Closing out National Consumer Protection week, a week dedicated to understanding consumer rights and avoiding scams, it is fitting to highlight the Stopping Scams Together initiative announced this week by the Vermont Attorney General. The effort encourages our community of Vermonters to identify scams and share success stories of stopping scams together. Many Vermont partners and individuals are already doing the work to understand scams so that they can help in the prevention effort.
You can help stop scams by learning about scams and sharing information with your community. To start learning about scams today, visit our blog, sign up for scam alerts, connect on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube), watch and share our imposter scam prevention videos, and practice the SLOW method in all consumer transactions. Visit the Scam Prevention Through Awareness and Education page for detailed scam prevention strategies.
Are you, or do you know someone who has a stopping scams story? Share your story and your good news of stopping a scam today. Learn more on the Stop Scams VT webpage. There you can access a stopping scams graphic that you can use when sharing your stopping scams stories. Or, we will she your story for you, if you fill out our intake form.
To keep Vermont safe from scams, we must continue to work together.
BURLINGTON – In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced the top 10 consumer complaints received by the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) in 2021. CAP, a partnership between the Attorney General’s Office and the University of Vermont, offers a free mediation service for Vermont consumers, including small businesses. In 2021, CAP received 1,173 complaints and recovered more than $240,000 for Vermont consumers. Claiming the list’s top spots are complaints involving vehicles, retail, and home improvement, respectively – representing approximately 44 percent of all complaints filed.
The following are the top 10 consumer complaints received by CAP in 2021:
Consumer Complaint Issue
Number of Complaints
Motorized Vehicles Common issues included defective merchandise; failure of state inspection; misrepresentation; and unsatisfactory service/repair.
Retail Common issues included failure to deliver; refund policy/refund disputes; defective merchandise; and unsatisfactory service.
Home Improvements Common issues included unsatisfactory service/repair; criminal home improvement fraud concerns; failure to perform; improper installation; and deposit refund dispute.
Health/Medical Common issues included unauthorized billing; excessive estimate/charge; and defective merchandise.
Fuel Common issues included pricing complaints; refund delays; propane tank removal delays; billing disputes; contract disputes; and safety concerns.
Housing and Real Estate Common issues included landlord-tenant issues; security deposit disputes; and warranty of habitability disputes.
Banking, Credit and Finance Common issues included debt collection; credit reporting disputes; and financing/loan issues.
Home Furnishings Common issue included defective merchandise, often involving new appliances.
Athletics Common issues included refund policy disputes for seasonal passes, and failure to deliver services.
Delivery, Moving and Storage Common issue included delayed deliveries.
CAP’s Top 10 Consumer Complaints of 2021
Though not represented in the list of consumer complaints, scams continue to be of concern to Vermonters. Earlier this year, Attorney General Donovan released the top 10 scams reported to CAP. In 2021, CAP received 5,154 scam reports, up slightly from the previous year. New twists on old scams involving computer tech support and fraudulent online listings represented nearly a quarter of all reports filed by Vermonters. More information on stopping scams is available at ago.vermont.gov/cap/stopping-scams/.
CAP offers a free mediation service to all Vermont consumers, including small businesses. If you are a consumer in need of assistance, please contact CAP by calling 1-800-649-2424 or visiting ago.vermont.gov/cap.
A National Consumer Protection Week feature and second in a Two-Part Series on COVID-19 Test Kits. “National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a time to help people understand their consumer rights and avoid frauds and scams” (FTC).
Earlier this week, it was announced that Americans can order more free at-home COVID-19 tests from the U.S. government at COVIDtests.gov. This second round of tests are available for free through COVIDtests.gov. There are no shipping costs, and you don’t have to give a credit card or bank account number. You only need to give a name and address. Once you place an order, you’ll get an order confirmation number. If you give your email address, you’ll also get an order confirmation email and delivery updates. Anyone who asks for more information than that is a scammer.
Don’t get scammed when doing your part to get tested!
Scammers love when things are offered for free because they can quickly create a website making the same claim, while requiring personal information and payment for additional charges like “shipping/handling” or “expediting” or “priority service”. They seize the opportunity to cash in when emotions are high—which is the case when trying to stay healthy amid a global pandemic.
COVID-19 Test Kit Scams Might Look Like:
Unsolicited requests for your health insurance information, such as Medicare, in exchange for free test kits.
Phony offers of FREE test kits with payment required, such as for shipping/handling.
Peer-to-peer sellers: Friends, family, neighbors and others on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist and other listing sites.
Unreputable vendors in retail pop-up shops or online.
The sale of invalid COVID-19 test kits.
Unsolicited offers to obtain free test kits, such as through telemarketing, email, and other unverified channels.
Hang up on solicitations claiming to offer free test kits in exchange for your personal information, insurance, or money! If you are looking for free test kits, seek them out through valid sources outlined in the Consumer Assistance Program’s free COVID-19 test kits blog.
Look out for these red flags:
Requests to pay a fee for free tests.
Claims of expedited delivery with additional payment.
Receiving results after you sign up and pay, but before you’ve been tested.
A National Consumer Protection Week feature. “National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a time to help people understand their consumer rights and avoid frauds and scams” (FTC).
Ten years ago, the influx of scam calls through automation began. In two days, the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP), which traditionally logged around twenty scam reports per month, received hundreds of scam reports over two days. By the end of 2012, CAP averaged 145 scam reports per month. Of the first robocalls Vermonters reported were the card services scam, which claimed interest rates could be lowered on their bank credit cards. Next came claims of free gift cards from a specific retailer, who was offering nothing of the sort. What soon followed was a rush of new scams; claims that free life alert devices were available, the infamous IRS scam (responsible for 4,261 reports in 2016), which morphed into the SSN phishing scam, and countless others. Reports of scams have not dropped below the 5,000 mark since before 2015 in large part due to robocalls. After nearly a decade, it’s clear these calls are not going away on their own.
While scam nature varies, the one thing these scams have in common is the criminal use of expanded phone technology. In short, scammers have learned how to manipulate our phone systems to make millions of unscrupulous calls per minute. As long as they continue to make money, they will continue to call with enticing offers and troubling spiels.
Telltale signs of robocall scams:
A computer/automated/robot voice
Pressure to act immediately
A request for something: your information/your money
To the demise of the robocall scam industry, there are steps you can take as a consumer advocate to avoid these calls. By being aware and not engaging with these calls and making these scams less successful, you are doing your part to stop robocall scams. Learn more about stopping scams by opening the Blocking Unwanted Calls tab on CAP’s website. You can also listen to a previously recorded Vermont Edition about stopping and blocking robocalls.
Here’s what you can do when you receive an unknown call:
Pause: Take time to reflect – if a call is unexpected, disengage.
Take steps to verify by making note of the contact and doing research, including checking a trusted source.
Discuss scams with friends and loved ones regularly. Storytelling induces learning. The simple act of communicating with others about scams can help prevent others from becoming victims.
Keep on reporting them. Our office has been part of a bipartisan taskforce of attorneys general and federal law enforcement to relieve consumers of unwanted calls. Your robocall reports are used to aid this taskforce in tracking down criminal syndicates.
With the help of federal authorities and a large U.S. voice provider, our office has been able to track down US intermediaries and hold them accountable for sending scam calls to your phone.