ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) --Local business owners beware!
The Secretary of State’s Office is warning consumers about deceptive business mailers, scams and misleading solicitations.
Laurie Dugoniths-Busbee called the Secretary of State’s Office and inquired about the letter she received about her annual registration with them.
“She told me, no, that letter is not a real thing,” said Dugoniths-Busbee, “It’s companies trying to mislead entities into believing they have to register through the mail and send a check to these companies.”
The Secretary of State’s Office sends out an email annually. It’s only $50 to renew your business’s annual registration online…but the cost in the letter Dugoniths-Busbee received?
“Three times the actual fee,” Dugoniths-Busbee said.
As a concerned business owner, and a lawyer who works with business owners, she posted on Nextdoor to alert others.
“I got a number of responses that were thanking me, because they had also received similar letters,” added Dugoniths-Busbee.
The Secretary of State’s Office said these types of misleading mailers and outright scams are not uncommon; especially during the annual registration period.
“At the very least, these letters need to disclose the fact that if you register with the Secretary of State online its $50, if you want us to take care of it for you, we’re going to charge you triple that,” said Dugoniths-Busbee.
However, the Secretary of State’s Office said there is a legitimate fee for service business in which a company will pay a third-party to register on their behalf and take care of the paperwork.
“I was extraordinarily frustrated that the Secretary of State’s office did not do more to warn people about this,” Dugoniths-Busbee said.
Even at a seemingly inflated cost, this can be a legitimate business function.
On the other hand, a mailer that falsely represents the sender as the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office or uses urgent, or deceptive language to mislead people into purchasing things they don’t need, is a different story.
“This is intended to mislead people into submitting checks much larger than what they need to,” Dugoniths-Busbee added.
“We are working hard every day to protect Georgia businesses from scams and misleading solicitations,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “We encourage all businesses in the Peach State to keep an eye out for deceptive business mailers and call us before sending money to unverified third-parties that promise government services at inflated prices.”
The office of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger released this updated information on Tuesday about the fight against deceptive businesses.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is working with the Georgia legislature to fight for and protect Georgia’s small business owners. Raffensperger is partnering with Rep. Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville) to pass laws that will protect Georgians from misleading business solicitations.
“I know firsthand what it takes to start and run a business successfully, and so I’m committed to fighting for Georgia’s small business community,” said Raffensperger. “This legislation will help keep Georgia’s small business community informed and protected from misleading mailers and outright scams. I am glad to partner with Rep. Wiedower to help ensure scam artists can’t go after Georgia’s small business owners.”
“As a small business owner, it’s a privilege to take action that will protect Georgia’s hardworking small business men and women,” said State Rep. Marcus Wiedower. “I am pleased to work with Secretary Raffensperger to increase transparency and draw attention to solicitors who are trying to take advantage of the people of Georgia.”
Every year, solicitors send letters to newly formed and existing businesses offering to get corporate registration forms on their behalf. Though some provide a legitimate service, in some cases, solicitors use urgent language to pressure entrepreneurs into spending money on services they do not need. In many instances, these solicitors offer their services at several times the cost for a business to file the same forms on their own. Additionally, because online filing is so simple, little effort is saved by hiring a third-party.
To help protect Georgia business from misleading or false solicitations, Raffensperger partnered with Rep. Marcus Wiedower to introduce legislation that will require mail solicitors to be more transparent when soliciting Georgia’s business owners. The new bill amends the Fair Business Practices Act in Title 10 Article 15 of the Georgia Code. Following passage, anyone who sends mail solicitations in Georgia relating to corporate registration would be required to include in 16-point, Helevetica font at the top of the mailer:
“THIS IS NOT A BILL OR OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT. THIS IS A SOLICITATION.”
To further ensure transparency for Georgia’s business community, the bill requires the language above to be separated from other language by at least two inches and to be as large or larger than any other text on the page.
Failure to comply with the new provisions will be considered an unlawful “unfair or deceptive act or practice” and will open these mail solicitors to prosecution by the Attorney General of Georgia.