About CAP

This blog is generated by many contributing writers that are staff of the Consumer Assistance Program of the Attorney General's Office or the Attorney General's Office.

Buying Eclipse Day Eyewear

As we get ready for Eclipse Day, before you gaze at the sun, take a moment to double-check that you have the proper eyewear. Not all “eclipse glasses” claiming to meet specific safety standards and ISO compliance requirements will be safe for viewing the sun.

Before you look at the sun, look at your eyewear. Not all "eclipse glasses" will be safe. Check the AAS's supplier list: blog.uvm.edu/cap/buying-eclipse-day-eyewear

Counterfeits will be sold, particularly on well-known online sale platforms. For this reason, the American Astronomical Society (linked from NASA) has compiled a list of “suppliers of safe solar filters & viewers.” On their website, they relayed that in 2017, they had advised for people to simply look for compliance markers, like that ISO 12312-2 international safety standard was met, however found “…the marketplace was flooded by counterfeit eclipse glasses that were labeled as ISO-compliant when in fact they had not been properly tested and shown to be safe” (AAS.org).

Before buying online, checkout the supplier information against the AAS’s approved list. If you opted to purchase your glasses from a local vendor or obtained a coveted free pair from a library, school or employer who may have placed an online bulk order, verify the supplier information printed on the product or ask the organization about the company that produced the glasses.

May you have clear skies and safe viewing on Eclipse Day!

Attorney General Clark Marks Consumer Protection Week with Top Ten Consumer Complaints of 2023

Office Saves and Recovers More Than $1.89 million for Vermont Consumers

In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Charity Clark announced the top 10 consumer complaints received by her office’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) in 2023. Claiming the list’s top spots are consumer complaints involving vehicles, home improvement, and retail, which collectively represent 43 percent of all complaints filed in 2023. Attorney General Clark also today released CAP’s 2023 Annual Report in which the program details its record-high recoveries and savings for Vermont consumers, totaling more than $1.89 million.

CAP Annual Recoveries: $195K in 2018, $709K in 2019, $443K in 2020, $242K in 2021, $455K in 2022, $1.9M in 2023.

“Vermonters should know that they have rights as consumers. If you have a complaint to make, the Consumer Assistance Program is here to help,” said Attorney General Clark. “Every day, CAP helps consumers and businesses reach mutually beneficial resolutions without having to go to court. I am both proud of and inspired by their service.”

CAP is a 42-year-old program based at the University of Vermont in partnership with the Attorney General’s Office. The program’s primary goal is to address consumer problems in Vermont, which it does through its mediation service, outreach, and education. Staff, with the help of service-learning students, manage informal inquiries, provide referrals to resources, and engage in mediation of consumer complaints. In 2023, the program responded to 8,200 contacts, including reports of scams, and provided extensive mediation services on 1,251 consumer complaints.

While the top 10 consumer complaints of 2023 remained largely the same as those of 2022, there was a noticeable difference in fuel disputes reported last year. Fuel complaints slid down to the number 10 spot from number four in 2022. In 2023, CAP responded to 71 inquiries from fuel providers and consumers about the application of the “Propane Rule” – a consumer protection rule enforced by the Attorney General’s Office. The reduction in written complaints can be attributed to efficiencies implemented by CAP in 2023, which allowed staff to resolve complaints involving fuel more quickly and in real time thus removing the need for letter mediation. This improvement reduced the number of submitted complaints overall to 58 compared to 2022’s 120. A total of $34,813 was recovered in this area, resolving complaints about propane refund and tank removal delays, and nine consumers were able to have their heating services restored due to CAP’s intervention.

VT's Top 10 Consumer Complaints of 2023 - Motorized Vehicles 254, Home Improvement 173, Retail 120, Health/Medical 101, Home Furnishings 95, Entertainment 81, Banking/Credit/Finance 68, Services 65, Housing and Real Estate 60, Fuel 55.

This year, like last, the top complaints reported to CAP were auto and home improvement complaints. CAP has made great strides in addressing the issue of home improvement by hiring a home improvement specialist in July of 2023. In the first six months on the job, the home improvement specialist recovered or saved Vermont homeowners more than $400,000.

More businesses are utilizing CAP’s mediation service as well. In Vermont, businesses can be considered consumers too under the Consumer Protection Act. Complaints filed by businesses increased from 53 in 2022 to 77 in 2023 with a 45 percent increase occurring between 2022 and 2023.

Vermonters experiencing consumer problems should contact the Consumer Assistance Program for help. The program is a useful resource for resolution and complaints filed help to identify problem trends in consumer areas. The CAP data is reviewed by the Vermont Legislature when considering consumer protection laws, for enforcement by the Attorney General’s Office, and for consumer education and outreach. Reach CAP by calling 1-800-649-2424 or online at ago.vermont.gov/cap.

A chart and table containing the Top 10 Complaints of 2023 is available here.

Learn about the Top 10 Consumer Complaints and CAP’s Annual Report on Across the Fence:

Across the Fence – 03/04/2024 Consumer Protection Week with VT AG Charity Clark

Home Repair Basics: Introducing CAP’s Home Improvement Specialist

By Gabriel Taylor-Marsh

Picture of Gabriel Taylor-Marsh in a red jacket.
Gabriel Taylor-Marsh, Home Improvement Specialist at the VT Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program

It can be difficult to get ahold of the right contractor for your next home improvement project. I am here to let you know that I want to help. I am Gabriel Taylor-Marsh, Home Improvement Specialist in the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program.

I share important information every day to help homeowners and contractors throughout the home improvement process, whether there is a question about steps to take before hiring a contractor, or when inquiries arise from a contractor about their in-state registration requirements. I am also here when problems arise and provide telephonic/letter complaint mediation between homeowner and business parties.

In short, I want you to have a great home repair experience. If you are getting ready to have work done on your home, there are things you can do now to find and then hire a contractor. Follow the below checklist and visit our website to learn more: https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/home-improvements

HOme repair how-to checklist

1.    Use Vermont contractor registries to make an informed decision. Contractors: 
       – Registered as a contractor with the Secretary of State agree to meet Vermont professional standards.
       – On the Home Improvement Fraud Registry have been convicted of home improvement fraud.

2.    Ask for recommendations from your community – friends, neighbors, family, co-workers.

3.    Once you identify a contractor you are considering for your project, do more research.
       – Lookup complaint history online, using the name of the contractor and “scam” or “complaint” in your search.
       – Contact the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) and ask if they have complaints filed against the contractor you are considering, the timeframe and the nature of the complaints. 
       – Review Better Business Bureau complaint history. 

4.    Ask the contractor to show you their active registration and insurance policy.

5.    Get quotes from 2-3 other reputable contractors. Quotes should include the expected payment timeline (ideally with a deposit of no more than 10-30%) and ask for references from prior jobs.

6.    Make sure all project expectations are in writing; request a written contract or estimate and do not sign anything you do not agree with.
DO NOT pay all at once! Request an invoice and offer to pay at completion, by installment, or with a reasonable down payment for labor and materials.

Once hired, keep track of all invoices, bills and communication between you and your contractor. 

Please reach out to me directly with any questions you may have: https://ago.vermont.gov/home-improvement-specialist-bio

Buying a New Car from a Dealership? Read This First

By Henry Leopold, CAP Service-Learning Intern 

Cars are both an important transportation resource and, sometimes, an extension of a personal identity. Consumers may be eager to buy a new car after long periods of saving. Usually buying a handful of cars in their lifetime, consumers are at a disadvantage to dealers, who sell cars every day. There is an emotional component to buying a new car that consumers should be aware about.  

Helpful Hints: Buying a New Car. 1. Do detailed research. 2. Get a thorough test drive. 3. Get representations in writing. 4. E-sign is not required. 5. Stay alert throughout signing.

Online Research: Using the Internet as your tool, research different makes and models that have the features you are looking for. Once you have a car in mind, look up the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), which is the manufacturer’s recommendation on vehicle pricing. You can usually find this information on the manufacturer’s website. Also check pricing through online forums, such as Reddit, where many consumers post about their experiences with different cars. Don’t take everything you read from other consumers as fact. Gather information that will help you make an informed decision.   

Test Drive: Once you have a clear idea of the car you want, it is time to go to the dealership. Make clear to the salesperson what you want to try without expressing your interest in buying. If you share how much you like the car, or are excited, salespeople may seek to capitalize on this knowledge when negotiating. Try to stay calm and neutral to help get the best deal.  

Trust your own research over verbal representations. After selecting a car, you will move on to the paperwork, a process which can feel cumbersome for consumers. People tend to relax after selecting the car they want, which is a huge choice. Stay alert throughout the signing.  

Most people do not buy new cars frequently, but a salesperson sells cars every day. Because of this, they are better at selling than you are at buying. One very common strategy used in car sales is to stretch out the car deal. This can be exhausting for the consumer, making it harder to make thoughtful decisions. 

You may be asked to provide an electronic signature on a tablet or computer. This can be problematic as you may not see or comprehend the document. It is easy to miss key facts when reading on the digital screen. You can ask the salesperson to print out any contract you are expected to sign and read the contract carefully. You have the right to get printed documents before you sign, as well as to choose to sign in writing.  

If financing with the dealer, be careful to avoid “yo-yo deals,” where the dealer reserves the right to cancel the agreement and re-finance at a higher interest rate and payment. Sub-prime auto loans often have high interest rates and prepayment penalties for paying off the loan early. Getting pre-approved by your bank—or even having your bank pay with the auto as collateral with a bank auto loan, is also an option.  

If you have experienced an issue in car buying, contact the Consumer Assistance Program.  

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.   


FDIC – Electronic Signatures 

Federal Trade Commission 

Investopedia – Subprime Auto Loans 

NPR – Yo-yo Sales 

Building Credit

By Sabine Love, CAP Service-Learning Intern
Feature on credit, blog 2 of 2, follows up with additional information on the What is Credit blog.

What are the different types of credit?

  • Revolving Credit holds a given credit limit that you cannot exceed. The balances are paid off, either through portion payments or in full every month, with the remaining balance carried over. The most common forms of revolving credit are credit cards.
  • Installment Credit is where your payments increase and you gradually pay back the creditor overtime, like student or car loans and mortgages.
  • Service Credit is a binding contract you enter where a business provides a service that you pay them for after—most commonly, cell phone plans, utilities, and membership services.
Helpful Hints: How to Build Credit. 1. Secured credit cards allow you to use money you deposit into an account. 2. Credit build loans, offered through credit unions, allow you to pay the credit union back over time. 3. Retail store cards may be an option when obtaining only one and paying off monthly.

How to build your credit

There are many ways to build your credit, such as through the different types of credit previously mentioned. But, what do you do if you cannot obtain revolving credit, or a car loan, because you have not been focusing on building your credit? You can build credit in other ways, even without a cosigner.

            Secured Credit Cards. These forms of credit cards have the same application process as a traditional credit card, but once you are approved, you deposit money into a separate account. With this card, the bank holds the deposit and you have a small monthly range of money to use. It is recommended to use only 30% of this total credit limit, making sure you can pay it in full and don’t “max out” your card.

            Credit Build Loans are the second tip, these are usually offered by credit unions (CU), and you pay the CU back over time through small monthly payments, once you finish the payments, you receive the total amount of funds back.

            Finally, there are Retail Store Cards, these you should be more careful with because they are typically quite easier to obtain than traditional credit cards. These cards usually can only be used at a particular store/chain of stores, and they offer lower credit lines and high interest rates. For those building credit, one card at a favorite store can help build credit, provided it can be paid off every month.

Building credit can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! There are credit education and counseling services available, such as through the Community Action Agencies, and some nonprofits. They are working to empower people to lead financially healthy lives.

And don’t forget, the Consumer Assistance Program is always here to help with any consumer questions you have.

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.  


GreenPath Financial Wellness

Experian – How to Build Credit

Credit Absolute