“Your electricity will be shut off, if you don’t pay.”
Imagine receiving this message in the middle of your work day while relying on electricity to serve your customers. Or, maybe the message comes into your home while every single person is using an electronic device for work or school. The message can be quite alarming, and can cause a person to react on the spot to resolve the perceived problem. Resist the urge to respond—hang up the phone instead.
These calls are from scammers claiming to be your utility provider. They demand payment by gift card, wire transfer, credit/debit cards, peer-to-peer payment, and sometimes even cash. If you don’t pay right away, they threaten that your electricity will be turned off.
If you are contacted by one of these scams:
Hang up! Do not engage with the scammer and do not call them back.
Do not provide any personal information
If you are concerned about disconnection, call your utility provider.
Help us stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about. Get notified about the latest scams: Sign up for VT Scam Alert System alerts.
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.
When you receive one of
these jarring calls, here is what you can do:
Take steps to verify by
S – Slow down. The
scammers urge you to act urgently. Don’t.
L – Log
the call. For your assurance, write down the phone number of the caller
and hang up.
O – One call. Make a verification call to the business, using a number you know and trust.
W – Who
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. Keep the SLOW reminder near your phone. Act now to prevent future loss.
As a result of the COVID-19 emergency, countless Vermonters have dealt with the cancellation of travel plans and other event reservations. Although disappointing, these cancellations are helping keep the public safe and slow the spread of the virus. To assist Vermont consumers and businesses in understanding their rights and responsibilities related to these canceled plans, the Attorney General’s Office offers the following guidance:
Step 1: Look at the contract or agreement
To determine whether a business must refund a consumer’s payment, read any cancellation policies or other similar terms in any contracts or agreements that were in place at the time of payment.
Step 2: Locate cancellation policies
If a properly disclosed cancellation policy states that some or all of a consumer’s payment may be non-refundable, consumers’ options may be limited.
If a cancellation policy is not properly disclosed – for example, because it was given to the consumer only after the contract or agreement was signed – then the cancellation policy may not be valid.
Step 3: If necessary, the Consumer Assistance Program is available to mediate
If a cancellation policy says that a consumer is entitled to a refund in the event of an involuntary cancellation but the business refuses to provide a refund, the consumer may file a complaint with the Consumer Assistance Program by calling 1-800-649-2424 or visiting https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/.
If there are no contract terms or other policies that apply to cancellations under circumstances like these, the Attorney General’s Office urges businesses to work with consumers to find acceptable solutions. While it may be reasonable for a business to keep some portion of its fees to cover costs that were actually incurred before cancellation, businesses should work with consumers to come to a satisfactory resolution for both parties.
Like individual consumers, businesses also may have protections when they are in the role of consumers. For example, a business is a consumer when they are purchasing items that are not for resale, such as supplies or equipment for use by their business. If you own a business and have a consumer-type problem, you can also contact the Consumer Assistance Program to file a complaint.
The Attorney General’s Office recognizes that Vermonters are facing unprecedented hardships at this time, and encourages business owners and consumers to work together to find reasonable resolutions of their disputes. If any consumer feels a business is not living up to the terms of their agreement or is otherwise not playing fair, they should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program to file a complaint by calling 1-800-649-2424 or visiting https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/.
Businesses can be consumers too! Vermont is unique in that our Consumer Protection Act defines “consumer” to include businesses that are the consumer in a transaction, such as when purchasing goods or services that are not for resale (9 V.S.A. § 2451a(a)). If your business needs help, contact our Small Business Advocate by emailing AGO.SmallBusiness@vermont.gov or calling 800-649-2424.
Here are some recent
examples of how the Small Business Advocate has helped Vermont business
Small business paid a listing service for over 5
years of online advertising when it realized that advertiser had published the
wrong phone number for the small business. The listing service offered to
refund the small business $450 to resolve the issue, but this was significantly
less than what the small business had paid for the service. Our Small Business
Advocate reached out to the listing service on the small business’ behalf and
was able to secure a refund of more than $4,000 to recapture the costs paid for the service.
Small business attempted to cancel their lease for credit card processing equipment (the lease was entered before new protections took effect on July 1, 2018), but the leasing company claimed that the small business owner was unable to cancel the lease agreement and needed to pay the remainder of the lease term. Our Small Business Advocate reviewed the lease contract and found that it did not conform to Vermont’s Home Solicitation Sales Act (9 V.S.A. § 2454). The leasing company agreed to cancel the contract, saving the business owner more than $600 over the course of the lease.
Small business signed up for a lead generator
service but was dissatisfied with the quality of the referrals they received.
Small business requested a refund but did not receive a response from the lead
generator. Frustrated by the lack of response, they contacted our Small
Business Advocate who brought the complaint to the lead generator’s attention
and facilitated a refund to the small business of nearly $300.
Does your business
need help? Review our office’s webpage for
small businesses and contact our Small Business Advocate today.
This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.
Birnn Fields, 4th-generation owner of Birnn Chocolates of Vermont and our April Vermonter of the
Month, didn’t always know she would take over the family business. She felt
called to service when her father and uncle considered retirement.
almost ten years later, it’s clear that she and her husband Mel found the right
path: Her love for what she does shines through in her words.
most inspiring, she has prioritized helping her employees grow. Why? She says,
“Our employees are the heartbeat of our company and we would not exist without
Chocolates hire many new Americans. Because English is a second language for
those employees, they started offering English lessons during the work day. It
all started because they “noticed that some of the most veteran employees for
whom English was a second language weren’t being promoted as quickly as native
English speakers.” Now, they work with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program
to continue the lessons indefinitely.
Birnn Fields exemplifies a connection to family, community, diversity and investing
in employees. We’re proud to honor her as our April Vermonter of the Month.
Tell us a little about yourself
(What is your official title? What has been your career path? How did you get
to where you are?):
am President and 4th-generation owner of Birnn Chocolates of
Vermont. My degree is in Elementary
Education, so the family business was not my chosen career path early on. After I graduated from college I taught skiing
at Sugarbush Resort, gave tours and repped events for Magic Hat, worked summers
for Appalachian Landscaping, and managed a seasonal restaurant. Each of those jobs taught me great life
lessons on how to deal with people both internally and externally in a wide
variety of businesses. Four years after
graduation, when I was skiing 100+ days in the winter and caretaking a private
island on Lake Champlain, my dad asked me what my plan was. I was a bit taken aback, as I thought I was
living a pretty darn good life, but from my father’s eyes it didn’t seem like
it was my forever path. My dad and uncle
co-owned the family chocolate business, and they were beginning to think about
retirement. My uncle doesn’t have kids
and I’m an only child so their plan was quite simple: if I wasn’t interested
they were going to sell. I honestly had
never even considered working for my family; it was always my dad and uncle’s
thing. However, the thought of them
selling the multigenerational business didn’t sit right with me, and I wanted
to at least explore the option before it was gone.
In 2010 my partner, Mel, and I made the life-altering decision to try the family business on for size and agreed to work for a year to see if it was a good fit for us. We knew we wanted to work together, whatever we did so this seemed like a logical option. Now, nine years later we are still here. Year one flew by, along with year two. We started in production, learning each job from the best, seasoned employees. I worked in the business in high school, so I did have some basic knowledge, but we still took the time to learn each position. We felt this step vitally important to truly understanding the business as a whole. Our roles evolved organically. We’d see an area that needed improvement and then help implement things to make people’s jobs easier. In doing so we not only gained respect from our coworkers, but also helped the company become more efficient. Year three we began talking about the future. It was clear we were quite happy in the business and were ready to talk seriously about succession. It took a couple of years to come up with a plan that felt really solid for all four parties involved. Mel and I became the 4th-generation owners in 2016 and simultaneously my dad and uncle retired. It was quite a big step but we all felt it was the right move for the company, our employees, and the bright future ahead. We’re now expecting a baby next month, the first of the 5th-generation!
What sets Birnn Chocolates of
Vermont apart from other truffle makers? What’s your mission or motto?
exclusively make chocolate truffles, no other products. We also only sell in bulk to the wholesale
market and do not have a retail store of our own. Our number one focus is our wholesale customers
and therefore our focus is on customer service and ensuring that our customers
are getting what they need in a timely manner.
We ship the same day that orders are placed, which is pretty unique in
our business. We also ship year-round
and cover the cost of extra insulation and ice packs during the warmer
months. We’re family owned and operated
so when you call you always get a person and we’re always willing to listen to
customer requests and make a sincere effort to accommodate them. We are extremely efficient in what we do
which helps tremendously with producing a high-quality product for a very
Our mission: Above and Beyond – Every Day, Every Way, Everyone.
Our motto: We make truffles, for people who sell truffles, to people who love truffles.
What inspired you to offer English
classes to your New American employees?
and I noticed that some of the most veteran employees for whom English was a
second language weren’t being promoted as quickly as native English speakers.
How did you promote the
opportunity to your employees? How did you ensure that these classes were
We originally tried offering English classes before and after work and no one signed up. We were discouraged but understood why. We then met with the Vermont Department of Economic Development and received a grant for English lessons during the work day. The grant paid for half of the expense of hiring a teacher and paying our employees to attend the classes. Once the grant was completed, we wanted to continue offering this benefit to our English Language Learning employees so we made arrangements with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program to continue the lessons. We’ve offered English lessons for two years now and plan to continue them indefinitely.
What impact did offering these
classes have on your business?
With just two hours a week (plus some voluntary homework) we’ve seen a significant increase in confidence and English usage in the workplace. This also creates a more inclusive environment for others that don’t speak another language. Previously there were a few different languages being spoken and it could feel isolating to some when a group of people spoke freely next to them in a language they did not understand. We’ve really tried to get everyone involved with our efforts and have asked our native English speakers to help others with their vocabulary and pronunciation. We’ve worked hard to create a safe and trusting space where people feel comfortable asking for help and guidance with the English language. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Would you recommend this to other
small businesses? What advice do you have for other small businesses looking to
create organizational change or empower their employees?
We feel that empowering our employees is the single most important thing that we can do. Not only does it tell them that we’re invested in their well-being, it’s very rewarding watching them learn and grow in an environment we’ve helped to cultivate. We also hope that this will carry over to interactions with communities outside of the workplace, and to further that aim, we’ve encouraged a curriculum that isn’t solely based on chocolate or manufacturing vocabulary. We would most certainly encourage any and all businesses to develop their own programs. The rewards are priceless. Our employees are the heartbeat of our company and we would not exist without them.
Don’t let your dream day turn into a nightmare! As wedding season
gets closer, we are here to warn you about five wedding-related scams that
target both people planning weddings and businesses providing services:
#1 Fake photographer: Scammers offer what appear to be professional photography services through websites with stolen or stock images. They ask for payment up front and then disappear with your money.
Here’s how to avoid this scam:
Research businesses BEFORE hiring them—ask friends for recommendations and look for online reviews.
Ask the photographer for references and call them.
Ask the photographer to sign a contract before providing a deposit.
NEVER wire money to someone you’ve never met!
#2 Online wedding dress: Scammers create rip-off websites offering steep discounts on designer dresses. You pay for the dress, never receive the order, and can’t get in touch with the sellers. Then the website disappears from the internet.
Here’s how to avoid this scam:
Search online forums for reviews of the seller and the website.
Check the dress designer’s website to see if the seller is listed as an authorized dealer.
Comparison shop. Check prices with multiple sellers. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Scammers target wedding vendors too!
#3 Fake order of goods/services:
Your business is contacted by a “client” who wants you to perform a service or
provide goods for their wedding. (This scam typically targets florists,
musicians, bakers, and event planners.) You receive a check for more than the
agreed upon amount. Your “client” then advises you to deposit the check and send
the difference to another vendor by wire transfer. Later, the check bounces and
you’re out any money that’s been transferred.
Here’s how to avoid this scam:
Do not cash the check.
Never send money to an unknown party and cease all communication with the scammer immediately.
Be cautious of clients sending you more money than you’ve agreed to. This is a sign of a scam!
#4 Justice of
the Peace scam: Your information is published online as a Justice of the
Peace (JP). You are contacted by a “couple” who wants you to perform their
marriage ceremony. The scam involves a fake check well over the amount for
marriage ceremony services and
a request to send the excess to another ceremony vendor.
In one report recently received by the Attorney General’s Office, a JP was
mailed a fake check in the amount of $1800 and
instructed to send the majority to a videographer.
Here’s how to avoid this scam:
Do not cash the check.
Never send money to an unknown party and to cease all
communication with the scammer immediately.
#5 Wedding Expo
scam: A scam website claims a big
wedding expo is coming to town. There is a registration fee for vendors with
promises of a great location and exposure. The “event organizers” require
payment in advance and you later find out that the expo doesn’t exist.
Here’s how to avoid this scam:
Contact the venue the expo is claiming to be held at.
Check the event organizer’s references.
Connect with other vendors to see if they have any information.
Vermonter consumers and businesses who have fallen victim to
any of these scams should contact the Consumer Assistance Program right away at
Now that you know what scams to be aware of, here’s information
about obtaining wedding licenses for people getting married in Vermont. Happy