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Georgia Enters Settlement with Florida Company Over Deceptive Direct Mail Solicitations Targeting Small Businesses

Georgia’s Office of the Attorney General has entered into a settlement with CA Certificate Service, LLC, which also does business as GA Certificate Service, and its owner and sole employee, James Beard. The settlement resolves allegations that the company sent deceptive direct mail solicitations to Georgia small business owners offering to assist in obtaining a Certificate of Existence. CA Certificate Service would then charge $72.50 for completing the paperwork to obtain a Certificate of Existence, even though businesses can easily acquire a Certificate of Existence directly from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office for a mere $10.

“We will not allow Georgia’s small business owners to be purposefully misled and tricked into turning over their hard-earned money for unnecessary services,” said Carr. “Companies that engage in this type of deceptive behavior and target our small business community in the process will be held accountable for their actions.”

The Attorney General’s Office alleges that CA Certificate Service falsely represented that the fee it charges for obtaining a Certificate of Existence is a government fee, when the company has no affiliation with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office or any other government agency. The Attorney General’s Office further alleges that CA Certificate Service misrepresented its location by listing a Georgia address when it actually operates in the State of Florida. It should also be noted that new domestic Georgia business formations do not actually need Certificates of Existence to complete the business registration process according to the Secretary of State’s website.

To resolve these allegations, CA Certificate Service has entered into a settlement that requires the company to:

  • Fully comply with the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act;
  • Pay $25,000 in civil penalties, with an additional $75,000 automatically required in the event of non-compliance during a two-year monitoring period;
  • Clearly and conspicuously disclose the purpose and amount of all fees, including distinguishing between fees paid to the Secretary of State’s Office and fees paid to CA Certificate Service for its assistance in obtaining the record from the Secretary of State’s Office;
  • Clearly and conspicuously disclose that the company is not a government entity, is not affiliated with the government, and that the business may obtain a Certificate of Existence directly from the Secretary of State’s Office for $10; and
  • Agree to keep in place a policy under which it will refund its service fee to any customer who complains that it only paid the company due to the alleged conduct.

The Attorney General’s Office wants to remind all Georgia businesses of new legislation regarding corporate filings that recently took effect.

O.C.G.A. § 10-1-393.16 states that:

(a) For purposes of this Code section, the term “corporate filings” means any documents required by law to be filed with the Secretary of State pursuant to Title 14.

(b) Any written solicitation relating to corporate filings or employment or labor posters or notices shall include, in at least 16 point Helvetica font:

1. At the top of and at least two inches apart from any other text on such solicitation, the words:

“THIS IS A SOLICITATION. THIS IS NOT A BILL OR OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT AND HAS NOT BEEN SENT BY THE GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE’S OFFICE OR THE GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.”

No text on the solicitation shall be larger than the above required words.

2. On front of the envelope or, if there is no envelope, on the part of the written solicitation that bears the postage stamp or amount, the word:

“SOLICITATION”

(c) Failure to comply with the provisions of this Code section shall be considered an unfair or deceptive act or practice which is unlawful and which shall be punishable by the provisions of this part; provided, however, that notwithstanding Code Section 10-1-399, a claim of a violation of this Code section may be brought in a representative capacity and may be the subject of a class action under Code Section 9-11-23; and provided, further, that damages for such violation shall be the actual damages or $200.00 per violation, whichever is greater.

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