Florida company sued over mailer to new Wisconsin businesses
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The state’s Justice Department filed a lawsuit against a Florida company accused of tricking thousands of fledgling Wisconsin companies into filing a government form through it and charging many times what the form would typically cost.
In a lawsuit filed late last month, the Wisconsin DOJ alleges the company, Centurion Filing Services, LLC, sent approximately 65,000 mailers between November 2020 and mid-2022 to newly formed businesses encouraging the companies to file a “Certificate of Status” form through its agency. That type of form comes from the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions and includes information such as the company’s name, when it was formed, and its current status.
At the time the mailers were sent, DFI charged $10 for a “Certificate of Status.” Centurion, on the other hand, allegedly wanted $72.50.
Nearly 1 in 10 businesses that received the form replied, the DOJ’s lawsuit stated.
The DOJ noted that Centurion used the name WI Certificate Service or Wisconsin Certificate Service along with a Madison, Wisconsin return address. The state agency argues this was done to fool the recipients into believing the mailer came from a Wisconsin government agency and pointed out the address in the state’s capital was for a mailbox at a UPS store.
“By posing as a state government service, Centurion defrauded thousands of legitimate businesses for hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Randy Romanski argued.
The lawsuit lists several ways Centurion may have created a false impression that it was state government agency, as opposed to an out-of-state private business. The DOJ contends the mailers were sent soon after the business registered with DFI to create the impression that they were linked to the standard registration process. Additionally, a “Please Respond By” stamp atop the page along with form identification codes and bar codes at the bottom would allegedly lead the recipient to the conclusion the forms were official in nature. The filing also quoted a message from the company that government lawyers assert further reinforced an impression that the mailer came from a state agency (quoted below)
“Congratulations on registering your business with the State of Wisconsin. Your articles have been filed with the secretary of state and are complete. You have one step left in order to buy your optional Certificate of Status from Wisconsin Certificate Service.”
The Justice Dept. acknowledges the forms sent to the Wisconsin businesses stated the sender was not related to a state or government agency. However, its filing averred that part was hidden in the fine print and in an inconspicuous location on the form. In the example form provided by the state in its announcement of the lawsuit, the disclosure is included on the top half of the page in a paragraph placed below the ‘respond by’ request and business address and above the information the recipient is asked to verify. The paragraph, which includes a description of the form and the text quoted above, is written in a smaller font than the majority of the form.
As part of the lawsuit, the DOJ is asking the court to order Centurion to repay the companies who lost money as a result of the mailer, to ban the company from further similar actions, and to impose civil forfeitures on the defendants, which in addition to Centurion itself, includes three people tied to the company.
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