For several years, companies that sell free government forms or convince companies that they must submit unnecessary documents have operated under this strategy in Florida to secure the sale.
These companies send out mailers that mislead hard-working small business owners into paying unnecessarily to file corporate minutes or purchase posters that are available for free from the U.S. Department of Labor. In addition, some companies target students and persuade them into unnecessarily paying for forms that are available for free from the U.S. Department of Education.
The Government Imposter and Deceptive Advertisement Act (GIDAA) was enacted to protect individuals and businesses from being defrauded by companies that sell free government forms or impersonating government entities.
GIDAA prohibits these companies from using mailings, emails, or websites that target Floridians without prominent disclaimers stating that the sales materials are not related to any government filing and/or that the information or forms can be obtained free of charge. If forms are being offered, the disclaimer must also include the phone number of the agency that provides these documents for free.
Additionally, GIDAA prohibits sending or posting online any advertisement that simulates a court summons, complaint, jury notice or other judicial document. Also prohibited is falsely representing that a company or offer is:
- part of or associated with a government entity,
- approved, authorized or endorsed by a government entity,
- or from a government entity.
Violations could result in substantial civil fines and/or administrative fines up to $10,000 per violation. Additionally, GIDAA gives individuals and businesses the right to bring an action to enforce the act and seek punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Consumers and businesses are requested to report suspected violations to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Visit FloridaConsumerHelp.com to file a complaint or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) en Español for more information.