Tobacco settlement scam

Attorney General Mark Herring is warning Virginia consumers of a tobacco settlement scam that is actually just a marketing pitch to persuade consumers to buy a subscription for investment advice.

“My office is getting dozens of calls from Virginia consumers asking how they can collect from a tobacco settlement, but they can’t,” Herring said.

“This is nothing more than a scam hoping to rope consumers into paying for newsletter subscriptions, and I caution all Virginians to pay close attention to what they’re signing up for, and contact my office if you have any questions,” he added.

The advertisements refer to the Master Settlement Agreement, a 1998 settlement between the nation’s four largest tobacco companies and attorneys general from 46 states and territories, including Virginia. Under the Master Settlement Agreement, Virginia receives money each year from tobacco sales and puts it towards permissible uses such as health care, discouraging youth from using tobacco, and efforts to reduce childhood obesity and substance abuse.

None of this money is paid directly to individuals, and no one is eligible to directly receive Master Settlement funds.

At the end of the scam advertisements, consumers are urged to buy a subscription to learn more about how to receive these funds that don’t exist.

However, what they get is a monthly newsletter with information on how to invest in state or local bonds backed by settlement payments.  Once consumers sign up, they are charged approximately $5 for the first month and $100 for an annual subscription.

Consumers also may find it difficult to cancel the annual subscription once their credit card information is provided, according to a release from Herring’s office.

Contact Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Heath in the Tobacco Enforcement Unit may be contacted at jheath@oag.state.va.us.

If you feel you have been a victim, contact the Consumer Protection Section in Herring’s office. Consumer complaints regarding a variety of issues may be filed with the office, which also helps educate Virginians about scams; or visit www.ag.virginia.gov.

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