As of January 1, 2012, there are new laws to prevent people from sending misleading solicitations to Californians. These misleading, or scam, solicitations appear to be from California government agencies and threaten business owners with fines if they do not file required forms. The people behind these scams charge several hundred dollars to file forms that would only have a small fee if they were filed directly with the government.
To protect California business owners, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen sponsored Assembly Bill 75, which now requires new disclaimers to be added to third–party mailings. The new law:
- Requires the following disclaimer to be on the front and back of every page, in font that is at least 12–point boldface capital letters and at least 2–point font type sizes larger than the next largest font on the page:
THIS PRODUCT OR SERVICE HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED OR ENDORSED BY ANY GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY, AND THIS OFFER IS NOT BEING MADE BY AN AGENCY OF THE GOVERNMENT.
- Forbids the soliciting company from using a name that may make the recipient of the mailing believe it is from a governmental entity, like the California Secretary of State's Business Programs Division.
- In 2013, the law was broadened to prohibit misleading solicitations not only by mailings, Internet Websites and electronic messages but by any means including periodicals and television commercials.
- These predatory practices are punishable as misdemeanors, with up to 6 months in jail and fines of up-to $2500 or both.
- In 2018, SB 272 extended the law to misleading solicitations for purchase of public records and overlaps with AB 75. It increases the technical size and style requirements for disclosures on solicitations to purchase public records from a nongovernmental entity. Solicitations may not contain language or content that imply a connection with or endorsement from the governmental agency with custody of the records. Now, solicitations must also conspicuously disclose the solicitation is an advertisement, include the name and physical address of the solicitor, the name and contact information for the governmental agency with custody of the record and the fee charged by that government agency. The solicitations may not be presented on a form or contain due dates.
- The government may bring an action against any violator to seek a full refund for the person(s) affected and civil penalties up to $100 for each document distributed for a first violation and up to $200 for each document distributed for subsequent violations.
Action for Fraudulent Letters
California businesses that receive a scam solicitation letter are encouraged to mail a written complaint along with the entire solicitation (including the solicitation letter, the outer and return envelopes, and all related documents) to the California Attorney General's office, Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, California 94244–2550. A Consumer Complaint Against Business/Corporation can be completed online and printed to mail, is available on the California Attorney General's website.