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.

Is price gouging in your community?

When I went to the pharmacy today, there was a handwritten sign on the entrance, “No more hand sanitizer and face masks.”  Like many of you, my email inbox has been flooded with precautionary warnings of the COVID-19 virus and advice as to what people can do to stay healthy.  With very few reports of the virus in Vermont as of today, the sign at the pharmacy was confirmation to me that Vermonters are worried; so worried that my fellow neighbors bought the entire stock of hand sanitizer and face masks of this pharmacy. 

I wasn’t shopping for hand sanitizer and face masks today, but if I were, I might have ventured down the road to the next pharmacy.  The question on my mind now is, if the next pharmacy had stock, how much would the products cost?  I’ve seen news reports of stores in other states charging $130 for an average bottle of hand sanitizer.  Last I checked locally, before COVID-19 virus news, hand sanitizer cost between $3 and $7 depending on brand and price.  Going from $7 to $130 is about a 1800% increase.  To me, such a price increase is considered price gouging. Generally, price gouging is when sellers unfairly hike prices of essential consumer goods and services during an emergency or disaster.

Many states have very specific regulations about price gouging, identifying price increases of more than 10% over the cost of the item as gouging.  Vermont has a price gouging statute specifically referencing the prohibition of gouging on the price of petroleum products and heating fuel products once a market emergency has been declared by the Governor (9 V.S.A. § 2461d).  As of today, such a declaration has not been made, and the Consumer Assistance Program has heard only one complaint about fuel cost increases due to COVID-19.  In addition to this statute, price gouging in Vermont may be considered unfair and deceptive.  Vermont’s consumer protection statute informs that “unfair methods of competition in commerce and unfair deceptive acts or practices in commerce” are unlawful.  Businesses setting unconscionable prices on essential items during a crisis, such as a price increase of 18 times the typical retail value as in my example above, could be in violation of the Consumer Protection Act, 9 V.S.A. §§ 2451 et seq.   

If you have noticed steep price increases of essential items and related services at specific businesses following the alert of the COVID-19 virus, file a complaint with the Consumer Assistance Program by calling 800-649-2424 or visiting” https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/consumer-complaint/.

Other resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 virus resources
Vermont Department of Health COVID-19 virus updates

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

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

Smarter Than The Scammer

This week, during National Consumer Protection week, our staff members are opening up and sharing stories of when they were scammed. Because no one is invincible to being #scammed. Let’s keep the dialogue moving, share this post and your own scam stories and lessons learned.

Entangling yourself in a scam to see where it goes, or generally thinking you are smarter than the scammer will lead to loss. I know, because I’ve been there. When I was in my early twenties a magazine salesperson arrived at my door. After giving him a glass of water and listening to his dream of winning a contest affiliated with his magazine sales, I reviewed his long list of magazines and I agreed to subscribe. He instructed me to pay with a check or credit card. I knew doing this would give him all my account information and enable him to steal it. Or, I could pay cash. I grinned inside as I realized I had enough cash on hand to complete the transaction, $80. I gave it to him and signed up for four five-year subscriptions. 

When the transaction was complete, he ran out the door waving the pile of cash and barreled into his friend’s car, as if leaving the scene of a bank robbery. I gave him exactly what he wanted—my money without a trace.

Though at the time I was much less savvy than I am now that I work in consumer protection, I, like you, considered myself to be smart and in the know. I was college educated and self-sufficient. Before I was scammed, I had no reason to question the honesty or validity of the seller I engaged with. Thinking back to the incident now, I am awash with shame. I regret my gullibility and naiveté in thinking that a perfect stranger had no ill intent.

Here are my scam lessons learned:

  1. Practice safety first.  Always check to see who is knocking on your door by looking through the peephole or out a window before opening the door. I was disarmed, because I expected a guest. Had I taken this step; I would not have opened the door to a stranger.
  2. If you open the door, it’s fine to be kind to solicitors, but hospitality is not necessary. Keep solicitors outside and in view of neighbors. 
  3. If interested, get all the information and details in writing so you have time to consider and look into the offer.
  4. Never pay on the spot.
  5. Never pay for door-to-door purchases with cash, money order, bank check, personal check, wire transfer, gift cards (outside the merchant’s website), peer-to-peer payment, bitcoin, and any other option that is not a credit card or known transmitter.

Once I was scammed, there are more things I could have done to identify the scammer to authorities and prevent others from being victimized:

  1. I could have documented the license plate, make and model of the vehicle and reported the incident to the police.
  2. I could have gotten copies of materials related to the solicitation, and if he refused, written down the information.
  3. I could have filed a complaint with the Consumer Assistance Program so they could alert the public of such scams.

Magazine and door-to-door scammers are still present today. At CAP, we most often hear about itinerant pavers that claim to be in the area with extra materials and request payment from you to secure a steep discount. Door-to-door meat sellers, chimney sweeps, and alarm installers have also cold called Vermonters and have taken money without fulfilling orders. The best way to avoid door-to-door scams is to wait before buying. Allowing yourself a waiting period gives you time to check into the company and the offer and to talk it over with others. 

The scam artist hopes that the instilled shame that we “should have known better” will prevent us from sharing our story. Why? Because the best scam prevention tactic that we can all partake in is awareness. This week, I shared my stories of being scammed because I know I am not alone, and I don’t want others to experience what I have. The best thing we can do is band together as a strong Vermont community and fight the scammers by sharing our stories.

Have you ever been scammed? Tell us about it. Share this post and your own scam stories and lessons learned. The best form of prevention is awareness.

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin