corporationIt's year end again, and about now I always get an extra annual load of junk mail. This particular batch is from companies who attempt to deceive small business owners into paying for unnecessary services that appear to be a legal requirement.

I received a typical solicitation today. Corporations are required to keep certain records, including the recorded minutes of shareholder meetings. In my case, once a quarter I type a sentence or two detailing any important decisions I made regarding my podcast, and I stick it in a file. This is a legal requirement, and it takes me ten minutes to comply.

Today's solicitation was from a company offering to store it for me, for $175, if I mail it to them. Nothing wrong with that. Probably not worth it, but certainly there's nothing wrong with offering such a service.

The problem is with the way they offered it. They sent me a form (click on image for larger view), at a glance similar in general appearance to the Secretary of State's official corporation forms. It even has a simulated serial number "stamped" (actually printed) on it. It has a "remit by" date of two weeks from the day I received it. It has an official looking seal printed in the top left. It is to be remitted to the "Corporate Compliance Recorder", which is simply the name of their company, but which they apparently hope I will mistake for the name of a government agency. In short, this company Corporate Compliance Recorder is hoping that I will mistake their solicitation for a legal obligation to some government agency that I believe I am required to fulfill. They hope I will send them a check for $175, and they are not going to any great pains to inform me that I have no legal obligation to do so.

I've received at least one other identical request in the past week from a different company, and once a month or so I get a similar form from a company, also disguising themselves as a government agency, offering to file my Statement of Information form for me for $150. (California corporations are required to file a Statement of Information, which is a prefilled form that I sign and stick in the reply envelope, with an annual fee of $25.) This particular company simply keeps the $125 profit and forwards my form to the Secretary of State.

I keep wondering if I should send this along to the district attorney. Some might interpret these solicitations as attempts to defraud small businesspeople.

The lesson to be learned is to be skeptical, even of your mail. Just because someone's asking for your money doesn't mean they're entitled to any of it.