Biz Bulletin: Publisher scam hits Chattanooga area

Biz Bulletin: Publisher scam hits Chattanooga area

June 6th, 2014 By Jim Winsett in Business Diary

Jim Winsett

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Q: What are some scams that are happening in our area lately?

A: Scammers never take a rest. But two of the most common happening lately involves a new twist that scammers are using with the Publishers Clearing House name, and supposedly the state of Tennessee trying to get your unclaimed property to you. Let's take a look at each one.

Publishers Clearing House will not call you before they visit ...

Consumers have been calling about representatives who claim to be with Publishers Clearing House (PCH) who are really out to get your money. This ruse of a scammer claiming that they are with Publishers Clearing House is not new. Typically, the schemer will instruct the consumer to go out and buy a Green Dot money card -- then instructs the consumer to call them back with the information. Sometimes the schemer will ask the consumer to send money via a wire service in order to pay upfront the "taxes and fees" so the prize(s) can be released. The typical "prize" is a million or so dollars with usually a fancy car thrown in for good measure. The typical, so-called "taxes and fees" amount that consumer have reported averages around $300-$500.

The new angle in this ruse is that these schemers are being bold enough to ask the consumer to withdraw cash from the bank or get a Green Dot money card and meet up with them at the nearest CVS, Walgreen, or Walmart. Some go as far as to say they will go to their house to meet with them to pick up the money or card.

Should you receive a call from someone saying they are from Publishers Clearing House, keep these BBB tips in mind first:

• Publishers Clearing House will never notify you beforehand that they plan to stop by to award your prize -- it should be an absolute surprise!

• You cannot win a prize you did not enter.

• PCH will never ask for money upfront in order for you to claim your prize; the government will take it out when you file your income tax later. Anyone who states differently is trying to scam you. If you have to pay for a prize, then it's no longer a prize, but rather a purchase!

It is good practice to run the information you learn by with a trusted friend, family member, neighbor, lawyer, even the BBB before you go blindly to claim your prize.

Should you ever feel uncomfortable in a situation, or the schemer starts to threaten you, call the police and file a report. Never go alone to meet someone when exchanging items is involved.

For more information on scams that use Publisher Clearing House's name visit: http://info.pch.com/consumer-information/fraud-protection.

Have you claimed your missing property?

Concerned consumers have been contacting the BBB stating that the state of Tennessee -- Unclaimed Property Division is sending letters and making phone calls regarding unclaimed property. The callers ask the consumers for sensitive information, primarily for their social security numbers, in order to process the unclaimed property.

BBB did some investigating, and encourages consumers to do the same before handing over any information. Some red flags to note:

Watch the name: The department in the state of Tennessee that deals with unclaimed property is the "Tennessee Department of Treasury-Unclaimed Property", not the "State of Tennessee-Unclaimed Property" as many consumer have stated is who contacts them. Many times scammers will use similar sounding names in hopes that you do not realize which is the legitimate business.

BBB called the Tennessee Department of Treasury and verified that, indeed, over 120,000 mailings were sent out recently throughout the state of Tennessee regarding unclaimed property, but that they do not ever call individuals to let them know they have unclaimed property. Their website indicates that they may try various other methods to contact you such as mailings to your home, mailings to your workplace, place an advertisement in the local newspaper, but again never will you get an initial call from them.

You can always verify and look up if you indeed have unclaimed property via the state of Tennessee Treasury website at http://www.treasury.state.tn.us/unclaim/. For Georgia residents, the unclaimed property department is under the Georgia Department of Revenue at https://etax.dor.ga.gov/ptd/ucp/index.aspx.

Should you ever have a question about a correspondence you received regarding unclaimed property you can call, for Tennessee residents: 615-741-6499, and for Georgia residents: 855-329-9863.

Please also note: There are people, known as locators, who are willing to do the research for you, but will charge a fee to do what you can do yourself for free. The Tennessee Department of Treasury notes on their website that functioning as a locator is legal, but according to Tennessee law, locators may charge up to 10 percent of unclaimed money as payment for locating lost assets. Anyone who charges you more is breaking the law, and realize that you do not need to enter into a contract with anyone in order to claim your property.

For more information on finding unclaimed property, the process of claiming property, and information about locators visit: in Tennessee, http://treasury.tn.gov/unclaim/faq.html, and in Georgia, https://etax.dor.ga.gov/ptd/adm/faq/ucp/index.aspx. To find out more information for other states visit: http://www.unclaimed.org/.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.