South Carolina Secretary of State Mark Hammond has partnered with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) to promote the #BizSchemeSOS public education campaign. The #BizSchemeSOS initiative encourages members of the public, business owners and future entrepreneurs to keep the Secretary of State’s Office as their primary, trusted contact for business filings to avoid business schemes and other fraudulent practices.
Recently, the Secretary of State’s Office has seen increased activity involving misleading solicitations mailed to new businesses. These mailings are effective because they appear to be official government documents and instruct businesses to submit payment to the solicitor in order to meet state filing requirements. These mailings are deceptive because, in most cases, the business owner does not owe any fees or need the document that the solicitation is offering to provide. Furthermore, certified copies and certificates of existence for businesses on file with the Secretary of State’s Office are only issued by the Secretary of State’s Office, and can obtained directly through the Business Entities Online application on our website.
Deceptive business solicitations may have the following characteristics:
- They appear similar to a government form, or even reference “Secretary of State Mark Hammond” or “South Carolina Secretary of State’s Office.”
- They offer to provide a “certificate of status” or certified documents and state that these forms may be required to open bank accounts, obtain loans, or renew business licenses.
- They list a document number or “Customer ID” that does not match any number issued to the business by a federal or state agency.
- They require a fee to be paid to a third party.
- They cite South Carolina statutes or regulations.
- They ask the customer to confirm the accuracy of their business’s name and registered address by completing a form and returning it with a fee.
- They provide a due date for the business’s response.
- They contain fine print that indicates that the solicitor is not affiliated with any government or state agency.
- The solicitor has an official sounding name like “Division of Corporate Services” or “South Carolina Certificate Service.”
If you receive a letter that appears to be from a government agency but tells you to pay a fee to a third party, then it is likely a deceptive solicitation. If you have a question about a solicitation you receive for business services, please contact the Secretary of State’s Business Filings Division at (803) 734-2158. You can also send an electronic message to the Secretary of State’s Business Filings Division.