BRATTLEBORO — Elliott Greenblott has never been swindled, hoodwinked, flim-flammed, or even bamboozled by the rogue’s gallery of scammers he writes about regularly for this newspaper.
But Greenblott, who has created a post-retirement career for himself as an educator alerting the public to identity theft schemes and get-rich-quick offers that are, in fact, too good to be true, doesn’t think for a second that it couldn’t happen to him.
“The level of sophistication is so great, even after six years I don’t doubt I can be taken,” he said.
But this is no racket: Greenblott’s years of service to his community, as a justice of the peace and as a volunteer helping others spot identity theft and consumer fraud before they happen, was recently honored by area lawmakers.
A resolution thanking Greenblott for his dedicated service as a Justice of the Peace and consumer educator was offered earlier this fall by state Reps. Emilie Kornheiser, Mollie S. Burke and Tristan Toleno, and state Sens. Becca Balint and Jeanette White. The Vermont General Assembly adopted the concurrent resolution on Sept. 18.
“Elliott has devoted so many years to making sure that our elections are efficient and fair,” Burke said of the reasons for honoring Greenblott’s contributions. “He’s been very good about helping new justices of the peace learn the ropes.”
For Greenblott, who previously taught at Brattleboro Union High School and worked as a curriculum coordinator for the Keene (N.H.) School District, learning about how people separate others from their money has been a fascinating learning experience as well as a way to help others.
Greenblott pens a regular Fraud Watch column for New England Newspapers’ publications — the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and The Berkshire Eagle of Pittsfield, Mass. — about the latest scams and fraud trends, and what people of all ages can do to protect themselves. He tapes a regular public access show, ”Mr. Scammer,” on the same topic at Greater Northshire Access Television (GNAT-TV) in Sunderland, which is distributed throughout the region.
He said the work is most rewarding “when I get that call or email for someone who reads the column and says ‘I have a question’. That says the message is getting out, and that’s rewarding to me.”
CHANGING LANESIt came about when Greenblott, already well into retirement, was looking for a new challenge.
Greenblott, who had been teaching Vermont AARP’s Smart Driver Course for about five years, had decided he wanted a change. It just so happened that was when Greg Marchildon, the organization’s Vermont executive director, contacted him about the possibility of taking on the fraud watch role.
“I knew nothing about scams and fraud. I’d never been scammed,” Greenblott recalled. “I thought, ‘This is kind of interesting.’ So I immersed myself. Basically, I got hooked.”
Marchindon said there’s no way Vermont AARP could run its consumer fraud education program the way it does without Greenblott’s volunteer efforts.
“Not only does he do a lot of outreach and presentation, he has about 15 volunteers who work with him and report to him,” Marchindon said. “It’s not an overstatement to say we couldn’t be able to run our fraud watch program nearly as aggressively as we do in Vermont without Elliott’s leadership.”
“Our 140,000 members in Vermont benefit greatly from his passion and commitment,” he added.
For Greenblott, learning about new fraud schemes, and alerting Vermonters to the threat they pose, has become a passion.
“I think what really draws me to this whole thing is getting [readers] to understand there’s a lot of sophistication and education that goes into successful scamming,” Greenblott said.
DON’T TAKE THEM LIGHTLY
“In general, the public is kind of massaged by the sense that they’re immune because the average scammer has a foreign accent and doesn’t appear to be too bright,” he explained. “The feeling is you’re smarter than they are. No, you’re not smarter than they are. Just because you’ve heard someone from South Asia impersonating an IRS agent doesn’t mean you’re smart.”
How Greenblott became a Justice of the Peace, a role he played for 30 years, is a story of being in the right place at the right time.
It was 1988, and Greenblott, then the social studies chair at Brattleboro Union High School, decided to attend the town Democratic Caucus. “It was getting close to the election and I thought, well, I know I’ve been teaching this stuff, so maybe I ought to do more in terms of participating,” he said.
At that caucus, the Democrats needed eight nominees for a slate of Justice of the Peace candidates. They had seven names.
“Someone looked around, saw me and said ‘Who are you? Do you want to be a Justice of the peace?’” Greenblott said.
“I asked ‘What do I have to do?’ The response was ‘You get to marry people.’ Nobody mentioned it also meant being part of the Board of Civil Authority for elections, the Board of Abatement and the Board of Tax Appeals.”
The additional tasks didn’t scare Greenblott away. He stuck with it for 32 years, including 20 as chair of the Board of Civil Authority.
As a justice of the peace, Greenblott estimates he officiated more than 200 weddings, including the historic marriages that took place in Brattleboro when Vermont became the first state in the union to recognize gay marriage.
Greenblott said he took the other responsibilities of the job seriously, including serving as an election official, hearing tax appeals and abatement requests, and administering oaths.
“The conduct of elections, including this year, has always been a primary role I’ve seen in the job,” he said. And the board’s role in hearing tax abatement requests and tax appeals give people a chance to be heard and, in some cases, repair their finances.”
“There’s some really great things you end up doing as a justice of the peace that have nothing to do with marrying,” he said.
TIME FOR A CHANGE
That said, Greenblott decided this year was time to step down and let others lead.
“It was time for someone younger to step in. I thought it was necessary to refresh the brainpower in this group,” he said. “I never was elected to a lifetime appointment or role … it was time.”
Greenblott, who, with his wife of 47 years, Pam, has three grown children, was surprised and touched by the honor when it was presented to him at a recent meeting of the Board of Civil Authority.
“It was totally unexpected, and I would say I came close to being in tears when it was presented to me in a virtual meeting of our board,” he said. “Our three Brattleboro state reps reps were participating and I didn’t understand why they were there … the first order of business was [State Rep.] Mollie Burke making a statement, which was very touching.
“I never intended do things to be recognized to do them because they’re the right thing to do. To be recognized by the Vermont Legislature in this way ... it’s really a high point for me.”