Friendly Advice

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.

While the internet is an incredible tool, it’s also a scammers’ playground.  I encountered a Craigslist scam while searching for a new apartment, and the experience has stuck with me. I hope that others can learn from my encounter with a scammer.

Two years ago, I found myself scouring the internet almost daily as I searched for apartment leads in the Burlington area. One day, I came upon an amazing find on Craigslist, and I knew I had to act fast. It was a beautiful two-bedroom apartment near the lake with a brand-new kitchen and a backyard. It looked amazing and the price was irresistible!

Using the Craigslist “email” option, I contacted the person who had put up the post. I provided them with my phone number and expressed that I was very interested. Shortly thereafter, I received a text message:

Thanks for your interest in the apartment. I am in Florida on business so I can’t show you the place right now, but if you to send me the deposit in the mail the place is yours. Get back to me as soon as possible.

Something didn’t seem right. Feeling uncomfortable and confused, I showed the text message to my friends. “That’s a scam!” they said. My friends encouraged me to look on Zillow.com to see if photos from the Craigslist ad had been stolen from someone else’s listing—and they had! The person who posted on Craigslist had copied all the photos from a legitimate Zillow.com listing and was attempting to get money from desperate apartment-seekers.

At this point in the story, I felt embarrassed and angry. Why would someone do this? How could I have fallen for it? And how are they getting away with something so wrong?

This time, I was lucky. I didn’t send the deposit and I flagged the ad for Craigslist. My friends were there for me and provided much needed advice. Sometimes a second-opinion is all you need to spot a scam.

Here are my scam lessons learned:

  1. Be careful when searching online listings – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
  2. Always see an apartment in-person before committing to a lease.
  3. Do not provide a deposit until you have signed a lease.
  4. Get a second opinion: if you come across something that doesn’t feel right, ask a trusted friend or family member for advice.
  5. Never pay for online purchases using 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.

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: Madison Braz

Stay safe online this Valentine’s Day!

Looking for love online? The Consumer Assistance Program is here to help you make sure that your personal information and money are secure!

Romance Scams

How it works: The scammer creates a fake profile on a dating site or app. They may also initiate contact through Instagram, Facebook, Words With Friends, or Google Hangouts. Then, the scammer strikes up a relationship with their victim, gains their trust, and maintains sustained contact.

Spotting the scam: The scammer spins a story and asks you to send them personal information or money. They may ask you to send gift cards, mail cash, or wire them money via Western Union or MoneyGram.

What to do: End all communications with the scammer. Block the individual and/or report them to the website or app company. Do not send money or reveal personal information such as: social security number, bank accounts, credit card numbers, photo of your driver’s license, etc. If you have sent money or given the scammer access to sensitive information, call the Consumer Assistance Program.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

For more information about Romance Scams, see our blog post from February 2018.

Sextortion Emails

How it works: You receive an email from an unknown source. The message claims that they know your passwords and have planted malware on your computer. They claim that the malware has captured evidence of all your computer activity – including sensitive photos or visits to adult websites.  They threaten to share this evidence with all of your email or social media contacts. The scammer demands hush money in the form of gift cards, Bitcoin, or wire transfers.

Spotting the scam: The message might look generic and have numerous typos. They demand that you respond quickly, maybe within 24 hours. The passwords they claim to have appear to be old or may be log-in information you use for a website.

What to do: Do not reply to the message. Do not send money or personal information. Change your passwords to ensure your online security, especially if a website you use has recently experienced a data breach. Do not click on any links or attachments on the email. Make sure that your antivirus software is up to date.

Adult Website Pop-Ups

How it works: You are visiting an adult website when a pop-up message appears. The pop-up might be flashing or include sound. The pop-up may claim to be “Windows Support” or state that “Your computer may have a virus!” It is designed to pressure the user into a sense of panic. The message might prompt you to call someone for technical assistance.

Spotting the scam: Real computer tech support specialists will never ask you to call them in this manner. The pop-up may demand immediate action, payment, or prompt you to download something.

What to do: Turn off your computer and disconnect from the internet. Make sure that your antivirus software is up to date and functioning. If necessary, you may decide to seek out assistance from a trusted tech support professional.

Remember: some scammers are betting that topics of romance and sex can be sensitive or even embarrassing. Please don’t let these feelings keep you from calling CAP to get help! The reality is that we regularly hear from consumers who have been affected by these scams. Pick up the phone and give us a call if you feel you may have been scammed: 1-800-649-2424.

Long-Term Care Facilities: A Consumer Guide

Which long-term care facility is right for you or your loved one? It can be difficult to navigate this decision, but the Vermont Attorney General’s Office hopes to provide some help.

Together with the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL), we’ve released a new consumer guide called “Comparing Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Residences, and Residential Care Homes in Vermont.” The guide lays out the primary differences between nursing homes, assisted living residences, and residential care homes in Vermont, including:

  • how facility-types are defined and who is eligible to be a resident;
  • restrictions on the level of care the facility can provide;
  • facility staffing requirements;
  • allowable discharge practices; and,
  • when the State may grant a facility a “variance”—or waiver—from governing rules.

Key Differences Between Long-Term Care Facilities

As explained in depth in the guide, there are three types of long-term care facilities in Vermont:

  • Nursing Homes provide skilled nursing, rehabilitation services, and 24-hour health services.
  • Assisted Living Residences combine home, health, and supportive services while promoting self-direction and resident independence.
  • Residential Care Homes provide room, board, personal care, medication management, and some nursing “overview,” but are restricted in the level of care they can provide and generally do not provide full-time nursing care.

There are restrictions on who may become (and remain as) a resident at assisted living residences and residential care homes, but not nursing homes.

Need to report a concern?

This guide also provides contact information for reporting concerns about long-term care facilities.

Adult Protective Services
1-800-564-1612
To report abuse, neglect or exploitation of a resident in a long-term care facility. Also contact the police & the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud & Residential Abuse Unit.
Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud & Residential Abuse Unit
1-802-828-5511
To report (1) abuse, neglect or exploitation of a resident in a long-term care facility or (2) Medicaid fraud.
VT Long-Term Care Ombudsman
1-800-889-2047
For assistance resolving complaints made by, or for, individuals receiving long-term care services.
Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program
1-800-649-2424
To report misleading business practices by the facility.
DAIL Division of Licensing & Protection
1-888-700-5330
To report long-term care rule violations, including residents harmed by facility practices.

Need a copy of the complete guide?

To request a copy of the complete printed guide by mail, call the Consumer Assistance Program at: 1-800-649-2424.

Census 2020: Know the facts!

What is the Census?

According to the United States Census Bureau, the Census counts every resident in the United States. Mandated by the Constitution, the Census takes place every 10 years. The data collected by the Census determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is used to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities (U.S. Census Bureau).

“The Census asks questions of people in homes and group living situations, including how many people live or stay in each home, and the sex, age and race of each person. The goal is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.” U.S. Census Bureau

Why should I complete the Census?

Federal funds, grants and state support are based on population totals collected by the census. The federal money is spent on schools, infrastructure, hospitals, and many other programs. Businesses, developers, and local governments also use census data (U.S. Census Bureau).

Know the facts.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Census Bureau will start mailing out (and, in some areas, hand delivering) invitations to participate in the 2020 Census in mid-March. You should receive your invitation by April 1. You can respond to the Census: online, by phone, or by mail (FTC).

The Census asks: how many people are in the home at the time you complete the form; their sex, age, race, ethnicity; their relationships to one another; phone number; and whether you own or rent the home (FTC).

You can see all the questions asked on the 2020 Census on the Census Bureau’s website.

Look out for scams!

Scammers may pose as census workers to steal your personal information, which can be used to commit identity theft.

If you are visited by a census worker in-person, they must show a photo-ID. If you would like, the census worker may also provide you with their supervisor’s official contact information and the phone number to a regional office (FTC).

The Census will never ask for: your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, passwords, money or donations, or anything on behalf of a political party. Note: the 2020 Census will not ask citizenship status (FTC).

The Census Bureau may call you to follow up, or they might call if a census worker visited your home while you were away. To verify the call, use the Census Bureau website (FTC).

Still have questions about the Census?

Visit the Census Bureau’s Frequently Asked Questions page, or call: (301) 763-INFO (4636) or (800) 923-8282.

As always, you can also call the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program: (800) 649-2424.

Stay connected!

To receive official email updates from the U.S. Census Bureau, visit their website.

Credit 101

Credit can be a confusing concept. CAP wants to make it simple for you! This post is a guide to credit, credit bureaus, credit reports and more.

What is credit?

Your “credit” refers to your ability to borrow money and how much you can borrow. Your “credit score” is determined by your credit history, and suggests how likely you are to repay your loans.

What is a credit bureau?

As noted in our September 2017 blog post, credit bureaus receive regular reports about your credit history from banks, financial institutions, landlords, utilities, and even employers. The credit bureaus then put all of this information about your use of credit together into a single file — your “credit report.”

What is a credit report?

A credit report provides you with a detailed overview of your credit history prepared by the credit bureau. A credit report includes sensitive information, such as your Social Security number and history of employment. It will also indicate whether or not your accounts are in good standing and when they were opened.

How can I get my free credit report?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months.

To access your free credit report, you can…

  1. Visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
  2. Complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
  3. Contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies individually:

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 equifax.com

Experian: 1-888-397-3742 experian.com

TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800 transunion.com

Did you notice something suspicious on your credit report?

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting company and the information provider are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report.

To dispute an error on your credit report, follow these steps provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

What is a credit freeze?

This free tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score, it just protects your credit. Under a freeze, you can still access your free annual credit report, and it does not affect your ability to apply for a job, rent an apartment, or buy insurance. However, if you are opening a new account, you will need to lift the freeze temporarily. Lifting the freeze is free.

Want to learn more about credit freezes? Check out this helpful FAQ page produced by the Federal Trade Commission.

What is a credit fraud alert?

A credit fraud alert is a free tool that makes it more difficult for identity theft and/or fraud to occur. According to the FTC, when you have a fraud alert in place, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit. Once you place the alert, it will be active for one year.

To place a credit fraud alert, contact one credit bureau and ask to place the alert. That credit bureau will then contact the other two bureaus.

Are you suspicious that identity theft has occurred?

If you see items on your credit report that might signal fraud, you can file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Reporting identity theft to your local police is another important step in this process.

Signs of fraud on a credit report may include unfamiliar accounts and charges. The FTC provides a helpful list of other identity theft warning signs, including:

  • Inexplicable withdrawals from your bank account
  • Merchants refuse your checks
  • The IRS warns you that more than one tax return was filed in your name
  • You receive an official notice concerning a data breach that may have affected you

Questions about checking your credit and/or identity theft? Call the Consumer Assistance Program! (800) 649-2424