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TDCI: Be Wary of Companies Charging for Free or Nearly Free Services

Scammers Prey on Unsuspecting Consumers by Charging High Fees for Free Services
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 | 07:52am

NASHVILLE – Does paying $150 to obtain a certificate of existence for a business seem pricey? It might seem reasonable but, in fact, that service and others are actually available free of charge or at minimal cost through governmental agencies.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TDCI) Consumer Affairs Division reminds citizens to be aware of companies trying to charge a costly fee to obtain or file simple paperwork that’s either free or available at a very low price. Consumers should do their homework first.  

“Many consumers are familiar with shopping around to find the best price of a product, but it’s also important to price compare before purchasing a service,” said TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “Scammers are taking advantage of people looking to file or obtain documents that are provided free or at little charge. Be sure to research the company and price compare before purchasing a service.”

In an effort to raise awareness of the importance of being a savvy consumer, TDCI offers the following reminders:

  • As the school year begins, scammers pressure consumers into paying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), insisting that there is a charge. While you can choose to pay someone to prepare it for you, you can also complete the application for free at fafsa.ed.gov.
  • Scammers promise expedited shipping on services like birth certificates or marriage certificates. Instead of sending the documents, they ‘expedite’ the paperwork, which is free online.
  • People are often misled by advertisers who use the terms “Social Security” or “Medicare.” Often, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. These services include getting:
    • A corrected Social Security card showing a person’s married name;
    • A Social Security card to replace a lost card;
    • A Social Security Statement; and
    • A Social Security number for a child.
  • The law that addresses misleading Social Security and Medicare advertising prohibits people or non-government businesses from using words or emblems that mislead others. Their advertising can’t lead people to believe that they represent, are somehow affiliated with, or are endorsed or approved by Social Security or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
  • Consumers should be wary of companies charging a fee to assist them with Medicaid and Medicare applications. Tennesseans can receive free help with Medicaid applications by contacting your local Area Agency on Aging and Disability (AAAD) at 1-866-836-6678. Assistance with Medicare applications can also be obtained free of charge in Tennessee by contacting the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

TDCI and our partners have the same goal: To protect consumers by making them aware of deceptive business practices. Tennesseans are encouraged to utilize the following resources to avoid misleading advertisements and unscrupulous business people:

If you have questions or need to file a complaint, visit TN.gov/consumer or call (615) 741-4737.

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