When people rip off businesses, all consumers end up paying. That’s a key reason why consumer advocates pay attention to alerts such as the one issued last week by Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

The secretary of state’s office includes the Division of Corporations within the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions (CEC). Maine corporations have to file reports every year. Those reports may be filed online at icrs.informe.org/nei-sos-icrs/ICRS. It is important to note that the bureau does not mail out paper forms for this purpose.

However, some business owners have reported receiving official-looking documents in the mail from something called the Maine Council for Corporations. The document looks something like the CEC’s annual report form. However, it is nothing that’s authorized by the CEC, and filling it out does not meet that office’s reporting requirements.

The letter is a solicitation, offering to draw up “corporate consent records in lieu of meeting minutes” for a fee of $125. Although the letter states correctly that Maine Council for Corporations is not a government body, some business people have mistaken the form in the mailing for a government document.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the secretary of state issued a similar advisory last year. Mailings from a “Corporate Records Service” came from the same address (126 Western Avenue #338, Augusta, ME) and contained a similar offer. After learning of a mailing in April 2013, state officials sent emails to thousands of business owners, warning of the questionable offer.

Complaints about the misleading nature of the mailings elicit indifferent responses. The company told the Better Business Bureau, “Our order form does clearly state in bold print, we are NOT a government agency and that we do not have a contract with the government to provide our service.”

Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin have all had legal tangles with the owners of Corporate Records Service. The settlement in Indiana included an order to mail refunds to businesses that had paid for the company’s services; other settlements involved fines.

The principals in the company also operate The Mandatory Poster Agency, which offers for sale a copy of employer laws and regulations on a laminated wall poster. Experience suggests that, almost as soon as such a poster is delivered, regulations are updated or revised; the posters are available for free anyway ( www.maine.gov/labor/posters/index.html).

Dunlap said of the Maine Council for Corporations offer, “There’s nothing illegal about this … but we don’t require these documents.” Dunlap said charging $125 to prepare unnecessary paperwork is “very much like a carnival scam.”

Maine corporations are required to make annual reports to the secretary of state’s Division of Corporations by June 1. Dunlap urges business owners with questions to call that office at 624-7752.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.