The Awful COVID-19 Hardship Benefits and Compensation Scam

Today, our office issued a scam alert to warn about a scam that monopolizes on our COVID-19 hardship.  The email claims that the Vermont Department of Labor has recognized the difficulty the pandemic has caused and will pay $3750 starting today.  All that is needed is identity verification. What Vermont family couldn’t use this extra help?  Especially while many Vermonters enter the holiday season. 

According to a recent UVM study, 1 in 3 Vermonters are food insecure (Niles, et al. UVM).  You and I may have guessed that.  The lines at food drives and food shelves have gotten longer, not shorter.  The Everyone Eats program is overloaded with participant families.  Vermonters are hungry, in search of hope, and then in comes this email promising prosperity and money.  It is despicable.   

Just think what you could do with that money.  You could buy a traditional Thanksgiving meal at the grocery store, like you always used to. You could ensure your family is well fed over holiday breaks.  You could give your children a winter season worth remembering.   

Unfortunately, with this scam and all phishing scams, the scam keeps going once the information has been provided to the scammer.  Accounts are opened in your name without your knowledge or consent.  The scammers could even use the information they have gathered to apply for unemployment insurance benefits in your name.          

Screen capture of scam email claiming COVID-19 benefits and compensation will be issued.

The fact that a scam outfit would capitalize on the pandemic is inconceivable.  Let’s teach these scammers a lesson.  The more who know about this scam, the less will respond.  Share this information with your community and others you care about.  When you share, be sure to let others know if they receive one of these notices: 

  • Move scam emails to your junk folder.
  • Block text messages.
  • Do NOT click on any links or attachments.
  • Do NOT respond and do NOT send money.

Call the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 if you have questions, concerns, or need help determining if you have been a victim of a scam.  Learn more about the scam and report it to the Vermont Department of Labor:  https://labor.vermont.gov/news/ui-fraud-alert-active-phishing-attempt  

If you have basic needs that are not being met, such as access to food, warmth, and shelter, connect with your local Community Action Agency and 211.  They can help connect you to resources and assistance in your community.  

My Online Shopping Plan

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been buying a lot more things online than I used to. If you’re like me, you might be having a hard time keeping track of it all.  I buy things I need, but since I’m purchasing things I’d normally buy in brick and mortar retail, sometimes it’s hard to remember what I ordered and when it is supposed to arrive. There were times this summer, too, that I realized I never did receive a couple of items that I ordered.  One item had even been recorded as delivered.  I was lucky to notice so I could rectify the issue with the vendor and recoup my funds. 

With online shopping ramping up and expected to continue to remain steady with the holiday giving season approaching, how can we be savvy online shoppers?  As I prepare for the season, I am going to follow an online shopping plan:

  1. Make a list and check it twice.—I know, but seriously.  I am going to keep a list of what I plan to buy, update when it is purchased and document where from, write down the scheduled arrival date, and write down when it arrives. I may also write where in my house I hid it.  I’ll probably keep this information in a password protected document to prevent prying eyes from seeing!
  2. Before I buy online, I will research the site thoroughly.  There are several ways to do this, some of my favorites include checking consumer complaint sites like bbb.org, yelp.com, and ripoffreport.com.  But, when I can’t find anything there, searching the business name and “complaints” or “scams” in my browser helps to locate reported consumer problems.  I’ll also ask friends about sites they have used and their experience.
  3. I won’t forget about my favorite local stores.  Many stores have moved online because of the pandemic. I’ll call local stores to double-check that they now have online ordering.  If I want items delivered, I’ll check the cost of the delivery before confirming my order.
  4. When purchasing online, I will set up an account with each vendor. I’ll use unique usernames and passwords for each site, and use strict passwords (combinations of letters–upper and lower case, numbers, and symbols, that don’t spell out a dictionary word; and absolutely is not my dog’s name).  I will use the same email address for all my online shopping though, for simplicity.—I’ll always know where to expect an order confirmation or delivery notice.
  5. I will not save my payment information on the site.  This will help protect me in case the online account is breached at a later date. 
  6. I will use a credit card for online shopping, because I know that credit cards have fraud protection and a chargeback dispute process for when items are not delivered.  Recovering funds through newer pay services such as peer to peer payments, like Venmo, Zelle, Apple/Google Pay is not so easy due to having few regulated safeguards.
  7. If a problem occurs with my order, I will reach out to the company through the portal of my online account.
  8. I won’t take the bait of emails, calls, or texts that claim there are unauthorized funds on my account, or problems with my order.  Instead, I’ll go back to the online account portal.

This last step is especially important right now.  With the general increase of online shopping, our office has documented an increase in scam reports of emails, calls, or text messages that claim credit cards have been charged large sums of money by Amazon.com and other vendors. Consumers are invited to call company support to dispute any charges that may be unauthorized.  When consumers call the number provided, they are asked to provide credit card numbers and personal information and take steps to allow remote access to computers. 

Last month, CAP was on Across the Fence talking about this important issue.  Check out the video below.   

My online shopping plan will help me to avoid scams when they crop up. I hope they help you, too. If an issue does arise, the Consumer Assistance Program is a resource to help mediate and resolve consumer transaction disputes.  We provide letter mediation.  When we receive a written complaint from you, we will reach out to the business on your behalf.  You can find our online form here: https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/consumer-complaint/

I hope you have a safe and healthy holiday season.