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

Scam Awareness Tips When Disaster Hits

As a state, we learned about the importance of storm preparedness in the wake of Irene.  We are fortunate not to experience such disaster regularly.  We express heartfelt concern for those devastated by the effects of Tropical Depression Florence.  Though miles away from our homes in Vermont, such storms can still impact us indirectly.  Vermonters may want to donate to charitable storm relief efforts, for example.

Emergency Response

For National Preparedness Month, and in the wake of an unfortunate disaster, we’re reminding folks to include the following scam tips in your disaster preparedness toolbox:

  • Fake Charity Calls. Scammers prey on the vulnerability of people who want to help after a terrible disaster. Such scammers will pretend to be a charity, asking for donations. They may look legitimate, having a website or social media page (Facebook, Go Fund Me, etc.), or have instructions to text donations to a certain number.
  • Fake Clean-up/Repair Crew. After a storm hits, some illegitimate salespeople may knock on doors and offer to provide cleanup or repair services.
    • Tip: Always check out a business before engaging their services.  Ask for references and ask your friends for referrals.  Get contracts in writing.  Never offer upfront payment!
  • Fake Relief. FEMA scams may make rounds, where callers or door-to-door “inspectors” claim they are from the agency, offering help.  They may phish for your personal information or require payment from you to log your information.
    • Tip: Don’t pay anyone claiming to be from a disaster relief agency!  Don’t give out your information to unknown callers.  If you are seeking governmental assistance, go directly to the source.

We hope your friends and loved ones are safe and well.  If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program ago.vermont/gov/cap.