Pure Vermont Newsletter Articles March 2013

Release of Top Scams of 2012 National Consumer Protection Week

The best form of scam prevention is awareness. Be able to identify the top scams that are plaguing Vermont so that you and your loved ones don't become a victim.  Know the signs. The top 10 categories of scams reported to our office in 2012 were:  

    1.  "Phishing" scams

    2.  Contests, sweepstakes, or lottery scams

    3.  Bogus computer tech support scams, viruses and ransomware

    4.  Imposter scams

    5.  Debt collection scams

    6.  Phony invoices targeting VT businesses

    7.  Security system scams

    8.  Other telemarketing scams

    9.  Online advertisement scams

    10. Loan scams

 What to do if you have been targeted:

Continue reading on our website...

Auto Concerns Regularly Among Top Complaints Reported to CAP

In 2012 auto complaints placed second among the top written complaints reported to CAP and the totals even surpassed written reports of scams, which came in third.  In February, automobile concerns were also the second most reported consumer issue.   Most of the complaints are against Vermont licensed dealers.   Consumer complaints allege false claims, misrepresentations, defective merchandise, pressure sales, deceptive pricing, and more.

The National Consumer Law Center
“One of the most difficult problems consumers face is trying to obtain a car in good condition. There are several alternatives states can pursue to address this issue by enacting used car lemon laws and required warranties.”  -NCLC

Many Vermonters assume that protections are in place to prevent such behavior from happening on our dealer lots.   The truth is that currently Vermont offers few consumer protections when purchasing autos from car dealerships.

Consumers often don’t know:

There is no statutory "3-day right" to cancel an auto purchase.
Cars are not required to pass VT state inspection prior to sale.
In “As-Is” car sales, the dealer most often takes the position that there is no implied warranty.

Though Vermont has a "Lemon Law," the statute is only relevant to cars that are still under the manufacturer's warranty and essentially defective. 

According to the NCLC, six states; HI, MA, MN, NJ, NY, RI, have a used car lemon law and 7 states, AZ, CT, IL, ME, NV, NM, and PA, have a required minimum warranty for used car sales.  Other states, including WV, MD and D.C. prohibit "as-is" sales at a dealership.  Our office has not been able to locate any data that reflects negative outcomes in the states where greater protections are in place.

The House Commerce Committee of the Vermont Legislature has been reviewing H.165, an auto bill, supported by the Attorney General's Office.  The goal of the bill is to obtain greater rights for used car purchasers in Vermont. The bill is currently undergoing consideration by the House Commerce Committee.  The bill offers a hopeful resolution to longstanding issues in the Vermont auto industry.

With the National Highway and Traffic Safety Commission reporting that over 9 million cars were recalled in 2012, it's time to make sure Vermont has protections in place to ensure safe cars are on our highways.

 As it stands currently, if your vehicle is stranded and then ordered for tow by law enforcement, there is no requirement that a tow company must notify the vehicle owner where the vehicle is being towed or about tow and storage fees to release the vehicle.  The proposal in the bill would provide consumers with information up front about where they can claim their vehicle, the amount of the daily storage fees, and the methods of payment (cash, check, etc.) that will be accepted. 

Also, as the artisan's lien currently stands in Vermont, a service person, including a mechanic, can place a lien on an item as long as costs of services are unpaid, and keep the item until those charges are paid.  The proposed changes to the artisan's lien law would require that, for vehicle repairs that will cost over $200, the mechanic must get the customer’s prior authorization to do the work. Otherwise, the mechanic cannot hold onto the vehicle while waiting for the bill to be paid.

If you have comments, concerns, or input regarding the auto legislation you should contact your legislative representative(s).  Link to the Legislature Directory.

Reference:  NCLC Fueling Fair Practices Guide

Consumer Auto Knowledge

A little consumer knowledge can go a long way when purchasing a car.  That is why our intern, Judah Griffin, is developing a buying guide that will target first-time car buyers.  The guide will primarily target teens.  Once complete, CAP will reach out to Vermont High Schools to present the information to students. 

Need useful tips now?  There are some great resources online.  CAP, the DMV and the FTC all have car buying information online.  For more interactive information, consumers can also refer to helpful videos like those posted on Edmunds.com. 

Ford Motor Company Issues recall on 230,000 minivans to fix rear seat mounting bracket rust problems in cold-weather states (VT included). Check recalls on your Ford:  Recall Notices

Pure Vermont Recognition

Looking for a loop-hole to get out of debt?  A Vermont consumer warns that signing up with a debt consolidation company may not be the best answer.  Last year, the consumer connected with an organization called Southeast Trust, only to receive false promises, increased debt woes, and harassment by collectors.  It was long after she paid the company $1200.00 upfront that the Federal Trade Commission  filed an injunction  and reported that Southeast Trust made false claims.  Receiving any kind of refund from the company has been impossible and her credit is ruined due to following the company's bad advice.  Her primary incentive now is to make sure that others are aware of the risks of working with a debt management company to eliminate debt.  

Her willingness to share her story to protect others earns her the privilege of Pure Vermont recognition. 

Find out more about Pure Vermont Now!

Pure Vermont is about bringing consumer awareness to every door step while celebrating the wholesome values that Vermonters are known for, such as  helping our neighbors, caring for our community, and promoting fair dealing in the marketplace.  The most important component of the Pure Vermont initiative is you. 
To nominate someone to receive the prestigious Pure Vermont Award, please fill out the nomination form now.


Phony Invoices Among the Top 10 of 2013
Among the top 10 scams reported to the Consumer Assistance Program in 2012, were phony invoices, the majority of which were received by Vermont businesses.  The fake invoices had many different identities, the most common being unauthorized online yellow page listings.

Other invoices claimed to represent the business' telecom service or purported to take payments for media under copyright with the US Patent and Trademark Office.  So far in 2013, it appears that the most common type of phony invoices scam demands payment for expiring website domain names. 

Spot a fake invoice.  Scammers try to give the impression that they are connected with a valid business and that payment is a necessary business expense. Review the fine print, it may state that the invoice-looking document is actually a solicitation.  Be especially suspicious of claims that the purchase of goods or services were agreed to over the phone, because theTelephonic Home Solicitation Sales Rule  may apply.  Streamline processes within your business to filter out fake claims.  Establish requirements for ordering and authorizing products/services. Ensure your payment methods include a thorough verification process that flags any expense that is not perpetual.

What to look for from a Merchant Processor
Don't be fooled by misrepresented claims of significantly discounted costs and fees when dealing with merchant credit card processing companies.  Business consumers have reported merchant processors cold calling and making such claims, only to find out after signing the contract that the promises and claims are unsubstantiated.  Businesses should do their research on merchant processors before signing a contract.  Check to see how long the processor has been in business.  You may be able to find such information on the Better Business Bureau website, www.bbb.org, or by checking business filing information with the Secretary of State in the state of operation.  Ask for recommendations from other businesses that you know and trust, then ask qualifying questions, such as:  


Airfare Promotions
Receive a flyer that promises free airfare?  Watch out, we have received several similar reports.  Consumers have informed that the "free" tickets are not really free and are actually contingent upon agreeing to purchase other services.  Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Money Pak and Reloadable Card Scam
Like the commonly used, wire transfer, scammers are using "Money Pak" and "PayPower" reloads as a way of stealing your hard-earned cash.  The scammers use the same avenues of scamming we have come to be familiar with, but ask you to buy a reload instead of wiring the funds.  Reloads can be found at grocery stores and pharmacies and cash is required for payment.  Once cash is loaded onto the card, all the scammer needs is the reload number or authorization code to load the funds onto their own prepaid card (no identification required).  Once the money is dispersed, the original cash used to pay for the reload is gone and irretrievable.

PayPower and GreenDot are the most common companies that currently have the reload option.  Be on high alert if you receive a request to use a reload as a form of payment.

Go to the Consumer Assistance Program Website:  www.uvm.edu/consumer