(The Center Square) – A court order has been issued suspending the internet domains of two online businesses and their owner who allegedly sent thousands of deceptive text messages and emails to Washington businesses and nonprofits over fees to file annual reports with the Secretary of State’s Office.
It was part of a large-scale scheme that cost businesses at least $228,000, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said on Friday.
The order, issued Thursday by King County Superior Court Judge Coreen Wilson, lists two Wyoming-based companies, EFile Business Inc. and Online Filing LLC, and their principal, Cameron A. Groom, as defendants.
The order directs internet domain provider GoDaddy.com to suspend eight online domains associated with the defendants as part of a preliminary injunction sought by the attorney general’s office while litigation continues.
“GoDaddy shall ensure that suspension of all relevant domains prohibit Defendants from using such domains to communicate with or obtain payments from Washington consumers,” the order states.
Ferguson’s office initially filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the companies in May, and Secretary of State Steve Hobbs posted a notice warning about the solicitations, which appeared to originate from his office.
Authorities allege that EFile Business Inc. and Online Filing LLC sent more than 147,000 deceptive text messages in just over one year to Washington businesses and non-profits, demanding $200 to file annual reports with the Secretary of State.
Although the reports are required, businesses can file them directly with the secretary’s office for only $60. For non-profits, the annual filing fee ranges between $20 and $60, depending on the organization’s annual gross revenue.
In a press release Friday, Ferguson said more than 1,100 Washington companies went on to pay EFile and Online Filing more than triple the cost than if they had submitted the documents themselves. Other text solicitations allegedly demanded between $150 and $175 to file annual meeting minutes – something that Washington state does not require.
The spam messages began in January 2022, particularly targeting newly registered businesses, authorities said. Since then, more than 70 complaints have been submitted to the attorney general’s office.
One Snohomish businessman wrote, “It (the solicitation) looked very official and I bought their service. Within a few minutes, I had a bad feeling that I had just been defrauded and went back to cancel my order. There was no one to contact and no response to a complaint I filed through their website. … I feel suckered and can’t believe I fell for this scam.”
The state’s lawsuit alleges unfair or deceptive practices under the Washington Consumer Protection Act and violations of the Commercial Electronic Mail Act and the Uniform Business Organizations Code. In addition to civil penalties, the suit seeks restitution for affected businesses and non-profits plus interest. The state’s protection act allows for penalties of up to $7,500 per violation.
Ferguson said Groom had not responded to the lawsuit and continued to message Washington businesses, prompting his office to seek a court order shutting down the websites and internet domains.
The Secretary of State offers comprehensive guides for small business and nonprofits, which include information on annual reports. Any business or nonprofit that believes it may be the target of a scam can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.
Assistant Attorneys General Shidon Aflatooni and Gardner Reed, investigator Scott Henderson, paralegals Jennifer Marin, Matt Hehemann and Khalid Ali, and legal assistant Luis Oida are handling the case for Washington.