Attorney General Mark Herring announces settlement to protect businesses from false advertising
Attorney General Mark Herring today announced a settlement with Annual Business Services LLC (ABS), a Florida limited liability company that used targeted mailings to obtain approximately $15,800 in the aggregate from more than 150 Virginia businesses. ABS, sometimes identified as ABS Business Compliance Division or Business Compliance Division, solicited potential customers through targeted mailings that purported to provide record preparation services for businesses. The lawsuit filed against ABS alleged violations of the criminal false advertising statute, as well as failure to obtain a certificate of registration from the State Corporation Commission to transact business in the Commonwealth.
“Unfortunately many companies that rely on direct solicitation hold themselves out as official government agents, leading businesses and individuals to pay for services they don’t want, don’t need, or even things they could get for free,” said Attorney General Herring. “We’re not going to tolerate this kind of misleading and deceptive advertising in Virginia. Folks need to be very suspicious when they receive these kinds of notices and look for indications that a letter is actually a sales pitch and not an official notice.”
In the lawsuit filed concurrently with the settlement today in Richmond City Circuit Court, Attorney General Herring alleges that ABS has violated the criminal false advertising statute by:
- sending advertisements that appear to come from a government source,
- implying that, if the company’s services are not purchased, the recipient may commit a violation resulting in fees or penalties imposed by an undisclosed government agency, and
- suggesting that Virginia limited liability companies are subject to the Virginia Stock Corporation Act’s annual meeting and minutes requirements when they are not.
The terms of the settlement include banning ABS from future violations of the criminal false advertising statute, as well as requiring ABS to obtain a certificate of registration from the State Corporation Commission to transact future business in the Commonwealth. Additionally, Attorney General Herring’s office will notify the Virginia customers identified by ABS of their ability to request a refund from the company. The Commonwealth is represented in this matter by Assistant Attorneys General Angela King and Stephen Sovinsky.
If you receive a notification that appears to be from a government agency, look closely to confirm whether the notification is genuine. If there is any doubt about a notification’s authenticity, contact the agency having responsibility in that area directly.
The Consumer Protection section of the Office of the Attorney General
enforces state and federal consumer protection laws, keeping Virginians safe from things like identity theft, consumer fraud and telemarketing scams, and enforces antitrust laws that protect businesses and consumers from behavior that defeats healthy competition. The Attorney General’s office serves as the central clearinghouse for the receipt, evaluation, investigation, and referral of consumer complaints. When there is a pattern of deception or other wrongdoing, the Attorney General is authorized to take action to stop the illegal conduct, and, where appropriate, seek refunds for affected consumers.
If you have a consumer complaint or believe you have been a victim of fraud or another consumer crime, call the Virginia Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-552-9963
or visit http://www.ag.virginia.gov
to fill out an online complaint.