Beware Scams Promising Payouts From Tobacco Settlement

Image courtesy of aresauburn™

If you’ve seen ads promising to set you up with payments from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement — a Nov. 1998 accord that requires tobacco companies to pay $10 billion annually to 46 states and Washington, D.C. — don’t fall for it. These ads are just a big, fat scam.

Attorneys general for Washington state, California, Nevada, and West Virginia have all issued warnings recently about the online scam, which offers consumers “guaranteed” tax-free payments of $2,300 every month from the settlement, forever. These offers appear to be aimed at retirees, framed as an “opportunity” for individuals to claim “a tax-free portion of this settlement,” even if neither they nor anyone in their family has ever smoked.

But in order to get that money, consumers first have to subscribe to a newsletter promoted by a company called Money Morning, which ostensibly offers investment advice with information on how to invest in state or local bonds backed by settlement payments.

It costs a monthly fee of anywhere from $5 to the first month to $129, and requires subscribers to provide a credit card number. Once you’ve done so, it’s difficult to make the charges stop, the AGs warn.

What this all comes down to is a scam: There are no provisions in the MSA that would require the tobacco companies or any state to pay individuals for their loss, notes the Public Health Law Center, though some states issued bonds backed by the settlement agreement payments as investment opportunities.

If you’ve noticed this scam or have been a victim, notify your state’s Attorney General.

Along with requiring the tobacco industry to fork over billions of dollars every year for the indefinite future, the Master Settlement Agreement also set standards for, and imposed restrictions on, the sale and marketing of cigarettes. For example, companies can’t use cartoons or any other kid-friendly advertising, put ads outside or in transit, place their products in media or branded merchandise, and most sponsorships are prohibited.