEAAD: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
Facts: Fact Sheet World Elder Abuse Day  
Videos: Strengthening the Structure of Justice to Prevent Elder Abuse by the NCEA
Elder Abuse-Learn the signs and break the silence

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin


References:
[1] National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)
[2] DAIL and AG Commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day