Thousands of unsuspecting business owners in Washington state have received an official-looking form directing them to send in money for a filing fee that is bogus. The form is not from any state agency and is requesting a $125 fee for a service that is not necessary or required in the state.
The heading on the form is: 2012-Annual Minutes Records Form. It advises that according to state law all corporations “shall hold a meeting of shareholders annually” and that “a corporation shall keep as permanent records minutes of all meetings of shareholders.” The KING 5 Investigators have found that is true: for-profit corporations and not-for-profit corporations alike must hold shareholders meetings and record minutes, yet there is no requirement to submit the minutes to the state or to pay anyone to do so. The notice also asks for payment to be made by check, money order or by credit card. There is space to enter a credit card number and expiration date.
More than 100 business owners who received the notices called the Office of the Secretary of State in Olympia on Tuesday to inquire about the unusual notice.
“We got about a dozen calls on Friday, about double that yesterday, but today our phone lines exploded,” said Patrick Reed, Operations Manager for the Secretary of State. “People are very confused by the document and whether or not it’s required to be filed. We’re assuring people it did not come from our office and this is not a required filing by any state office.”
Seattle business owner Randy Cryer received the notice Tuesday afternoon and was immediately suspicious because there was no contact phone number on the form and in all his years in business he had never seen anything like it. Cryer thinks newer business owners could easily be duped.
“Somebody that’s just started their business, who’s never had a business before will look at this and think this is just another one of those requirements that I need to do, send in their money, send in their paperwork and it’s gone.”
The Secretary of State’s Office reported to KING 5 that some business owners had already sent in their money before placing a call to the agency.
The form is being sent by Corporate Records Service in Olympia. The KING 5 Investigators have traced the address back to a strip mall in Tumwater which rents space to businesses including a FedEx and a teriyaki restaurant.
KING 5 has also learned Corporate Records Service is under investigation by the Illinois Secretary of State police and Illinois Attorney General’s Office for sending the exact same form to business owners there. The Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White, has alerted businesses that this is a “deceptive business practice” and that they are “warning businesses to beware of a scam targeting Illinois corporations".
The Attorney General’s Office has been made aware of the notices in Washington state, but since they have just turned up in the last few days, there is no decision on whether or not that agency will launch an investigation as well.