CHICAGO (CBS) — The Illinois Secretary of State’s office said Wednesday that about 200 corporations – many of them small businesses – have been caught up in a scam that looks official.

WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports a form mailed out from a firm called “Corporate Records Service” has sent out forms similar to official state forms, indicating a state law requires all corporations to hold annual shareholders meeting, and keep permanent records of the minutes of those meetings, and submit them to the state.

While corporations do fill out annual report forms with the Secretary of State’s office — summarizing a corporation’s activities during the year — there is no state law requiring corporations to fill out a “minutes record form,” or to pay a $125 filing fee. However, since the form looks similar to the “corporation annual report” form companies send to the Secretary of State’s office, the form from “Corporate Records Service” has fooled many companies.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller Reports

Carol Marino, an office manager at a Woodstock accounting firm, said they’ve had about 30 clients ask them about the form.

“They think it is legit, and they’re coming to us saying, ‘Help us fill this out. We don’t know exactly what it is they want,’” Marino said. “And I am telling them, ‘This goes right in the garbage. This is a scam.’”

Marino said a lot of clients asked them about the “Corporate Records Service” forms on Tuesday.

“Today was even more so. We are getting our corporate clients coming in, asking us to fill out these forms. ‘What do we do with them?’ And when we got ours, we knew immediately – this is a scam,” she said.

The form looks official, but Secretary of State Jesse White said it is not.

He said the scammers worked the East Coast before centering on the Midwest.

“Eleven-thousand people in the state of New York have been bilked out of their funds from this company,” he said. “Then there have been hundreds of individuals here in Illinois who have paid the $125 that they requested.”

He said his office is investigating the Corporate Records Service.

“We are going to make sure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” White said.

He said about 200 corporations in Illinois have fallen for the scam so far; cheated out of a total of roughly $25,000.

White said anyone who’s received an “Annual Minutes Records Form” from the Corporate Records Service should call the Secretary of State’s office at 312-793-3380.

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