RICHMOND (WRIC)—The postman always delivers, but what he delivers isn't always what it seems.
Robert Gainey opened his mail to find a letter from Corporate Records Service. Inside was an official-looking form labeled, "2013 Annual Minutes Form," that contained a list of Virginia codes. Despite the fact that its envelope stated, "This is not a government document," the form gave the impression of being an official record that must be filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission in order for the business to keep its corporate status.
"It looked real," Gainey said.
But the clerk of the Virginia SCC posted an alert on the commission's website stating that the unsolicited mailing creates the appearance of legitimacy but, "the form is not a document prescribed or recognized by the commission."
"When you read it at first blush, it looks like it's coming from the government, looks like it's coming from the Commonwealth," said Tom Gallagher of the Better Business Bureau, adding that many Virginia businesses have received the mailing. "We've had a number of calls."
Gallagher warns that it's basically a ploy to get money--$125 to be exact.
"Might not sound like a lot, but every penny counts," Gainey said.
Business owners like Gainey are told to send their checks or money orders to 7109 Staples Mill Road in Richmond.
"It makes it look like it's a local service that's being provided," Gainey said.
8News Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe visited the address and just found a UPS Store, not a company called Corporate Records Service as the letter claimed.
"Nothing more than a mail drop, that's all it is," Gallagher said.
Since Corporate Records Service's address was a dead end, 8News called the number listed in the mailing. A man who identified himself only as "Joe" answered and maintained the company is on the up and up. When asked if CRS was trying to scam business owners into paying money for something they don't need, Joe answered, "No sir, we provide a service."
Despite Joe's assertion, 8News found that formal government actions have been taken in other states where Corporate Records Service sent similar mailings.
Wisconsin Atty. Gen. J.B. Van Hollen claims CRS is in fact an "assumed name" for another company operating out of Michigan, and its mailing address makes deceptive, untrue and misleading statements (see page 6 here).
When asked what CRS actually does for businesses, Joe said, "As I said, we produce the corporate minute book. Corporations are required to keep their minutes on hand."
To create a corporate minute book, the company that calls itself Corporate Records Service would have to be physically present at a business's meeting or be provided a transcript—and nowhere in its mailing is this even asked for.
Van Hollen makes this point, writing, "Thus the service offered appears to be illusory," meaning deceptive or unreal (see page 5 here).
In September, the company had a consent judgment against it for $340,000—including more than $183,000 in restitution to consumers who were suckered. Here in Virginia, Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli has taken no action to date, meaning there will likely be no restitution.
"We work hard for our money," Gainey said.
Gallagher advised business owners, "Before you send any money out, be sure you check a company out."
The SCC told 8News there's actually no company of record here in Virginia with the name Corporate Records Services.
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