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‘Business owners, watch out for this…’

Each year, businesses and non-profit organizations that are licensed in the State of West Virginia are required to submit an Annual Filing to the Secretary of State’s office. The deadline to file the report is July 1 each year; it takes 10 minutes tops and costs $25. You will usually get a yellow postcard notice in the mail from the Secretary of State in the first quarter of the year or an email if you’ve signed up for notifications through the One Stop Business Portal.

Several years ago many Chamber members starting receiving notices about completing their Annual Reports to the Secretary of State’s office. They “looked” like official notices, but the cost to file was listed as $125.

I am so glad that those members started questioning these notices and forwarded them to my attention. I immediately sent a copy of one of the notices to our local representative for the Secretary of State’s office to ask about mailing. Very quickly, Dot Underwood (our local rep who is so responsive and a great asset) got back with me to inform me that while these solicitations aren’t illegal, they are certainly misleading.

Over the last two years, these notices starting popping up and many businesses inadvertently paid the increased fee to have the third party prepare their filing, not realizing that they could do it themselves (and likely had done it themselves for many years prior) for only $25.

In fact, in 2018 and 2019 the Secretary of State’s Office took action against one third party and required them to return fees to more than 2,000 West Virginia businesses who were misled.

Guess what?

The solicitations are showing up again.

One of our Chamber members received one of the third party notifications last week and today we received an alert from Secretary of State Mac Warner cautioning WV businesses to be wary of these third parties soliciting annual report filing services again.

Below are excerpts from the Secretary’s notice:

“Charleston, W. Va. — The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office was recently made aware of mailed solicitations by a third party offering to assist businesses around the state with filing their mandated 2021 annual reports, which are due by July 1, 2021.

“Although receiving assistance for annual report filing from a third party is not illegal, Secretary of State Mac Warner says businesses should consider their options and research before sharing sensitive information or payment for such services. He also encourages business owners to confirm that the company is authorized to do business in WV before contracting for services.

“If you or your business receive a suspicious or misleading solicitation from a non-government entity offering to file your 2021 annual report, please take care to first confirm it is a legitimate business and properly registered with our office,” Warner said. “Though it might look like an official notification, these kinds of misleading solicitations could be the work of out-of-state fraudsters. Business owners, now more than ever, must remain on the lookout for scams.”

According to Warner, third-party vendors have solicited West Virginia businesses for the past several years.

The vendor is required to provide clear disclaimers in all solicitations in West Virginia, which includes a notification that the third party is not associated with the Secretary of State’s Office and that businesses can file their annual reports directly for the statutory fee of $25.

During the 2020 annual report filing period, 98 percent of West Virginia businesses filed their annual reports online through the Secretary of State’s One Stop Business Portal.

The 2021 annual report filing period will begin Jan. 1 and end on July 1. 2021 annual reports may not be accepted prior to Jan. 1, 2021. West Virginia businesses are encouraged to file their own annual reports using the One Stop Business Portal, which can be accessed online at Business4WV.com.”

If you have any questions about a notification you’ve received to file an annual report for your business, we are happy to review that notification with you and if needed, to forward your concern to the Secretary of State’s office on your behalf. As always we are here to help our business community maneuver through these types of questions and concerns.

Visit this space every other Saturday for more Chamber news. We also invite you to call us at 304-422-3588 or email us at info@movchamber.org. The Chamber office is open by appointment only at this time (501 Avery Street, 9th Floor in Parkersburg.)

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