Vermont Flood Recovery: Beware of Scams and Price Gouging

Due to the extreme rainfall and flooding across the state, the White House issued a state of emergency for Vermont, which authorizes FEMA to support impacted Vermont counties in recovery efforts. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of people’s heightened emotional state following disasters, and the Vermont Consumer Assistance Program wants you to be aware of targeted disaster relief scams to avoid while our communities recover from the flooding.

As we recover: Avoid Scams - Phony Charities, Government (FEMA) Relief, Dubious Contractors

Government imposter relief scams may claim to be FEMA or the State of Vermont. FEMA scams manifest as fraudulent inspectors that request fees for service, or administrative personnel that call to “verify” your information but are phishing for your personal information. Such relief help scams may even claim they can speed up your FEMA relief application for a fee.

Avoid this scam:  Connect with FEMA directly online: and continue to follow updates from the Vermont’s congressional delegation, the Governor and Vermont Emergency Management.

Phony charities that solicit funds claiming to support recovery efforts. The Vermont way is to help our neighbors. We all want to help, whether it is through volunteering or donating money. Sadly, scammers use the same contact methods as legitimate charities (phone, online, mail).

Avoid this scam:  Please only give to valid charities that you have thoroughly researched and vetted. Use tools like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator to research charities before you donate.

Dubious contractors may appear with promises to restore damages immediately in exchange for immediate payment. Such contractors urge you to act fast, may offer lower prices, and do not have credentials—though they might say they are “registered and insured,” these are unverified statements.

Avoid this scam: Vermonters must be extra critical about hiring home improvement contractors. Never pay in full upfront for a home improvement project. Make sure you have a contract. Check residential contractor registration status with the VT Office of Professional Regulation in the Secretary of State.

Please watch out for these scams and report businesses that set unconscionable price hikes on essential items, like bottled water. If you experience this practice, please report instances of price gouging to the Consumer Assistance Program by phone at 800-649-2424 or online at

More: The Vermont Attorney General’s Office flood resources page: and the Federal Trade Commission on spotting and avoiding post-disaster scams:

Considerations in Online Car Buying

By Akuch Dau, CAP Service-Learning Intern

Given this day in age where all things can be done online, what about purchasing your vehicle online? I know, right? I have condensed a few things to keep in mind if you find yourself shopping for a car online.

Helpful Hints: Online Car Buying. 1. Consider your options, 2. Brows features of interest, 3. Closely read the terms, 4. Assess the refund policy, 5. Arrange a test drive and get a mechanical inspection

Let’s first discuss why one might choose to purchase online rather than the traditional in-person dealer route. Purchasing a vehicle online gives you a vast variety to choose from especially if there’s a specific car, make, and model you are interested in. Additionally, you can filter and browse cars with innovative features that suit your desires. In traditional car purchases, you often find yourself going from dealer to dealer to view their inventory, compare prices, and test drive different cars. Comparing options online can save you a significant amount of time. Using your smartphone alone, you can begin your search from anywhere and at any given time.

Here are a couple things to watch out for when buying a car online. Unlike buying a car at a dealer where you can stop by and test drive the car, purchasing online is a different experience. It’s advised to closely read the terms and conditions when deciding to close on a vehicle. Assess the return policy. This will typically state the period of time you have to test out the car and whether there is a restocking fee, if you decide not to keep the car. For example, some online retailers offer a 7-day/250 mile return policy. This week can serve as a useful time for consumers to check out the car by getting it inspected by a reputable mechanic, taking it on thorough test drives to make sure it is a good fit. If it is not, there are terms that outline how a consumer can return or trade in the vehicle.

Getting Started: Before even beginning you search, figure out your budget and how you will be purchasing the car (whether that’s paying cash of financing). Thoroughly do your research, just as you can do in-person, you can also shop around online. It is important to research as much as possible until you find your perfect match. Also, be wary that your credit may pulled during the process of finding financing, these will likely show up as hard inquiries on your credit report.

Nonetheless, buying a car online may not be the best fit for everyone. If you prefer a more hands-on approach and have time to engage an in-person search, the traditional route might be your preference. If you value buying experiences with more options and comparison shopping, online shopping may be something to consider.

Get more helpful hints on used car buying from the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP):

Used Car Buying Guide:

An Etched Lesson in Car Buying:

This piece is one in a series of Helpful Hints brought to you by the Consumer Assistance Program’s (CAP) service-learning interns. UVM undergraduate students make significant contributions to our program and Vermont through their participation in our service-learning lab, where they learn about consumer protection while honing their professional skills.  

Please note, the information herein is provided for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. Consumers with general consumer questions should contact CAP for more information, or seek private counsel from an attorney for legal advice.  

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