The state of Vermont has launched a new way for Vermont consumers to better shield themselves from rip-offs.
“This appears to be a growing problem,” Attorney General T.J. Donovan said of scams, as he announced the Vermont Scam Alert system Thursday.
The free service piggybacks the VT Alert system, which gives customizable warnings on hazards like road closures.
Consumers have to enroll to get emails, texts, or recorded voice messages from the state on new scams as they emerge, as well as reminders during prime periods for fraud—like tax time.
"Vermonters are losing money,” Donovan said. “Hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars on this issue.”
Donovan said the state’s consumer protection unit received roughly 7,000 complaints last year dealing with scams, which can come by phone or over the internet, as well as through other methods.
More cases surely went unreported.
“This is not something to be embarrassed about,” Donovan said. “Everybody is at risk of being scammed.”
“They’re scary,” said Robbie Harold of Montpelier, who has received scam calls.
Harold, who takes care of tax filings for her 86-year-old mother in Massachusetts, said her mom recently received an alarming call from someone making threats if she did not pay a fee to the IRS.
The IRS does not call taxpayers to issue threats if money is not instantly wired as demanded.
Other scam calls may demand cash to avoid a shutoff of utility service. Such demands are bogus, and do not represent how Vermont utilities do business, said Robert Dostis of Green Mountain Power.
“It’s very sad, Harold said of the depths scammers will sink to. “You really wonder about the souls of the people who engage in this type of work, and how they sleep at night.”
State public safety personnel promised Vermonters won’t be overwhelmed with spam emails or texts.
“We don’t want to over-alert people, because when you see an alert for the system, we want you to pay attention to it,” said Erica Bornemann, the director of Vermont Emergency Management.
Robbie Harold said she plans to sign up for the new scam warnings, and will share the tips she gets with her mother on Cape Cod.
“I can alert her when I get alerts from the state of Vermont,” Harold said.
Donovan encouraged that type of information sharing between neighbors and relatives, to help strengthen and inform even more consumers about the risk from scams.
Donovan noted that a strong defense against scams is particularly important since long-distance rip-offs are so difficult to prosecute.
The AG’s office said it plans to work with agencies on aging and advocates across the state to help spread the word to seniors and other consumers about the new service.
Utilities, business groups, the Vermont Bankers Association, and non-profits are also joining the effort to spread the word about the new scam alerts.
To sign-up for notifications, call 1-800-649-2424 or visit this website.
Consumers who have already signed up for the hazard alert service of VT Alert can adjust their account preferences to now receive scam alerts. That adjustment can be made here.