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How to avoid scams during Vermont's disaster recovery

People stand on a wet sidewalk
Mike Dougherty
Vermont Public
Flood water is pumped out of Hugo's Bar & Grill on Main Street in Montpelier on Wednesday morning.

The consensus across the state of Vermont this week following devastating flooding is that people want to help. Doing so safely is everyone's number one priority.

Unfortunately, in times of natural disasters, scamming can happen at higher rates. Attorney General Charity Clark says this is because of the "magical formula" it creates, where your emotional response is easily triggered, especially if a stranger is asking you for money or help, and it seems urgent.

"Scammers are going to use whatever is effective, and they're going to take whatever opportunity presents itself," Clark says. "So the natural disaster presents an opportunity for them to pretend that they're a charitable organization, you know, asking for money or to pretend that they're a government agency like FEMA who is trying to get information from you to supposedly help you. But really it's a phishing scam."

Contractor scams

A common scam during natural disasters uses fake contractors assessing damages. These scams can be devastating to people already dealing with the damage.

Clark says that as of this year, all home improvement contractors who perform work with an estimated value of $10,000 or more have to register with the Secretary of State's Office, so you can look up home improvement contractors and see if they're listed and what work they've done. Additionally, the Attorney General's Office has a list of contractors convicted of fraud.

If you do plan to hire a contractor, Clark says to make sure you have a contract that lays out expectations for price, work and timeframe. She also cautions anyone from paying for the work upfront; anything more than a deposit upfront may be risky.

Greg Marchildon, the AARP Vermont state director, echoes these concerns.

“We really strongly encourage folks that are dealing with contractors for home repairs, or flood damage or debris removal, to check references and do not give money upfront. In any circumstances at all,” Marchildon says.

 An aerial view of flood waters surrounding train tracks and buildings
The University of Vermont
Flooding at the Waterbury roundabout on Tuesday, July 11.

Digital scams

For phone or email scams relating to disaster recovery, Clark says the safest way to know that someone who is calling you is really trying to help is to do your own research. Going to a trusted website and finding a phone number or email address independently is better than assuming the random call is trustworthy. She also reminds people to not click links in emails if you can't confirm the sender.

If someone approaches you face to face that you can't confirm, Clark recommends thanking them for the information, and letting them know you'll be doing your own research before following up.

Government sites like or the Vermont Emergency Management website are good places to start.

Price gouging

While less common, another scam during natural disasters is price gouging, which is prohibited in Vermont by the Consumer Protection Act.

Price gouging is when an item significantly increases in price — especially when demand increases exponentially, which happens during natural disasters. This sometimes affects things like water or first aid items; when displacement happens, you may also see higher prices in hotel rooms.

Who is at risk?

Since Vermont has the second-oldest population in the country, Marchildon says AARP has specific concerns regarding older populations in rural areas when it comes to these scams. He encourages people to check in with local officials and town managers to stay safe.

“They are looped in to what the state is doing, and always have the best and most up to date information,” Marchildon says.

Clark hasn't heard of any scammers yet and is hoping they stay to a minimum.

"Our hearts are breaking for Vermont and this is — the last thing they need is to be concerned about this, but it's good to have the knowledge and protect yourself in case scammers do, you know, come knocking," Clark says.

If you do think you've encountered a scam, Clark recommends reporting it to the Consumer Assistance Program (1-800-649-2424) so they can educate the public.

FEMA also has a Disaster Fraud Hotline (866-720-5721) where you can report any potential scams you may encounter, any hour of the day.

Physical safety

Clark also reminds Vermonters to not self-deploy when offering up help. Registering as a volunteer through is the safest way to be notified when and how you can offer your help, without putting yourself in harm's way.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Corrected: July 12, 2023 at 9:47 PM EDT
This article has been updated to clarify language about Vermont’s contractor registration requirements. Any home contractor who performs work with an estimated value of $10,000 or more, including labor and materials, must register with the state.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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