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 that 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.   

Grandchild Imposter “Grandparent” Scam in Vermont

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin

“Grandma, it’s me, I am in prison…”
“Grandpa, I’m in the hospital. I need help…”
“Nanna and Poppa, I had a bad car accident, and people are injured…”

No matter what the scammers say when they initiate the “Grandparent Scam,” the introduction is sure to spike emotion.  That is what they hope.  They call claiming to be one of your most cherished loved ones—your grandchild—and ignite fear that those you care about are in dire need.  With emotions running high and deep, how can you not engage with the call, stay on the line, and find out more? You are worried and feel helpless because all you have to validate this story is the phone in your hand and the fear of what if.  What if you do nothing and your grandchild really was in trouble?

It is so hard.  But what if the very phone where you received the call is also what will reveal the mystery?  What if all you needed was your phone and a reminder to slow down? Would receiving this daunting call be any easier?

Today, our office issued an alert about the grandchild imposter scam, commonly referenced as the grandparent scam, because it targets grandparents and their unwavering generosity and care for their loved ones.  This scam is successful because the scammers know our grandparents care, and they know the psychology behind how difficult it is to think through problems when emotions are high.  

Infographic produced by the Consumer Assistance Program. Share it with those you care about.

When you receive one of these jarring calls, here is what you can do:

Take steps to verify by remembering SLOW: 

SSlow down.  The scammers urge you to act urgently. Don’t.

LLog the call.  For your assurance, write down the phone number of the caller and hang up.

OOne call. Make a call to your grandchild or another who can verify your grandchild’s whereabouts and well-being.

WWho cares? Call another person in your life who cares about you. Know that you can call CAP at 1-800-649-2424.  We care and can help identify scams.

Before this scam happens to you, you can take steps now to create a scam action plan with your family.  Keep the SLOW reminder near your phone. With family, consider creating an uncommon family code word or PIN that you agree to not publicize or share with others.  Make a phone tree of reliable contacts to call if a scam like this is received.  Act now to prevent future loss.

Help us stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about.       

If you have lost money to this scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program right away at 800-649-2424.

For more information on the Attorney General’s efforts to support and protect older Vermonters, visit the webpage of the Attorney General’s Elder Protection Initiative.

Help Stop Elder Abuse: Report It

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin

I can’t tell you how sad the topic of elder abuse and neglect makes me.  Since I was a young girl, I loved the elders in my life and maintained such deep respect for them and their life experience.  Unfortunately, “each year, an estimated 5 million older adults are abused, neglected, or exploited” (ACL.gov).  

Abuse is not just physical, it can be emotional and psychological, or include financial exploitation.  Neglect is of grave concern, too, because in cases of neglect elders are not getting the care they need and deserve.  Abusers can knowingly or unknowingly engage in such acts and may even demonstrate that they have good intentions.  Abuse and neglect, no matter how it is posed, is unacceptable.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation recommendations continue for those most susceptible to experience severe illness caused by the disease, including those 65 years of age and older and those with severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes (CDC).  Before the pandemic, social isolation was already a concern and an issue reported to our office’s Elder Protection Initiative.  Now, while those most susceptible to the illness remain in isolation, abuse and neglect can continue to occur for a longer period before it is seen by a bystander and reported.  Each of us must commit to protecting older adults.  

Know the signs of elder abuse.  The National Center on Elder Abuse has outlined the signs as follows:

Emotional and Behavioral:  unusual changes in behavior, or sleep, fear or anxiety, isolated or not responsive, sadness

Physical:  broken bones, bruises, and welts, cuts, sores, or burns, missing daily living aids, such as walker and hearing aids, torn or bloody underclothing, STDs without clear explanation, poor living conditions

Financial:  unusual changes in bank account or money arrangement, unusual or quick changes in will or other financial documents, fake signatures on financial documents, unpaid bills

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  On this day, let’s commit to reporting elder abuse and neglect and financial exploitation when we see it.  As good neighbors and compassionate people, we must report whenever we see signs of abuse and neglect.  We may be the only one who sees it and the only one who can report it.  


As a reporter, you are not alone, there are many agencies and organizations that are 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.  

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

Extortion Email Scams

On April 27, 2020, our office issued a scam alert to warn about an email extortion scam that has been contacting Vermonters.

The email threatens exposure of compromising home video and pictures, unless you pay, usually in Bitcoin. The email claims you have been hacked and may reference a current or former password you may have used. The sender claims that they have access to your computer and webcam and threatens to release embarrassing photos and video unless you send them money.

These emails are scams. If you receive one of these e-mails, DO NOT send money. Do not click on any links or attachments. If you find that your current password is listed in the email, change your passwords from another computer and run virus scans. To learn even more about this scam, scroll to the “Sextortion Scam” section of our online relationship scams blog.

You can help stop these scams from hurting your community by sharing this information with people you know.

Call us at 800-649-2424 if you have questions, concerns, or need help determining if you have been a victim of a scam.

Report these scams to the FBI’s Internet Crime Center at ic3.gov

For more information about how to protect yourself from email phishing scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.