Business owners, beware of scams
By Susan Tompor
Published: Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Everyday consumers aren't the only ones targeted by scam artists running fake foreign lotteries, sending scam emails about a so-called approved loan or making phony pitches for supposedly free trial offers.
Small-business owners and corporations are getting hit by solicitations for preparing so-called required corporate records. The fake fee is $125 or more for preparing the documents. A return envelope is often included. The paperwork looks legitimate and resembles something that might come from a state office.
It's nothing but hooey. Don't pay the fee.
“They make it very easy for someone to part with their $125,” warned Barbara Dobb, a certified public accountant at Dobb & Sager CPAs in Commerce Township, Mich.
Michigan does not require businesses to file corporate records, only annual reports or annual statements, which can be done online directly to the State of Michigan, said Steve Arwood, director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
Arwood warns businesses to disregard the deceptive notices. Some notices could appear to be issued by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs — Corporations, Securities & Commercial Licensing Bureau.
Some accountants worry that a small-business owner could wrongly believe that the business might be shut down by the government if the business doesn't comply.
Dobb said her firm received one of the solicitations in early August. We've heard reports of church leaders and sorority sisters getting similar forms. So, if you received something in the mail because of some corporate affiliation, read it very carefully before sending any money.
Regulators say similar solicitations are hitting small-business owners in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas, among others.
The concern is that a small-business owner who is busy juggling many duties could be tricked into thinking that a state government agency is requiring yet another form and fee.
One solicitation in Michigan lists a Lansing address. The woman who answered the phone said she could not answer media questions or give a company statement.
The form that I saw included “Instructions for Completing the Annual Corporate Records Form.” Dig further into the form and the print does say, “Corporate Records Service is not a government agency and does not have or contract with any government agency to provide this service.”
CPAs across Michigan are sending email blasts to warn clients who might not read that form carefully. Sometimes the fee is $125, $150, $175 or $239 for completing and submitting those so-called annual corporate records.
Some CPAs compare this latest round of solicitations to those fake e-mail alerts from the IRS around tax season. Don't open those either.
What's unsettling is that the letters could arrive at a time, maybe in the late summer or fall, when many small-business owners would not be meeting with their accountants and might send the money before questioning the fee.
“There's zero requirement to fill that out and pay that money,” said Stella Moulton, CPA and tax manager for Gordon Advisors in Troy.
“Ignore it. Shred it,” she said.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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