When you register your business with the Florida Division of Corporations, it’s not a one-and-one deal. You’re agreeing to provide the state with annual reports. Think of these as a sort of “State of the Union” for your company – less pomp and circumstance, but you do get to elucidate how your business has changed (or not changed) since the prior calendar year. Unfortunately, this annual round of paperwork opens the door to a common business scam. Filing companies have been preying on newer businesses who don’t yet know the annual report routine, sending reminders about forms that “need” to be filed – for a fee.
Some of my posts will involve more intense legal analyses, but consider this post a simple warning: Don’t fall for it!
Guises of the Scammers
Whether by email or physical mail, you will suffer the slings of a thousand notices from companies with confusingly state-government-adjacent names, circular logos containing an outline of the State of Florida (almost like a state seal), and generic but formal subject lines such as:
- The Reminder Department of the Florida Document Filings Co.
- Annual Minutes
- Annual Corporate Record Forms
- Florida certificate of status
- Corporate agreement templates
- “Sunbiz – State of Florida” websites that are not .org
- Notice to file the annual report in your stead – and charging a fee to do the paperwork
Sometimes the scammers boldly lead with the amount being charged and a request to complete your filing, as if you have already started the process. Every business owner should inspect any official-seeming letters or emails closely. You might find fine print that reads “This is not a government agency.” If that’s the case, the form is absolutely not mandatory for state or federal business requirements.
How Annual Reports Actually Work
There’s only one spot to file your business’s annual report: sunbiz.org. You can do so any time between January 1st and May 1st each year. Make sure to file on time because filing late will land you a $400 late fee – and that is not a scam.
There are also legitimate filing fees that must be paid to the state for your annual report. In 2023, those amounts are:
- $150 for for-profit corporations
- $61.25 for non-profit corporations
- $138.75 for LLCs
- $500 for Limited Partnership or Limited Liability Limited Partnership
There are also legitimate administrative fees charged by the state to do things like amend annual reports if you need to make changes after filing. Once you have filed an annual report, a copy of your filed report is available to you and anyone else with an internet connection on sunbiz.org free of charge. Besides annual reports, the Florida Division of Corporations rarely contacts business owners regarding submitting filings.
Don’t Feel Bad If You Fell For It
Hopefully, this information finds you before a “Corporate Record Form” notice. However, if you’ve already bought unnecessary filings, consider it a learning experience to avoid this common business scam next year. And think about enlisting some professional legal help to dot your i’s and cross your t’s going forward.
It’s completely understandable that a new business owner would get confused by these official-looking notices, and that is why new business owners are the targets for these companies. Starting and maintaining a business, especially a smaller one, involves a labyrinth of forms and bureaucracy – not to mention attending to whatever your business actually does, whether that’s making doughnuts or designing newsletters for senior centers.
For those nodding their heads in equal parts understanding and experience, I’ll go one further. This is just one iteration of this tactic, and there is an entire industry built on using fear to separate the uninformed from their money. The same tactics pop up wherever there is government registration: trademarks, copyrights, patents, professional licensing, business licensing, required surety bonds for notaries, talent agents, or construction projects. So keep an eye out for this same pattern in other similar situations – where there is pressure to meet a government requirement and a lot of private companies who look like a government agency.