On Your Side Investigation: Business owners, this is not a bill from the government
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A business owner got what he thought was a bill from the government. Instead of mailing a check, he emailed the letter to On Your Side.
At the Jamaican Patty Co. on South Campbell Avenue, owner, Du’Sean Howard is hard at work. Howard is from the Caribbean.
“(I) came to the United States for an opportunity. A better opportunity,” he said.
He recently expanded his business to include a market. He got an LLC. Then a letter arrived in his mailbox. It’s a certificate of Good Standing request form. Which is a real thing through the Missouri Secretary of State’s office. It costs $10. But this letter says to pay $73 to $75 for the certificate.
“Every year there’s a renewal of some type. Fees go up,” said Howard.
Howard plays by the rules. His business license and merchant license are displayed. Those are required by law. This letter is another web of the red tape he thought. Then there’s this in the fine print.
“This notice is a solicitation for your business,” Howard laughed as he read the letter.
It’s an ad. It’s not from Jay Ashcroft’s office.
“It’s the typical trash scammers try to send out. It’s terrible. They’re taking advantage of people that are working really hard,” said Jay Ashcroft, Missouri Secretary of State.
“What ticked me off is I was about to pay for this thing right away,” said Howard.
The flyer says it’s from MO Certificate Service. There’s a suite address in Columbia. We asked the NBC station there, to go to this exact address. No suite. It’s a UPS store.
“Oh wow. I thought it was a stand-alone business where you walk in and they provide a professional service,” said Howard.
“It’s a scam. I can tell you it’s a scam because they’re charging people this amount of money for something those people could easily get just by going to sos.mo.gov themselves for $10,” said Ashcroft.
According to state records, MO Certificate Service is a Florida-based company linked to Centurion Filing Services. One year ago, the Iowa Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Centurion Filing Services. Court documents say the company violated the ‘consumer fraud act’ through ‘deceptive advertising’. And ‘scammed hundreds of new Iowa businesses’. Same story here, the address is a UPS store. Court records say a suite number gives ‘the impression they had an office’. The company denies the allegations. This case is pending. In the meantime, there’s a court order the company cannot send letters to business owners in Iowa.
In Michigan, about 2,500 businesses should get a refund. A lawsuit there was recently settled.
“I would have sent the money if it was required. I think they wanted me to believe that,” said Howard.
Earlier this week, On Your Side called the company. They hung up on Ashley Reynolds. She called a few more times and emailed. She has not heard back.
There’s no legal action so far in the Show-Me State. Ashcroft says he’s open to it. That’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s job. On Your Side asked his office about that. We have not heard back. For now, it’s word of mouth.
“I appreciate you talking to me and helping us get the word out,” said Ashcroft.
“If you get something like this, tell your neighbor,” said Howard.
On Your Side checked with the city of Springfield. Howard’s business does not require a Good Standing Certificate. Always check with your local government to see what licenses and permits are needed.
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