(InvestigateTV) - The same mint green envelope has been arriving in the mailboxes of small businesses for years.
“It kind of states a deadline, and there’s like this whole instruction sheet on how to fill it out. So it just makes it look pretty official when actually, it’s not,” Meredyth Jenkins said when she received a mailer several years ago.
Attorneys general across the country have called the mailers “phony” look-a-likes and “deceptive and unfair.” The FTC says some of those mailers told business owners to pay $84 to buy labor law posters and warned about government fines for not posting the laws. Other mailers directed owners to pay money to file paperwork.
Jenkins complained about the issue in 2017. A company called the Virginia Council for Corporations was asking her for $150 to fill out information about her small clothing business. She didn’t pay and went on TV to warn people.
“Just helping other small business owners, you know? Especially, people who are new like me who may not have ever seen something like this or be expecting it,” Jenkins said.
The company Labor Law Poster Services, or LLPS, operates the company named on the letters. According to various state attorneys, it has a long history of complaints across the country.
Kandace Rowe in northern Virginia had a similar situation to Jenkins this year.
“When you’re looking at it, you think wow it looks pretty official,” Rowe said.
She was overseas when the letters arrived
“I started getting these mailings, and I paid two of them” Rowe said.
When she moved back to the U.S., she got more official looking letters requesting money to fill out what she says looked like an annual disclosure about her LLC.
“Lo and behold after like the fifth time got a notice, I was like this is crazy. So I called the number on the form. No one ever picked up,” Rowe said.
Rowe then Googled the name on the letter and came across Meredyth Jenkins’ 2017 news interview.
“I was like ahhhh, I’ve been scammed,” Rowe said.
She is not alone in that feeling. InvestigateTV found 16 complaints filed with the Virginia Attorney General’s office. A person in Pennsylvania writing, “Our accountant filled out and signed the paperwork under the assumption it was for our annual report.” A California business owner wrote, ”We do not conduct business in the state of Virginia. We have never even heard of this company.”
According to multiple government agencies, the services and products offered, in many cases, can be done for free or are unnecessary.
This is what people often see: The envelope has words like “important” and “time-sensitive.” The letters have phrases such as “a corporate records solicitation form” across the top and cites the laws for the specific state. But the fine print states “private company” and “NOT a government agency.”
That disclaimer is what may be keeping Virginia’s top attorney from taking action. In letter after letter to those taking the time to complain, the Virginia AG’s office says “while I understand your concerns the mailing has the required disclosures”
But at least 20 other states HAVE taken action against Lansing, Michigan-based LLPS, which uses or has used different names such as Virginia Council for Corporations depending on the state where its sending mailers.
Some won, some lost, and some are still working through cases.
Tennessee the most recent to file suit. The state’s top attorney saying: “These Defendants pretend to be something they are not in the hopes of preying on unsuspecting Tennessee business owners.”
Washington State has the biggest judgment against the company at more than a million dollars.
In 2015, Michigan’s top attorney tried to sue to permanently dissolve LLPS then known as The Mandatory Poster Company. Michigan lost in court.
Other companies have been called out for similar mailers. In 2019 in North Carolina, the AG put out this warning about paying for posters. Last year the FTC returned $1 million to what it called victims of a scam from another company pushing $84 posters.
The company Jenkins and Rowe dealt with, LLPS, is still in business. InvestigateTV called the number on the mailings. An employee who identified herself as Jennifer said, “We provide cooperate records books for businesses so we’re a private company. We’re not affiliated with the government at all. Our forms and envelopes we send out say that.”
When asked about business owners who reported buying the services and now wanting a refund because they don’t believe they were actually provided a service, she told InvestigateTV, “It does provide a service. It does have those corporate consent forms they do need to have and have signed and keep at their places of business.”
The Better Business Bureau in western Michigan has dealt with complaints over the years.
“For the businesses that file complaints with us, they feel deceived. They feel like this has not been an honest advertisement for services. To the business’ credit, they are very up front when you call them and offer a refund right away,” said Troy Baker, Educational Foundation Director at that Michigan BBB office.
Baker said over the decades LLPS has taken steps to minimize the confusion.
“Over the years they have made a number of changes to those mailings: Adding disclosures and other elements that have really reduced the number of complaints that have come into our office. We now only get a couple a year where we were receiving significantly more in the past,” Baker said.
LLPS frequently responds to BBB consumer complaints referencing its disclosure language. An attorney for LLPS declined to comment for our story or on pending lawsuits in both Tennessee and Florida. They instead told InvestigateTV to listen to a podcast interview with the former Michigan Attorney General where they discussed that the recent disclosures meet legal requirements.
InvestigateTV also visited the address listed for the corporate headquarters in Lansing, Michigan and found it to be a P.O. box at a UPS Store.
As for Rowe, she just wants businesses to know they don’t have to send in money from a mailer like this.
“Pay attention to the documents that are sent to you,” she said.
Experts have several tips for if you get a mailer you’re confused about. If you are unsure about something you get in the mail, if it looks official and is asking you to pay money, call the company. Google the name of it to see what articles come up, and call the government agency you think you are paying. Read the entire letter, including the fine print.
Copyright 2021 Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2021 Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.