N.Y. (WETM) — Attorney General Letitia James shut down two websites that were impersonating the New York Department of State.
The websites impersonated the NYSDOS’s Division of Corporations website and significantly overcharged for services provided by the Department of State. These sites allowed people to file business-related documents at local, state, and federal levels. The websites used the Division of Corporations’ official seal and logo to seem legitimate. Nothing on the sites disclosed that they were run by a third-party filing on behalf of consumers and not official government websites. According to the Attorney General’s Office, the fake websites were created by Thomas Romano and his company, Steamin’ Weenie LLC.
“Misleading consumers is not a smart business plan, it’s unethical and illegal,” said James. “These websites deceived hardworking New Yorkers who were simply trying to open up their own business and file the necessary paperwork to do so.”
As part of an April 5 agreement, Romano and his company are required to pay $44,387 in penalties and clearly disclose that their websites are not affiliated with the government. They are also prohibited from using any government seals, logos, or other images that would lead people to believe that the websites were actual government entities.
The Attorney General’s Office released some tips for checking to see if a website is affiliated with the government. Government websites almost always end with “.gov” and won’t appear as sponsored links on search engines. Government websites will also have contact information, including a working phone number, a real address, and social media links.
All of New York State’s agencies and services can be found on ny.gov, and New York City’s can be found on nyc.gov. If you aren’t sure which website you need is legit, you can always search for what you need from these main websites.
If you find a website that you think is pretending to be an official government site, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office’s Bureau of Internet and Technology.