AG T.J. Donovan Hosts Credit Awareness Event In Danville
DANVILLE — Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, State Treasurer Beth Pearce, legislators and a handful of local people who helped to organize a Credit Awareness Day gathered Friday in the old Caledonia National Bank building next door to the Pope Memorial Library.
The event was aimed at stressing the importance of managing personal credit and protecting yourself from financial scams.
Financial scams are on the rise everywhere, including Vermont, said Donovan, speaking at the event held late Friday morning, and attended by about 30 people including community members, elected officials, staff from the AG’s and treasurer’s office, and media.
The event was inspired by local resident Molly Greaves, who stood with the state delegation for the event on Friday morning and was thanked for her role in the event being held in Danville.
Greaves contacted Ruth Hooker, of Danville, who works in the Attorney General’s office, and Hooker communicated the idea to Donovan and his staff.
State. Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, State Rep. Scott Campbell, D-Caledonia-3, and State Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Caledonia-Washington, all attended the event, as well.
Bobbie LePine, who works in community care coordination at the Northeast Kingdom Community Action Parent-Child Center, spoke about her work around financial literacy with clients who are parents, and also with very young children, who she described as “sponges” who learn from the adults who model for them. She said teaching families about credit and its importance has been empowering for people.
The importance of monitoring one’s credit reports was reiterated several times during the half-hour program.
Donovan said more than 13,000 calls come into the AG office’s consumer protection program a year, and the majority of those calls are reporting they have been subject - and too often victim to - a scam.
The demographic that is most vulnerable to the scams are older Vermonters, said Donovan.
Scams include “the grandparents scam” said Donovan, which prey on grandparents to help a grandchild in trouble, the IRS scam, and the Social Security scam, among others.
“It is happening more and more,” said Donovan. “We have to come up with solutions to protect Vermonters.”
Robo calling is happening increasingly, said Donovan, exposing people to possible scams from out-of-state and out-of-country scammers.
Data breaching is also a huge business, and people’s personal and financial data are being bought and sold and used against them in an ever increasingly digital world, said Donovan.
Chris Curtis, chief of the Public Protection Divsion of the AG’s office, spoke about Vermont becoming the first state to pass additional regulations for data brokers. Part of the legislation includes eliminating fees for Vermonters to place security freezes on their credit files.
Passed in 2018, the law also clarified the security requirements for businesses which buy or sell personal information, it also made it against the law to acquire personal data for fraudulent purposes.
The law created a registry for data brokers, as well.
Donovan said pulling your credit report is the best way to find out if someone has stolen your identity, taken out a credit card in your name, or other problems. While that’s not the most comforting advice for how to arm yourself against a scam or financial predator, he said it’s a critical step to be sure your financial security has not been broached.
Legislators, the AG’s office and law enforcement have banded together to try to find solutions but with most of the predators being out of Vermont and even out of the country, traditional criminal justice can’t go after the parties effectively, so information and self-protection are critical.
Pearce warned people to never give their credit card or financial or personal information to anyone on a call - unless you have originated the call and are certain of who you are speaking with.
She spoke to more personal credit information within a person’s control, too, including asking people what the average credit card debt is in Vermont. It’s $7,000, she said, a bit lower than the national average of $8,200. A person usually keeps their first credit card for 15 years, she said.
She warned people to be careful with the terms of credit card offers and to only borrow what they can afford to re-pay, to differentiate between wants and needs, and to not fall into the trap of paying the low minimum balances, saying that leads to a trap of high interest and years of payback that’s hard to get out from under.
In Vermont, Pearce said, almost 30 percent of credit card holders are in that trap - paying the minimum balance on their credit card debt each month.
“Pay your bills on time,” warned Pearce, and don’t max out your credit limit.
Pearce walked the group through what a 19.24 percent interest rate on a $1,000 credit card balance would look like: paying $20 a month, the minimum, would see $862 in interest and a 7.8 year payback; $30 a month would see about a $400 interest payment, and 3.9 year payoff; and $50 a month would result in a $197 interest charge with two years to pay down the debt.
After the NEKCA staff member shared how she is working with low-income families and their children around financial literacy, Pearce said building those skills for every Vermonter is critical, saying she wants to see everyone in Vermont have a bright and prosperous future.
Donovan said, “You have to be armed with information.”
The phone number to contact the consumer assistance department at the AG’s office is: 1-800-649-2424.