'Bogus' Letter Targeting Businesses Garners Interest From State and Federal Officials - NBC Connecticut

'Bogus' Letter Targeting Businesses Garners Interest From State and Federal Officials

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A Connecticut couple running a small business received an unusual piece of mail two weeks ago: an official-looking letter from the "Division of Corporate Services" that offered to fulfill their "corporation's records requirement" for a $150 fee. The "bogus" letter targeting businesses has garnered interest from state and federal officials. (Published Friday, Sept. 4, 2015)

    A Connecticut couple running a small business received an unusual piece of mail two weeks ago: an official-looking letter from the "Division of Corporate Services" that offered to fulfill their "corporation's records requirement" for a $150 fee.

    "There's a seal, a barcode, so it looks very real – our address, our information, everything," explained Chiara Giadone, who runs the business with her husband, Roger. "There was a deadline: 'Pay by Aug. 21' and you don't want to be late."

    A few hours after they sent the payment, the Giadones felt uneasy and started doing research online. Within minutes, a scam alert from the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection popped up. The news release, dated Aug. 6, 2015, points to "bogus forms" being sent by the Division of Corporate Services.

    Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said that despite the appearance of legitimacy, any mail or email demanding payment, especially when there's a tight deadline, should arouse suspicion.

    "People can say no, people can ask questions. People should say no, people should ask questions before they act," said Harris.

    The address of the agency on the letter is 41 Crossroads Plaza, Suite 133 in West Hartford. The Giadones searched the address on Google and found a UPS store. Suite 133 is really Box 133, so they went to the store and started asking questions.

    "They've been receiving a lot of letters, every week, and they've been forwarding all the letters to an address in Florida. That's what they told us," said Giadone.

    The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters spoke to the owner of the UPS store, who said he was not allowed to give any information about who rents Box 133. He did say the Troubleshooters would never see anyone pick up mail from that box.

    "Division of Corporate Services" is officially registered with Florida's Department of State. The company filed its incorporation papers this past March and gives an address in St. Petersburg. The Troubleshooters reached out via telephone and email, but at this point, have not received any response from the company.

    Harris said because Division of Corporate Services makes its solicitation through the mail, the state referred the case to the United States Postal Service.

    "They have the ability to go after somebody, in this case these fraudsters, based on mail fraud," said Harris.

    Postal Inspector Brendan Murphy acknowledged the USPS is looking into the letter and the "Division of Corporate Services." He said fraudulent documents tend to have certain similarities.

    "If I saw different types of font being used, that shows me a cut-and-paste technique," said Murphy.

    A closer look at the document appears to show a slight difference in the font size, something that Murphy calls a "red flag." But there's an even bigger one, according to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

    "What's really scary is at the bottom it has a spot to put your credit card information, which really makes this an extremely dangerous tool for someone," said Merrill.

    The Giadones were able to cancel the credit card payment, but said they're frustrated.

    "How many more families are going to be scammed by this?" wondered Chiara Giadone.

    It could be many more, but investigators are concerned the letter's vagueness might protect the sender from any legal action.

    "What we're seeing here is language that could get someone to move forward on this, but also could protect the sender of the document in disclaimers," said Murphy.

    The document states, "the Division of Corporate Services does not officially represent the State of Connecticut," and that the addressee is "not obligated to use the Division of Corporate Services to fulfill your records requirement."

    Officials in Nevada and Idaho issued warnings in July about the "Division of Corporate Services," calling it "deceptive" and "bogus". Two years ago, several other states, including New York and Massachusetts, sent out warnings regarding similar scams targeting small businesses.

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