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Fake Fee Scam Targets Small Business

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The Better Business Bureau (BBB) encourages businesses to be on guard for a scam that attempts to fool them into paying phony fees to maintain compliance with government regulations that don’t even exist.

According to reports, the scam unfolds with receipt of an official-looking letter in the mail. It’s labeled something like, “Notice of Potential Compliance Violation,“ “Certificate of Good Standing Request Form“ or “Annual Letter Solicitation Form“ —and it looks like a government document.

The letters explain that, in order to be in compliance with a regulation, you need to fill out the attached form and send it back with payment, which is usually $125.

Don’t do it. There is no “corporate records“ filing form or “good standing certificate.“ Scammers are hoping that business owners, eager to adhere to regulations, will automatically pay any “government“ fee that comes along.

There are many versions of this scam. Con artists are very creative in their fake regulations. In one iteration, the mailing informs you that your business needs to file “corporate meeting minutes“ with the government. How much does this cost? You guessed it: $125. It seems scammers have discovered the $125 threshold is a “safe“ number that flies under the radar of most businesses and generates a rapid rate of remittance.

Here are a few pointers to help you spot a fake government notice:

  • Search online. Some of the invented regulations are similar to real laws, so do your research before you pay. Your provincial or state government web sites will have a section for businesses that list required licenses and fees.
  • Don’t believe what you see. Scammers are great at mimicking official seals, fonts and other details. Just because it looks official doesn’t mean that it is.
  • Contact the agency. Don’t call the number on the mailing. Look on the agency web site for the real phone number.
  • Let BBB know. We’re always looking for local examples, so we can blast the word out. Please send a copy to us at info@greatermd.bbb.org. You can also search for recent scams at bbb.org/scamtracker.

Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. She can be reached at 410-347-3990 and abarnett@greatermd.bbb.org.