MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A scam is targeting businesses and churches by requesting money in what the BBB is calling a bogus letter for a “Certificate of Existence Request.”

Michael Clark has retired as a pastor but still handles a lot of the business at Bibleway House of Prayer on Park Avenue.

When a request showed up in the church mail recently, it was a red flag. The letter looked official, and asked for $175.50 by check or money order be sent to a filing company in Nashville.

“They want to charge us a fee, a $175 fee, just so we can get a certificate that says we exist,” Clark said. “I am curious what a certificate of existence would look like.”

We contacted the Better Business Bureau, who told us the letter is not legitimate.

“It does appear to be trying to spoof official government seals and trying to make someone, or make it appear that it’s coming from a state government, when in reality it’s not affiliated with the state at all,” said Daniel Irwin with BBB of the Mid-South.

It seems the letter has been going to several states asking for money businesses don’t need to pay. In fact, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett already has put out a warning, calling it a scam.

“The mailer and organization are not affiliated or authorized by the secretary of state’s office in any way,” Hargett said.

If you want a certificate of existence, they can be obtained from the state for $20, not $175.

We tried calling the number on the letter but never got past a voicemail.

Pastor Clark fears a lot of people will fall for the scam.

“Since the pandemic, many churches are hurting in attendance and offerings, and a scam like this doesn’t help,” he said. “We need $175, we don’t need to throw it away.”

The BBB says there are some red flags already on the letter itself.

“No government agency is going to use a general email account like a Gmail or Yahoo, or in this case an Outlook.com account,” Irwin said. “The seal on this document does not look right, it was obviously trying to mimic the official state seal of Tennessee.”

The small print says the company is not affiliated with any government agency and this is a solicitation for business. But how many people miss that and shell out money they don’t have to?

“The scammers wouldn’t be taking the time and the energy and the money to mail these out if they weren’t getting a return on their investment, so yeah, I think lots of people are falling for it,” Clark said.

Here are some tips from the BBB: