Shred events help to prevent identity theft

By Crystal Baldwin

This weekend, I am going to a Shred Event hosted by a local bank. My several boxes of shred-necessary paperwork–you know the documents riddled with personal identifying numbers–already seem lighter.

Banks periodically host events where they gather one or more mobile shred trucks, equipped with an industrial shredder and invite the public to offload their shredding. Different from an at-home shredder, which slowly snips small amounts of paper at once with varying outputs, cutting long strips or crosswise. The shredder on a mobile shred truck can handle large quantities of paper. An entire box, for example, can be dumped into the receptacle at once, returning small bits of paper. In the world of paper shredding, industrial shredders are considered quick and supreme. The result of compounding shredders with the anonymity of event participants is a massive indiscernible pile of recyclable paper. 

Shred Events: Protect Your Identity
Shred Events: Protect Your Identity

Why shred events?

Shred events help prevent fraud and financial identity theft by giving people an easy way to dispose of confidential paperwork. We all have it, and we need a safe and secure way to dispose of it. All an identity thief needs to wreak havoc on our financial future is our Social Security number, date of birth, address, and name. Shred events benefit you by helping you protect your personal information. They help banks by way of protecting the information of their clientele and eliminating potential bank fraud and related recovery costs.

Identity thieves are online, so why do we need to shred paper?

News of data breaches and the message to stay safe online and protect your electronic information remains true and important. And still, some of the more involved and impactful crimes of identity theft, such as the creation of new accounts and huge losses, are often committed by people close to us: a relative, supposed friend, or neighbor. Some of these folks may know exactly where you keep your boxes of personal files.

Still others may forage trash the eve of trash pickup. If you carelessly discard confidential documentation, you could be directly supplying a thief with your information.

Destroying documents that you no longer need is the best method to prevent potential theft and misuse of that document. Keeping such documents around your home, or neglectfully discarding them in original form makes you more susceptible to identity theft.

Can shred events destroy my devices that contain my personal information?

No. Shred events are all about shredding paper. Personal devices cannot be discarded or wiped clean of personal data there. Prior to discarding or recycling electronic devices, consumers must take crucial steps to clear personal data off a device through a factory reset or destroy the dive/circuit board altogether.

How can I find a shred event near me?

Banks as well as community organizations host shred events. When you find an event, such as through an online event listing on a third-party site, like Facebook, take steps to verify directly with the hosting entity.

To learn more about identity theft and protection steps, please review the Consumer Assistance Program’s website and blog.

When Computer Tech Support is a Scam 

By Crystal Baldwin

Computer tech support scammers are imposters that immediately gain trust by using well-known company names like Norton, Microsoft, or Apple, or by expressing a desire to help fix a daunting problem. Ranking third among the scams with the highest dollar loss, $695,240, in Vermont in 2021, this scam is historically successful due to its ability to establish a sense of familiarity and legitimacy garnered by the scammer’s suggested affiliation with a company and their technical prowess. 

Scammers claim an account renewal payment has been processed or antivirus protection is needed. May claim to be Norton, Microsoft, or Apple. Contact CAP: 1-800-649-2424 ago.vermont.gov/cap
Computer Tech Support Scam Alert

In the computer tech support scam, you are contacted by phone, pop-up or email on your computer. The message spikes your anxiety and drives your response to be reactive. Tech scammers may claim, “There is a virus on your device,” “Your security subscription has been automatically renewed,” or “You have been charged for a year’s subscription of antivirus.” In the communication, a link or phone number is included, which you are urged to contact immediately to rectify the issue.  

While in reaction mode, you call, hoping to resolve the issue. During the call, the scammer will try to persuade you to give remote access to your device to fix the problem, and sometimes will ask for immediate payment for their services. In scenarios where a refund is requested, they facilitate what appears to be a transfer of funds by walking you through steps to log into your own online bank account. Utilizing their program and ability to freely roam on your computer while they have remote access, they disguise the origin of the funds transfer, which is in actuality a transfer of funds between your own bank accounts.  

Tech support scammers further escalate the call, using high tones of voice, demands of urgency, and call on your empathy to help solve a problem they created. The scammer’s tactics pull the recipient of the scam further into reaction mode. While in reaction mode, responses are based on impulse and with little additional collective data. Once a person has more information, through the process of asking questions and seeking out resources, the ability to think critically and problem-solve the issue comes back online.  

For this scam and consumer transactions generally, you can apply the SLOW method to disrupt the unpredictable reaction response by substituting a planned response instead. At the onset of the first communication, start with SLOW as a strategy to help you take steps to verify. 

Slow down! Log the Contact. Make One Call to a primary contact. Who cares? Reach out to CAP at 1-800-649-2424.
Stop scams with SLOW

S – Slow down – scammers pressure you to react urgently. Don’t! Instead, take a breath and find your calm by doing what is immediately natural to you.   

L – Log the contact – write down the information of the email, or phone call. If they are on the phone, you can tell them you will call them back, even if you don’t intend to. Then, disengage. 

O – One call – make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member and discuss the incident. It works best if you have pre-established who this will be; someone you can trust no matter what. The contact is a sounding board, who will ask questions and help you get curious about the interaction. Some questions might include:  

How do I know the contact is who they say they are? –What proof is there? Where can I verify their contact information that is not part of the communication I received? –Was my credit card charged? What other parties can I contact that might know more about this? How can I be sure this is not a scam? 

W – Who cares? Contact another party or organization in your life who cares. The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) can help you identify scams and report them: 1-800-649-2424 and ago.vermont.gov/cap 

Know what to watch out for in computer tech scams, so you can avoid them: 

  • Be wary of pop-ups and unexpected emails/phone calls.  
  • Watch out for security warnings and account renewals. 
  • Don’t trust contact information, like links, URLs and phone numbers provided in unexpected emails. 
  • Never click on links or provide remote access to your computer from an unknown email or source. 
  • If you received an email or pop-up message, you cannot click out of, don’t engage. Instead, shut down, restart, or unplug your device. 
  • If you get a call from “tech support,” hang up.  
  • Be careful when searching for tech support online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate phone numbers listed on the internet.  

In the age of the internet and free flowing technology scammers hope to capitalize at every turn. You can prevent scams by practicing SLOW in all your consumer transactions now—and commit to being a primary contact for others. Everyone can help stop scams by following a scam prevention plan and sharing scam knowledge with your community.  

SCAM ALERT: BEWARE OF “COURIERS” COLLECTING CASH IN FAMILY EMERGENCY SCAM

BURLINGTON – Attorney General T.J. Donovan is warning Vermonters about a new variation of the family emergency scam in which scammers are demanding that cash be handed over in person to a “courier.” By presenting a fake emergency in which their loved one needs help getting out of trouble, scammers pressure panicked family members, including grandparents, into acting before they can realize it’s a scam. Until recently, scammers took a hands-off approach in collecting money, demanding gift cards, wire transfers, or virtual payments. Now, the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) is receiving reports that scammers are enlisting “couriers” to collect cash directly from unsuspecting family members at their homes to resolve the fake emergency. Vermonters who receive these calls should resist the urge to act immediately and take steps to verify the caller’s identity.  

Scam Warning: In-person courier money retrieval scam. Slow down. Take steps to verify. Never give money to parties you cannot verify.

These scenarios are designed by scammers to be emotional and high pressure. If you are presented with this type of scenario—pause; hang up the phone; and call a friend or family member to verify. Do not give money to someone coming to your home. Instead, call local law enforcement and the Consumer Assistance Program to identify and report the scam.

Attorney General Donovan

While the family emergency scam has long plagued Vermonters, CAP is raising awareness about the spread of “couriers” coming to Vermonters’ homes to collect cash. CAP has received 216 reports of family emergency scams since the beginning of the year. In the last week, CAP has received 4 family emergency scam reports from Vermonters who were told that an individual or a “courier” would retrieve cash from them at their homes—3 of these scams resulted in monetary loss. Common elements of this scam include:

  • Claims of a “gag order” being in place which requires secrecy.
  • Cash is needed to pay for a “bond” or a “bail bond agent.”
  • A loved one was involved in a “car accident,” sometimes related to traveling for a COVID-19 test.

CAP has found that scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their contacts and appear to be using internet searches and public social media profiles to research the locations of family members. By searching telephone numbers and addresses on the internet and scanning popular social media sites, scammers can learn about familial relationships, ages, and geographic locations. Scammers then use this information to make the scam seem credible.

CAP advises Vermonters to slow down and follow a plan to not get scammed. Use the SLOW method in urgent situations:

S – SLOW DOWN. Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Take time to regain your calm.
L – LOG THE CONTACT. Write down the phone number of the contact and disengage.
O – ONE CALL. Make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member, and discuss the incident.
W – WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.
Slow down and follow a plan to not get scammed.

S – SLOW DOWN. Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Take time to regain your calm.

L – LOG THE CONTACT. Write down the phone number of the contact and disengage.

O – ONE CALL. Make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member, and discuss the incident.

W – WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.

If you or someone you know has lost money to this scam, contact law enforcement and report the scam to CAP at 1-800-649-2424. Learn more about family emergency scams by watching CAP’s Avoiding the Family Emergency Scam video and reviewing steps to verify at https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/family-imposter/.

Reference: https://ago.vermont.gov/blog/2022/06/02/scam-alert-beware-of-couriers-collecting-cash-in-family-emergency-scam/

Grandchild Imposter Phone Scam Alert

The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) has received scam reports from Vermonters who have reported receiving calls from scammers claiming to be grandchildren or lawyers representing loved ones in an emergency and that money is needed.

Grandchild Imposter Scam Alert: Hang up the phone! Call a family member or friend to verify. Don't send cash, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or wire transfers. Report scams to cap at ago.vermont.gov/cap/stopping-scams
Grandchild Imposter Scam Alert

When contacted by someone who asks for money, a gift card to be purchased, funds to be wired, or for any other financial transaction, take steps to verify the identity of your loved one in distress.

  1. Slow down. The scammers urge you to act urgently; don’t.
  2. Write down the phone number of the caller and hang up.
  3. Call your grandchild or any other person who can verify their whereabouts and well-being.
  4. Call another person in your life who cares about you. 
  5. Call CAP at 1-800-649-2424.  We care and can help identify scams.
SLOW DOWN: Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Don't! LOG THE CONTACT: Write down the info of the contact and disengage. ONE CALL: Make one call to a primary contact and discuss the incident. WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.
Stop scams with the SLOW Method.

Even if you have not been contacted by this scam, now is a great time to connect with loved ones to create a scam action plan in preparation for the likely receipt of scam calls. Consider creating an uncommon family codeword or pin number 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. Learn more about family emergency scams on CAP’s website: ago.vermont.gov/family-imposter. Act now to prevent future loss.

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

If you have lost money to this scam, contact the money transfer company right away! Report the scam to the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.

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.

Feeding Baby During the Formula Shortage

By Crystal Baldwin

There are only two kinds of food a newborn baby can eat: breastmilk and simulated breastmilk, otherwise known as baby formula. Formula has since the eighteen hundreds been a helpful nutritional supplement—establishing itself as a necessity to grow our infants, helping to overcome milk/food allergies or the obstacles that present in breastfeeding, and providing an alternative for families.  

Baby drinking formula from a bottle
Baby drinking formula.

At six weeks, my baby developed a milk protein allergy. Still too young to eat solids, my family began investing in the protein dense, nutrient rich smoothie that is formula to make sure she was fed.  

Sure, sometimes when I went to the store the preferred brand of her soy-based formula was out of stock. Determined, I sought alternatives to purchasing in-store, so that my baby could have the food she liked. I could buy in bulk from wholesale stores, or direct from the manufacturer online. I opted to have the containers of formula delivered to my doorstep. Upon each delivery arrival, I felt a pang of extreme gratitude in knowing that my baby would eat. I wish I could extend this feeling to every parent navigating the baby formula shortage. 

The Biden administration has highlighted the concern of the baby formula shortage with a plan to alleviate the struggle, which was predominately initiated by a voluntary recall at the largest U.S. formula manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, three months ago.  

The federal government has been: 

  1. Working with other infant formula manufacturers to increase production, expediting the safe import of infant formula from abroad. 
  1. Calling on both online and store retailers to establish purchasing limits to prevent the possibility of hoarding.  
  1. Simplifying product offerings to increase the speed and scale of production, to stabilize the overall volume of formula available on the market. 
  1. The USDA is urging states to allow WIC recipients to use their WIC benefits on a wider variety of products so that if certain sizes or types of formula are out of stock, they can use their benefits on those that are in stock. 

The federal government is now: 

  1. Invoking the Defense Protection Act, diverting needed ingredients to infant formula manufacturers before sending the supplies to other consumer goods. 
  1. Launching Operation Fly Formula, utilizing Department of Defense commercial aircraft to transport overseas U.S. approved infant formula to deliver it to the store shelves faster
  1. The FDA is working with the largest U.S. formula producer to reopen Abbott’s Sturgis, Michigan facility.  

“On a personal note: I have firsthand experience with the formula shortage. Luckily, we’ve always been able to find alternative sources, but it’s been difficult (and scary at times).”

A Vermont Infant Parent

Vermont parents are resilient and savvy–they have been finding solutions to this problem for months. The parents that have been navigating this well know best, but perhaps I can help simplify some of the information that has been circulating. The following, in addition to the VT Department of Health’s help page released last week, might provide some level of clarity. 

Caregiver Formula Shortage Do’s and Don’ts 

Do 

  • Buy formula online direct from a verified retailer or manufacturer
    • The New York Times is regularly updating a list of online available baby formula stock, organized by formula type. 
    • Other ways to verify online formula sellers: Check BBB.org complaints and reviews, check the business registrations in the state of incorporation, perform an internet search of the company name and “scam” or “complaints” to find if others have reported problems. Double-check the website address before completing the order. Scammers will create mock websites, looking very similar to known sites.  
    • Abbott Nutrition has a hotline number for families that need specialty formula. For information and orders, call 1-800-881-0876
  • Talk to your pediatrician and lactation consultant (or similar Women, Infants and Children support services (WIC)) about healthy alternatives, such as breastfeeding, temporary use of an alternative formula, and introducing solids—where appropriate. 
    • Your pediatrician is your connection to infant safety. Stay connected regarding infant wellbeing. Lactation consultants are covered under most health insurance providers. They are nurses that provide dietary advice, supplement recommendations, and direct teaching and support for nursing mothers.  
  • Call Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and your pediatrician if you cannot adequately feed your baby.  

If this shortage has caused undue hardship and you cannot feed your baby, especially due to the lack of supply, please reach out for help. 

Do: Buy formula online direct from a verified retailer or manufacturer. Do: Use online parenting social groups, such as on Facebook, to get and share the latest supply updates. Do: Talk to your pediatrician and lactation consultant about healthy alternatives; such as breastmilk and introducing solids. Do: Call WIC and your pediatrician if you cannot adequately feed your baby. Don't: Buy from unverified sellers, including unknown websites, sellers in marketplace social groups, and international sellers that are not FDA approved. Don't: Pay more than the fair market price - report price gouging. Don't: Buy more than you need. Don't hoard. Don't: Use unsafe alternatives: like milk or homemade formula. Don't: dilute formula.
Baby Formula Shortage Caregiver Do’s and Don’ts

Don’t 

  • Don’t buy from unverified sellers, including unknown websites, sellers in online marketplace social groups, and international sellers that are not FDA approved. 
    • Scammers lurk at every disadvantage. Not engaging in disreputable activities and keeping scammers away will help everyone in the long run. 
  • Don’t pay more than the fair market pricereport price gouging to the Attorney General’s Office.  
    • When you pay more than the fair market price for a product, the price spikes, making products unaffordable for moderate and low-income Vermonters. Price gouging in a market emergency has repeatedly been proven as unfair and deceptive. If you notice steep increases in the price of formula in Vermont, report the store name and location, and as much identifying information about the product as you can provide, including the formula type, size, dollar amount, and the typical price, as well as a picture, if able to the Consumer Assistance Program of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office (CAP).  
  • Don’t buy more than you need. Please don’t hoard. 
    • This may prove difficult, particularly when feeding your baby is at stake. But the economics here are undeniable, if you buy more than you need now while there is a shortage, someone else will go without. It will be difficult, but please stick to the purchasing restrictions outlined by the retailers, as required by the federal government. Calendar your plan to make another formula purchase again before your supply is gone so that you don’t run out. 
  • Don’t use unsafe alternatives: like homemade baby formula, juice, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, plant-based milk, or watered down/diluted baby formula with water.  
    • Baby formula is made to simulate breastmilk with a specialized combination of vitamins and nutrients and its production is FDA monitored. While cow’s milk and other dairy alternatives are yummy for older children and adults, infant bodies can’t adequately digest food alternatives, including excess water, which provokes harm.   
Ally Do's and Don'ts. Do This: Check the stock while in a store and don't buy it. Use online social groups to keep others informed and updated on your findings. Offer to help friends by keeping them informed and buy only if you call them first and confirm they need the formula. Sign up to be a breastmilk donor at VT Donor Milk Center, or ask friends if they would like your excess supply. Don't - Not That: Don't buy formula that you do not need with the intention to donate. In doing so, you reduce available stock for caregivers. Don't offer unsolicited or unsafe advice, such as unrealistic goals for breastfeeding, or suggesting alternatives like milk. Don't show up with negativity. Caregivers and their children need positive support and valuable connection during this stressful time.
Ally Formula Shortage Do’s and Dont’s

This is indeed a stressful time. Those of us on the sidelines are eager to support caregivers and help where we can. While our first inclination may be to buy formula and donate it, this action creates a greater supply problem as it leaves less formula on the shelves for caregivers to purchase when they need it. Instead, if you notice available formula stock, call up an infant caregiver directly and ask them if they would like you to pick it up for them. Another thing you can do for your community is to crowdsource formula supply by taking note of the formula available in your local stores and sharing it with caregiver support groups online. When you notice scams or price gouging in an emergency, report it to CAP at 1-800-649-2424.  

References and Trusted Resources: 

VT Department of Health: Infant Formula Shortage – Find Help page 

White House – Biden Administration StatementsMay 22, 2022 Fact Sheet 1, May 22, 2022 Fact Sheet 2, May 18, 2022 Fact Sheet, May 12, 2022 Fact Sheet  

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)