NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Scam alert! An unknown entity, the “Labor Standards Compliance Office”, is trying to sell labor posters with letters that look like bills

An unknown enti­ty call­ing itself the “Labor Stan­dards Com­pli­ance Office” is mass mail­ing decep­tive let­ters to Wash­ing­ton busi­ness­es and non­prof­its that appear to be bills from the gov­ern­ment, but are in real­i­ty solic­i­ta­tions for labor posters that can be freely obtained, the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute has learned.

One of these sus­pi­cious-look­ing let­ters showed up this after­noon in our mail, and after read­ing the fine print, we called the Depart­ment of Labor & Indus­tries and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son’s office to ask if they were aware of the let­ter.

It turns out that a lot of oth­er busi­ness own­ers and non­prof­it lead­ers have received iden­ti­cal let­ters. The Depart­ment of Labor & Indus­tries says many busi­ness­es have called in con­fused… so many that they felt com­pelled to pub­lish a news release:

Scores of busi­ness­es are con­tact­ing the Depart­ment of Labor & Indus­tries to report they have received an offi­cial-look­ing let­ter that implies they must buy required work­place posters or face fines.

L&I did not send the let­ters, but wants to remind com­pa­nies that the work­place posters are avail­able for free.

The mass mail­ing has con­fused many busi­ness own­ers, who assume it’s from L&I. The let­ters say “final notice,” are addressed to indi­vid­ual busi­ness­es, and include a pay­ment stub to pur­chase the posters for $295. It’s true that the state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments require cer­tain posters be placed at job sites. While pri­vate ven­dors may sell the posters, the gov­ern­ment pro­vides the posters at no cost.

“Our staff has received lots of calls regard­ing what appears to be a bill for gov­ern­ment posters,” said Anne Foote-Soiza, Assis­tant Direc­tor of L&I’s Divi­sion of Occu­pa­tion­al Health and Safe­ty. “L&I wants every­one to under­stand these posters are free for the ask­ing. Please let oth­er busi­ness own­ers know about it, too.”

The free state-required posters are avail­able from any L&I office or by call­ing 1–866-219‑7321 or down­load­ing from the L&I web­site.

The let­ters do not include a tele­phone num­ber, fax num­ber, or email address, or the name of an actu­al per­son. The let­ters are, as the above news release men­tions, addressed to indi­vid­ual busi­ness­es and non­prof­its.

The return address reads as fol­lows:

LABOR STANDARDS COMPLIANCE OFFICE
Busi­ness Com­pli­ance Depart­ment
1201 Pacif­ic Avenue, 6th Floor
Taco­ma, WA 98402

1201 Pacif­ic Avenue is the address for Wells Far­go Plaza, one of the high­rise com­mer­cial office build­ings in down­town Taco­ma. It is man­aged by Uni­co Prop­er­ties. Com­mer­cial real estate firm Kid­der Matthews, which sells office space in the build­ing, calls it “Taco­ma’s pre­mier Class A office build­ing”.

A search by us of the Sec­re­tary of State’s Cor­po­ra­tions Data­base for “Labor Stan­dards Com­pli­ance Office” yield­ed noth­ing. A search of data­bas­es main­tained by the Depart­ments of Rev­enue and License also yield­ed noth­ing.

It seems that the “Labor Stan­dards Com­pli­ance Office” is doing busi­ness in Wash­ing­ton State with­out being prop­er­ly licensed or reg­is­tered. How iron­ic. It also appears that they mined pub­licly avail­able busi­ness records for the pur­pose of send­ing this solic­i­ta­tion. The Sec­re­tary of State makes the entire Wash­ing­ton cor­po­ra­tions data­base avail­able in XML and text for­mats.

Any­one can build a list from those records. State law requires that indi­vid­u­als request­ing cer­tain pub­lic records (like from the PDC or one of the state’s uni­ver­si­ties) cer­ti­fy that they will not use the records for com­mer­cial pur­pos­es. How­ev­er, it isn’t clear to us whether the cor­po­ra­tions data­base is sim­i­lar­ly off-lim­its. There does­n’t seem to be a warn­ing on the Sec­re­tary of State’s web­site.

This same out­fit — the “Labor Stan­dards Com­pli­ance Office” — appears to be oper­at­ing in oth­er states, too. Just a cou­ple of weeks ago, Ari­zona Attor­ney Gen­er­al Tom Horne pub­lished a news release warn­ing about iden­ti­cal let­ters sent to busi­ness­es in the Grand Canyon State. Here’s his state­ment:

Attor­ney Gen­er­al Tom Horne is today warn­ing Ari­zona con­sumers and small busi­ness­es to be wary of solic­i­ta­tions that appear to be an offi­cial noti­fi­ca­tion from a gov­ern­ment agency.

There is cur­rent­ly an offi­cial look­ing mail­er being sent out by the “Labor Stan­dards Com­pli­ance Office” request­ing a fee (gen­er­al­ly $295) from con­sumers in return for pro­vid­ing up-to-date notices for busi­ness­es to post to com­ply with the State of Ari­zona and the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment. This sender is not affil­i­at­ed in any way with the gov­ern­ment, but is instead a pri­vate non-gov­ern­men­tal busi­ness.  Small busi­ness­es are not required to pur­chase these posters and should be wary of the “FINAL NOTICE” and “DUE NOW” claims stat­ed on the mail­er.

The Ari­zona Attor­ney General’s Office advis­es con­sumers to read all fine print, do research on com­pa­nies that are list­ed on mail­ers, and be cau­tious about the authen­tic­i­ty of mail­ings that appear to be from a gov­ern­ment agency.

Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Depart­ment of Indus­tri­al Rela­tions released a sim­i­lar warn­ing back in Sep­tem­ber (PDF). It looks like the peo­ple behind this let­ter have been tar­get­ing busi­ness­es in mul­ti­ple states west of the Rock­ies. We assume they are also oper­at­ing the web­site locat­ed at labor­stan­dard­scom­pli­ance­of­fice dot com, which adver­tis­es a phone num­ber (1–888-755‑3386) but no address. The domain is reg­is­tered with NameCheap through the reg­is­trar eNom.

The let­ter is a one-page, two-sided pro­duc­tion. The front side looks like this:

Front side of a letter from the "Labor Standards Compliance Office"

The back side looks like this:

Back side of a letter from the "Labor Standards Compliance Office"

The fine print on the front and back is the real give­away that the let­ter is not from the gov­ern­ment. On the let­ter we got, this para­graph appears just above the bot­tom third of the page, which is designed to be detached and remit­ted with an enclosed return enve­lope. It says, in ALL CAPS (decap­i­tal­ized here for read­abil­i­ty):

This is not a bill. This is a solic­i­ta­tion you are under no oblig­a­tion to pay the amount stat­ed above unless you accept this offer. This prod­uct or ser­vice has not been approved or endorsed by any gov­ern­ment agency and this offer is not being made by an agency of the gov­ern­ment.

The let­ter may not be a real bill, but it is clev­er­ly designed to look like one. (Evi­dent­ly, that’s why there are dis­claimers on both the front and the back).

The fine print is so small that even a per­son with good eye­sight could not make it out with­out hold­ing it at a very close dis­tance.

The let­ter comes in an offi­cial-look­ing enve­lope which states, “This noti­fi­ca­tion is con­cern­ing your labor law com­pli­ance… Imme­di­ate response request­ed.” Below that is the num­ber 2013, ren­dered as if it were lift­ed right off an IRS form:

Envelope containing letter from the "Labor Standards Compliance Office"

If you ask us, this let­ter is the snail mail equiv­a­lent of a phish­ing email. Phish­ing emails are mes­sages that look like they come from a busi­ness or the gov­ern­ment but were real­ly sent by scam­mers. The emails urges recip­i­ents to fol­low a link and input pass­words, con­tact infor­ma­tion, or cred­it card account num­bers into a form on a web­site the scam­mers con­trol. Recip­i­ents are often told the agency or busi­ness that is being spoofed needs the infor­ma­tion to safe­guard them (which is a lie).

A legit­i­mate busi­ness does not attempt to sell prod­ucts or ser­vices by pre­tend­ing to be the author­i­ties. This “offer” is a scam, and we won­der whether the promised ser­vice (which sup­pos­ed­ly includes a “cer­tifi­cate of com­pli­ance” and a “ser­i­al num­ber”) will even be pro­vid­ed to the peo­ple who send checks or mon­ey orders for $295 to the sixth floor of Wells Far­go Plaza in Taco­ma.

We assume some­body with premis­es there is oper­at­ing a vir­tu­al office or mail for­ward­ing busi­ness of some kind, which the peo­ple behind these let­ters are using.

If you have received one of these let­ters and you remit­ted pay­ment along with the stub to the “Labor Stan­dards Com­pli­ance Office” believ­ing that you were respond­ing to a gov­ern­ment notice, please file a con­sumer com­plaint with the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office imme­di­ate­ly.

Sim­ply fol­low this link to the online form, or down­load this PDF and return it by mail. Pro­vide your con­tact infor­ma­tion and your sto­ry so that the Attor­ney Gen­er­al can inves­ti­gate this scam and ascer­tain who might be behind it.

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8 Comments

  1. I received one of these let­ters and I also received a phone call prob­a­bly from the same peo­ple. It is a total scam and I think the sher­iff needs to pay these guys a vis­it.

    # by Amir Shawn :: December 12th, 2013 at 3:03 PM
  2. What if you did­n’t fall for it? Should I still fine a com­plaint with the AG?

    # by Kim :: December 13th, 2013 at 9:47 AM
  3. I received one of these “notices” yes­ter­day and turned it over to my attor­ney. Man, it real­ly looks real and I could­n’t fig­ure out how in the world I should be pay­ing $295 for a poster that I can get for free.

    # by Anita Fletcher :: December 13th, 2013 at 12:02 PM
  4. I received one of these in the mail yes­ter­day for a busi­ness I closed down in Novem­ber of 2008, so what­ev­er data­base they are using is not up-to-date!

    # by Monica :: December 13th, 2013 at 2:49 PM
  5. I just received one and thought I had missed some­thing in report­ing for the state. They need to do some­thing about this. Com­pli­ance with labor laws is a huge deal and this solic­i­ta­tion is very mis­lead­ing. Thank God I researched it before send­ing any­thing in think­ing I was late for not com­ply­ing soon­er.

    # by Mary H. :: December 14th, 2013 at 5:07 PM
  6. We received this same let­ter. After being wor­ried about a fine and a threat­en­ing pos­si­ble tax audit, I con­tin­ued to read this let­ter on the back. I was so angry by what we dis­cov­ered. What a scam!

    The Attor­ney Gen­er­al should be all over this imme­di­ate­ly, shut this oper­a­tion down and pros­e­cute this team of worth­less crim­i­nals to the extent of the law. The USPS should imme­di­ate­ly con­fis­cate mail going to this address or being mailed from this address:

    Busi­ness Com­pli­ance Depart­ment
    1201 Pacif­ic Avenue, 6th Floor
    Taco­ma, WA 98402

    The news chan­nels should broad­cast an imme­di­ate warn­ing noti­fy­ing busi­ness own­ers of this com­pa­ny’s activ­i­ty.

    # by Michael M. :: December 17th, 2013 at 1:52 PM
  7. Thank you very help­ful!

    # by Paul K :: December 23rd, 2013 at 6:13 AM
  8. I got this let­ter the oth­er day and found it espe­cial­ly sus­pi­cious because 1. There was no phone num­ber, 2. I closed my busi­ness 2 years ago. I was just about to research it for a phone num­ber to dis­pute the charge when I found this web­site. Some­thing needs to be done about those let­ters.

    # by Krista E. :: December 30th, 2013 at 11:20 AM