PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) —The state has put an end to a deceptive scheme that targeted more than 1,000 small businesses and non-profit organizations across Rhode Island.
Centurion Filing Services, according to Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, tricked new small businesses and non-profit organizations into paying for a “Certificate of Good Standing.”
Neronha said Centurion would send new small businesses and non-profit organizations a form in the mail that stated there was “one step left” to complete the registration process.
That final step, according to Neronha, was to pay Centurion an $84.50 or $87.25 fee to secure the good-standing certificate.
Neronha said nearly all of the small businesses and non-profit organizations Centurion targeted didn’t necessarily need the certificates, and could’ve requested them directly from the Rhode Island Secretary of State “for a significantly lower cost.”
The cost to submit a certificate request in Rhode Island is $22 for businesses and $7 for non-profits.
Once Centurion received the solicited payment, Neronha said the company would submit the request and pocket the difference.
The state filed a lawsuit against Centurion last year, accusing the company of violating Rhode Island’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
“[Centurion] deceptively targeted local businesses and non-profit organizations during a time when many were struggling mightily with challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Neronha said. “Eager to comply with the law, hard-working Rhode Islanders were tricked into paying an outrageously marked up price for a service they may not have even needed.”
“This office is committed to ensuring a fair and honest marketplace for local businesses and consumers by going after businesses that don’t play by the rules and undermine fair competition for everyone else,” he added.
Centurion agreed Tuesday to pay $104,000 in restitution to the small businesses and non-profit organizations it targeted, on top of a $25,000 fine. Neronha said Centurion has also been banned from future solicitation by mail in Rhode Island.
Neronha said his office will be mailing notices and restitution claim forms directly to impacted businesses and non-profits.
In order to receive restitution, businesses and non-profits must submit their claim forms by April 28 via mail or email.