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Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Have consumer questions? Find answers here!

Helping Vermonters for over three decades

Consumer Complaint Help

The Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) at UVM helps Vermont consumers resolve disputes with businesses, protect themselves from fraud and access available services.  We:

  • operate a consumer hotline for information and assistance
  • mediate consumer disputes with businesses
  • track fraud and scam complaints and
  • recover thousands of dollars yearly for consumers.

Call us! CAP staff and student volunteers are available Monday – Friday, from 8:30 – 4:00 at 800-649-2424

Do you have questions about consumer issues? Find out more about many common issues here:

Stay current with the CAP blog!

CAP Connections, our consumer blog, provides helpful information about current consumer issues and alerts. Follow along!

Blocking Unwanted Calls

Unwanted calls

Illegal scam and telemarketing calls lead the list of complaints filed with the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP).

The telephone system was simply designed: to get calls through.  It works really well. But it is broken.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that almost half of the phone calls made every day in this country are robocalls. Making a phone calls is now so cheap that it is possible for robocallers to make a million calls a day.  With such a high number, only a few people need to fall victim for such illegal activity to be highly profitable.

As of June 2021, there will be more federal protections against fake CallerID’s, but this effort will take time to implement.  Many of these calls are from outside the country or by fly-by-night businesses.

The Vermont Attorney General is working with a national task force to analyze, and potentially take action against, companies that allow these illegal calls, in alliance with federal agencies such as the IRS and Social Security Administration.  You can help us by reporting robocall violations to CAP.

Be alert: report scam calls.

In 2020, FTC figures showed scammers used phone calls 31% of the time and text messages 27% of the time to defraud consumers.  These figures mean that the telephone is the weapon of choice in 59% of frauds—that expensive device in your pocket could rob you!

A quick suggestion: always verify with whom you are speaking or texting.  You may be dealing with an international crime syndicate pretending to be a person or business or government agency that you trust. Illegal callers use fake CallerID to impersonate someone that you trust. Don’t be fooled! Let it go to voicemail.  If the voicemail sounds genuine, then don’t use the callback number.  Instead, look the correct number up yourself.

Use the protection built into your phone if you have a cellphone or VOIP landline.

What you can do to protect yourself from illegal traffic—before it rings to your phone—depends on the type of phone that you have and whether you run a business.  We will assume that you have already put your phone number on the FTC Do Not Call registry.

Best solution for cellphones: Configure the phone to block unknown callers.

If you have a personal cellphone, the best solution is to set your phone not to ring except when you already know the caller.  Everyone else goes to voicemail.

  1. On an iPhone, go to Settings, Do Not Disturb and put the switch on for “Always.” Then, under the same Do Not Disturb, go to Phone, and set to “Allow Calls From: All Contacts.”
  2. On an Android phone, go to Settings, then Sound, then Do Not Disturb preferences, then Priority only.
    • Set “Calls” to “From contacts only.”
    • Turn on “Do Not Disturb” to “Priority only” mode.
    • Swipe down from the top of your screen with 2 fingers.
    • Under Do not disturb or your current option, tap the Down arrow, then Turn on Do not disturb, Pick Priority only.
    • Choose how long you want this setting to last and Tap Done.

An alternate solution for cellphones and VOIP landlines: use third party apps to block illegal callers.

Another approach is to buy an app designed to block illegal phone traffic.

  1. These apps are not perfect, but maintain data on illegal callers and prevent them from ringing to your phone.
  2. Two that we have some knowledge of are NomoRobo and YouMail. For a cellphone, these apps cost a few dollars per month.  They do not block all illegal traffic.  For a business that cannot block all unknown calls, these are the best solutions.

If you have a VOIP landline, the VOIP line can probably be configured to use the NomoRobo service.  For business lines, you may need to get the service through third parties like Mutare or SkySwitch.

These services are not a perfect solution, but can save valuable time during the day in not having to answer robocalls.

For analogue telephone lines like Consolidated Communications POTS lines.

Unfortunately, the most reliable phones are old-style regulated analogue plain old telephone service (POTS) lines.  POTS lines are not covered by new FCC regulations because the technology is analogue and obsolete.  However, POTS phones are very reliable.

The only—but highly imperfect—approach for POTS lines is to buy an add-on device that connects to the phone.  These devices present the user with another option: press the red button to block the call.  These devices use an internal database that is incomplete and not updated as frequently as digital apps and cost $50 to $100. Nevertheless, for POTS phones, such imperfect devices are the only solution other than relying on CallerID.

Here are some options:

  • HQTelecom.com Landline Call Blocker: Requires user to block numbers manually by pressing a “block” button as calls come in. – $59.
  • Sentry Dual Mode Call Blocker: Callers must prove they are legitimate by listening to a recorded message and pressing “0” when prompted.  The message is recorded in a British accent, which may cause some callers to think they have reached a wrong number. – $59.
  • CPR Call Blocker Protect: Uses whitelist only- so will block every call not on the list. – $50-100.
  • Telezapper TZ 900: Uses a special tone that tells predictive dialing computers that a number is disconnected. – $40.
  • T-Lock Call Blocker Version 5: Requires Caller ID to be activated. Can block incoming and outgoing phone numbers and calls without an ID. Stores the last 100 incoming and 50 outgoing calls.  – $39.
  • Pro Call Blocker Version N2: Can block entire area codes and prefixes. Blocks incoming and outgoing phone calls and calls without an ID. Stores incoming and outgoing call records. Requires password to remove blocked numbers from list. – $43.

Conclusion

The telephone system has almost no built-in protection against scammers. Federal and state authorities are working to fix a broken system. In the meantime, protect yourself and your loved ones. And be alert.  Report fraud to CAP.

PLEASE NOTE:  THE LIST ABOVE IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES.   THE VERMONT ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE DOES NOT ENDORSE ANY PRODUCT OR SERVICE. PRICES MAY VARY.

Identity Theft

What is identity theft?

Vermont law defines identity theft as the unauthorized use of another person’s personal identifying information to obtain credit, goods, services, money or property (for more information on Vermont laws regarding privacy and data security, click here). In many cases, identity theft involves the fraudulent use of your credit card or bank account information. In some cases, your social security number and other personal information may be used to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses, lines of credit, loans or other consumer accounts.

I think I am a victim of identity theft. What steps should I take?

  • Concerned about protecting your identity after the 2017 Equifax breach? Learn more about steps you can take on our Equifax breach page.
  • Review your credit reports carefully for any accounts that you are not familiar with. You can obtain your free credit report from each of the Credit Reporting Bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find anything that should not be there, be sure to save a copy of the report. Then, contact the credit reporting agency to dispute all inaccurate items.
  • Place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit reports. You can find out more information from the Federal Trade Commission about fraud alerts and freezing your credit files. To place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit files, contact the three credit reporting agencies listed below.
    Credit Bureau Fraud Contacts: EQUIFAX 1-800-525-6285 EXPERIAN 1-888-397-3742 TRANSUNION 1-800-680-7289
  • Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • File an “identity theft” police report and ask for a copy for your records. Find your local police agency.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Write down the name of anyone you talk to, what s/he told you, and the date of the conversation.
  • Follow-up in writing with all contacts you’ve made about the ID theft on the phone or in person. Use certified mail, return receipt requested, for all correspondence regarding the theft.
  • Keep copies of all correspondence or forms relating to the ID theft. Keep the originals of supporting documentation, like police reports and letters to and from creditors; send copies only. Keep old files even if you believe the problem is resolved.

I still have questions, where can I find out more?

Identitytheft.gov

 

Identity theft is a complex issue facing consumers all over the country. Find out more about identity theft by visiting identitytheft.gov, the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft help and information site.

Automobile Sales, Service and Finance

Avoid car purchase pitfalls:

  • Before you sign anything, review the sales contract carefully!  Make sure it is the right vehicle, at the price and terms you negotiated.  Once you sign a contract, you have committed to purchase the car.  There is no time period during which you can return a car once you sign the contract.
  • Understand the financing terms!  What is the interest rate?  How long is the loan for?  What are your monthly payments?  Does the payment amount change?  How much will the loan cost you in interest?
  • Check out the seller!  Ask your friends, co-workers and neighbors about their experiences.  Check the business complaint history with CAP.
  • Get it checked out by your mechanic!  Have a mechanic you know and trust carefully look over the car and let you know what issues may need to be addressed.  Also, having the vehicle looked over by a competent body shop can provide more information about the body repair history.
  • Don’t rely on vehicle history reports alone!  Vehicle history reports can be helpful, but none contain complete records for all vehicles.  In fact, many will not even have complete accident and insurance history information.  While no current database is complete, the most complete single database is available at http://www.nmvtis.gov/
  • Review the warranty! is it “As-is”?  An as-is sale means if something goes wrong with the car, even as you are driving home, you may not have any recourse with the dealer to get it fixed.
  • Take your time!  Don’t rush the purchase.  Car purchases can be exciting.  Take the time to think about it and make sure it is the right car for you.
  • Check out CAP’s Car Purchasing Guide for more information!

What about the “lemon law”?

Vermont’s “lemon law” applies to vehicles that are within the original manufacturer’s warranty period (or, in some cases, within a year of the expiration of that warranty). If your vehicle is within the original warranty period and has:

  • had 3 or more unsuccessful attempts to fix the same problem, or
  • been out of service for 30 days or more

then it may be eligible. There is no additional used car lemon law protection in Vermont. If you believe your situation may qualify, contact Vermont’s Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board for assistance.

Car service and repair

At some point, every car will need to be serviced.  Whether it is for regular maintenance or a major repair, there are ways to be sure you get the most value for your money.

  • Know your mechanic.  Do they regularly service cars like yours?  Ask people you know about their experiences with the mechanic. You can also contact CAP to request the complaint history for a business you are considering using.
  • Get it in writing.   A quote for a repair is not a guarantee that the repair will not cost more.  There is no law in Vermont requiring a servicer to stick to a quote that is not a signed contract.  When you bring your vehicle in for service, be sure to stipulate in writing what services you are authorizing.   If you refuse to pay the bill, the mechanic may be able to retain possession of the vehicle until the services are paid for.  If the work is unsatisfactory or exceeds the scope of the work you requested, you may wish to file a complaint with CAP, dispute the charge on your credit card, or file a suit in small claims court.
  • Ask about the parts and labor costs.  Find out what kind of parts they will use, how long it will take and what their labor rate is.
Charities

What is a paid fundraiser for a charity?

A paid fundraiser is someone (not an employee of the charity) who is paid by a charity to conduct fundraising efforts on behalf of the charity.  These payment arrangements vary widely. However, under Vermont law, paid fundraisers must report to the Attorney General with information about the campaign and their payment arrangements with the charity.

How do I find out how much of my donation goes to the charity?

To find out more about how your donation is applied when you donate through a paid fundraiser, you can download our paid fundraiser information, sorted by charity name, or by the name of the fundraiser:

Download sorted by charity name

Download sorted by fundraiser

For outside “ratings” of charities based on how they use their funds, you can check Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability.

What does the law require paid fundraisers to do?

Under Vermont’s Charitable Solicitations Law, 9 V.S.A. § 2471 et seq., paid fundraisers for charities must file a “notice of solicitation” with the Attorney General’s Office in advance of each campaign, and a post-campaign financial report; post a $20,000 bond; make specific disclosures when soliciting donations; and comply with charity contract, script approval, donation deposit, record-keeping, and related requirements. In addition, fundraisers and charities are prohibited from making misrepresentations to prospective donors. The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcing the Law. For more information on these requirements and prohibitions, please consult Vermont’s Charitable Solicitations Law and Consumer Fraud Rule (CF) 119.

I’m on the Do Not Call registry, why are they still calling me?

Charitable organizations are exempt from the federal Do Not Call statute.   However, you may request to be removed from their calling list.  If you are having difficulty with a paid fundraiser, you may also file a complaint with our office.

Are my contributions tax-deductible?

If you intend to give tax-deductible contributions, you should verify an organization’s tax filing status with the IRS.  Essentially, if the organization is tax-exempt or a 501(c)(3), donations should be tax deductible.  There are several ways to check the tax filing status:  request to see the organization’s IRS tax exemption letter, search for the charity using the “Exempt Organizations” tool on the IRS website, or call the IRS at 877-829-5500.

Home Improvement Fraud

Home improvement problems are among the top ten complaint categories in Vermont and throughout the country. Because your home is probably your most valuable asset, it is particularly important that you protect that asset by making wise decisions when having work done on your home.

Where to Go for Help

Contact us to find out if complaints have been filed against the contractor you are considering hiring.  Keep in mind, however, that a lack of complaints doesn’t necessarily mean that the contractor is reputable, particularly if he or she is new to the area. Also, some disreputable contractors may change business names to keep a clean record.  You should also contact the CAP if you have a complaint against a contractor.  The staff at the CAP will contact the business on your behalf in an attempt to resolve your complaint. In addition, your complaint will become part of the public record, so that consumers who inquire about this contractor will become aware of your complaint.

If you believe you have been defrauded by a contractor, you may also file a police report of home improvement fraud with your local police department or other law enforcement agency.  Home improvement fraud is a crime, and can be prosecuted in Vermont.

Home Improvement Fraud Registry

You may review the State registry of all persons who have been criminally convicted or resolved civil claims by the State of Vermont for committing “home improvement fraud”:

Search Home Improvement Fraud Registry

Lead questions?

For information on lead in homes, visit the Attorney General’s lead in homes website.  Is your contractor lead-certified? Search for EPA lead-certified contractors:

Search for Lead-Certified contractors
Heating Fuels

In Vermont, consumers have certain rights with regard to heating fuel service.  Vermont law regulates fuel pre-buy contracts, and establishes authority for the Attorney General to regulate propane service.  Fuel pricing is not regulated in Vermont.

If you are having difficulty with your heating fuel provider, you can file a complaint with CAP or contact us for more information about your rights and responsibilities as a fuel consumer.

Propane laws

Certain retail propane industry business practices are regulated by Vermont law. Propane sellers are prohibited from:

  • Charging a minimum usage fee
  • Charging a fee for fuel not actually delivered
  • Requiring a minimum annual purchase of fuel, except as part of a guaranteed price plan
  • Charging any fee related to termination of service if a tank has been on the premises for more than 12 months.

Additionally, propane sellers must refund consumers for fuel remaining in the tank within 20 days of disconnection or written notice from the consumer that the tank is no longer connected to the dwelling. Failure to issue a timely refund results in monetary penalties paid to the consumer that accrue daily until the refund and penalty are mailed or delivered.

The Vermont Energy Act of 2011 also restricted the kinds of delinquencies that can trigger a disconnection of propane service to those charges related to the delivery of propane as specified in the Act.

Propane regulations

Vermont regulations establish certain rights and responsbilities for consumers with regard to propane service.  Since 1986, Vermont Consumer Protection Rule 111 (CP111) has governed the business practices of propane service providers in Vermont.  CP111 is enforced by the Office of the Attorney General, and includes some important additional protections for Vermonters.

CP111: Vermont’s Propane Rule

Under the CP111 rules, propane consumers are entitled to, among other rights:

  • For new customers, disclosure of all charges that may be assessed on a standardized new customer disclosure form (PDF).
  • For current customers, 60-day notice of any changes to fees on an existing customer disclosure form (PDF).
  • notice prior to disconnection or disruption of service, including tenants whose service is incuded in the rent.
  • notice prior to a change in credit status
  • the right to establish new service as a cash customer and, if re-establishing service within 8 months of termination of service or last payment, the right to get fuel on a cash basis with partial payment toward any past-due balance.
  • the right to stop a disconnect during heating season for medical reasons
  • limits on minimum delivery requirements and security deposits
  • freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, marital status or sexual orientation

If you would like to know more about recent changes to CP111 and your rights under the amended rule, please visit our CP111 FAQs page for additional information.

If you have a complaint about a propane provider, or need more information about your rights as a propane consumer, please contact CAP for more information or file a complaint.  In most cases, CAP can quickly resolve disputes between consumers and propane providers.

If you need help paying your fuel bill, dial 2-1-1 from your Vermont phone to be connected with an agency that can assist you.

Tenant Rights

What are the responsibilities of landlords and tenants?

Vermont law establishes certain rights and responsibilities for tenants and landlords in Vermont. To view the law, click here.

Generally, landlords are required to provide housing that is suitable for human habitation and has adequate access to heat, water, and hot water.  Landlords must also ensure that the housing is safe for tenants, which may include requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire alarms, alternate means of escape, and proper maintenance of electrical fixtures and equipment.  Tenants are responsible for payment of rent, as well as for preventing damage or unreasonable wear to the premises.

Vermont law provides for certain notice requirements with regard to termination of tenancy and evictions, and provides both tenants and landlords with the right to bring legal action in the event of non-compliance with rental agreement law.
For more specific information about your rights as a tenant or landlord, review the handbook produced by Vermont Tenants, Inc.:

The Definitive Guide to Renting in Vermont (PDF)

What if I have a complaint against my landlord? Can the landlord evict me for my complaint?

If you have a complaint against your landlord, you can file a complaint with CAP.  You may also pursue a claim in small claims court for violations of the lease or non-compliance with the law.  Vermont Law Help has small claims court forms on their website too.  If you have a health concern about the property you rent, you can contact your local town health officer through the town clerk’s office.

Generally, the law prohibits the landlord from retaliating against you for filing a complaint.  If you believe you are being retaliated against by your landlord, you can file a complaint with CAP.

I have been served with an eviction notice.  What can I do?

If you are facing eviction, you should contact your local county court, or an attorney.  If you cannot afford an attorney, you can contact Vermont Legal Aid at 800-889-2047.

What about Rental Scams?

Unfortunately, rental listing scams are pretty common and pose a challenge for those trying to find rental housing.  Always do your research on a property you are interested in renting.  Often, scammers will replicate recently posted real estate or other rental listings.  For more information about rental scams, see the following:

Debt Collection
If you are behind on credit card, home mortgage, personal loan or other debt payments, you may be contacted by the creditor or a debt collection agency acting on the creditor’s behalf. While the law allows reasonable attempts to collect legitimate debts, both state and federal laws protect you from abusive debt collection practices.

What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?

Vermont law prohibits the following practices regardless of whether the debt is being collected by the creditor, an attorney or a third-party collection agency.

  • Threats. Debt collectors may not threaten action that they will not or cannot take.
  • Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse anyone.
  • Unreasonable publication. The law prohibits a debt collector from notifying other people about your debt.
  • Deceptive Representations. Debt collectors may not engage in deception in attempting to collect a debt.
  • Unconscionable Means. Debt collectors may not use unconscionable methods to collect a debt.

For example, debt collectors may:

  • not misrepresent who they are or who they work for.
  • not falsely imply the amount of the debt or any legal action that can be taken.
  • only contact you between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.
  • not continually call your phone or harass you. During a phone call, a debt collector must identify him/herself and may not threaten violence against you or your family or use profane language.
  • only contact you at work if he or she cannot reach you at home in between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.
  • not call you more than one time a week at work and must stop calling you at work if you tell the debt collector not to contact you at work.

If you receive a suspicious debt collection call:

  • Always ask the debt collector to provide you with written documentation that substantiates the debt they are trying to collect; and
  • Contact the original creditor and ask whether the debt has been paid.  If it has not, confirm that the debt was sold to a third party collector and verify the identity of the debt collector.

How do I stop the contact from the collector?

Under federal law, if the collector is a third party collection agency, you may send the agency a Cease Contact letter, requesting that they no longer contact you regarding the debt.  Alternatively, you may instruct them only to contact you by mail, at home, or through your attorney, using our sample cease contact letter text:

[YOUR NAME] [YOUR ADDRESS] [YOUR CITY, ST, ZIP]

By Certified Mail

[DATE]

[COLLECTION AGENCY NAME] [AGENCY ADDRESS] [AGENCY CITY, ST, ZIP]

Dear Sir/Madam:
Please cease all communication with me concerning account number with [COMPANY OWED].
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that you stop contacting me immediately
upon receipt of this letter.

Very truly yours,
[YOUR NAME]

Send this letter by certified mail, with return receipt requested so you have a record of who received it and when.

Laws and Regulations

Want to learn more about Vermont’s consumer protection laws?

Check our Laws and Regulations page for links to state and federal statutes, as well as Vermont’s Consumer Protection Rules:

Read the laws here

 

Did you encounter a scam? 

Report Scams to CAP