Patrick – Jun 11, 2020
Victim Location 94925
Total money lost $196
Type of a scam Online Purchase
Similar experience to others here.
Renewed based on mail communication that strongly implies official USCG affiliation. Website uses similar color schemes, has a USCG vessel, and modified maritime emblem. This was the 2nd renewal of 2 years so I paid a total of $600 which is precisely $196 more than the base fees that the USCG charges for renewals.
The fees are nearly 200% more for renewal registrations of USCG documentation. The USCG charges $26 per year. This place charges $75.
I did not realize this until I received a renewal notice from the USCG that explained the fees along with my pending renewal date.
When I contacted this company to ask what I was getting for the additional $49 per year I was spending they immediately jumped to legal actions and threatening collections.
"Dear Managing Owner,
Again, as previously stated, all applications and processing fees are non-refundable as agreed by you in our terms and conditions.
Any unwarranted and fraudulent charge-back against our company will be contested. Please be advised that if that is the case we will then communicate directly with your financial institution and will no longer communicate directly with you. To recover fees for services requested by you and rendered by our company, be advised that your file may be placed into collections and this may negatively affect your credit. Additionally, this email will be forwarded to all parties involved, including retain legal counsel."
Further there is direct reference to USCG laws 46 CFR 67.500(e) regarding refunds in their language:
"I agree to pay the above total amount according to the card issuer agreement and hereby authorize the charge for the total amount above for the processing of selected USCG documents. I understand that my application will be processed in the order in which it is received by Maritime Documentation Center, a private fee for service documentation company, not owned or operated by any governmental agency. I understand that application and processing fees are non-refundable as per Maritime Documentation Center’s no refund policy and as per 46 CFR 67.500(e)."
Victim Location 94618
Total money lost $49
Type of a scam Online Purchase
Maritime Documentation Center
Fraudulently Purporting to Represent The United States Coast Guard In Collecting Vessel Documentation Fees
In late October, 2019, I received by mail a letter from Maritime Documentation Center purporting to be an authorized representative of the United Coast Guard in collecting annual vessel registration fees and issuing the required Certificate of Documentation. Each year since purchasing our sailboat, I have received a similar notice from the United States Coast Guard in late October or early November, so I thought this was our annual registration fee notice. The only difference this year is that the annual renewal fee was $75.00 instead of the usual $26.00. I assumed the registration fee had been raised.
After submitting my renewal application to Maritime Documentation Center, I began to wonder why the fee was so much higher than what I had been paying in the past. I went online and reviewed the Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaint summary for this company (attached) which indicates that Maritime Documentation Center is not an accredited ScamPulse.com business.
The “Pattern of Complaint” indicates that “Consumers allege that they are misled to believe they are on the U.S. Coast Guard’s website and are charged excessive fees to submit their vessel documentation. Additionally, the ScamPulse.com confirmed via information on the United States Coast Guard’s website that the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC), located in Falling Waters, West Virginia, is the only entity authorized to issue Certificates of Documentation (CODs), Form CG-1270.”
The Coast Guard News article “Boater Beware: Vessel Documentation Fraud Lurks Online” states that the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center is the only authorized entity to issue Certificates of Documentation.
Additionally, without naming Maritime Documentation Center, this article cautions boat owners that there are scam companies “that charge excessive fees for their service and their “certificates” issued are deemed not in compliance with the United Coast Guard regulations. In fact, Coast Guard boarding officers will not accept this documentation as being valid.”
Victim Location 08731
Type of a scam Online Purchase
We receive very official looking letters in the mail 4 times a year with instructions to renew our Commercial Vessels’ USCG Certificate of Documentation. The letter directs you (the business owner, or authorized agent) to go to their website or to call their 800 number in order to renew your vessel COD. It sites the possibility of fines and penalties if the COD expires. Generally, the letter is sent several months before the actual expiration date- this is the first tip-off. If you do choose to use their service, they will charge you exorbitant fees in order to process. The actual cost of renewing a commercial vessel COD is $26.00. They charge $50+. Luckily, I recognize the letter as not coming from the USCG and am well aware of when my fleet’s COD’s need to be renewed. It is my understanding (based on reading other complaints) that this company will, in fact, process your renewal– that’s how they continue to stay in business, I assume. It should be known that if you accidentally use this service before you realize it is not the Government agency and try to cancel your transaction, they WILL cancel the renewal, but they will NOT refund your money. They state clearly in their billing language that they do not refund any service fees.
What the public needs to be aware of is that this service is completely unnecessary and will cost you double the actual price of renewal. When your vessel COD is set to expire, you will receive notification from the real USCG with a link to their website that makes the renewal very simple and for the correct price of $26.
Victim Location 45040
Total money lost $49
Type of a scam Tax Collection
I received an official-looking envelope from the Maritime Documentation Center, 100 24th St W Suite 1-1028, Billings MT 59102. Inside was a letter indicating that my vessel’s documentation is set to expire and that for an additional fee, this organization was willing to renew my certificate of documentation.
This is a scam. They are trying to trick me into paying them $75 and filling out their form instead of paying only $26 directly to the U.S. Coast Guard using the real form that the USCG sends me every year.
I fell for it last year. But not again.
See the USCG warning below
Boater beware: Vessel documentation fraud lurks online
Oct 16th, 2017 · Comments Off on Boater beware: Vessel documentation fraud lurks online
Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Wallin examines fishing vessel documents during a fishing vessel inspection in Cordova, Alaska, Sept. 18, 2015. Marine Safety Unit Valdez personnel were in Cordova to conduct fishing vessel examinations and provide training to the fishing industry to promote safety and environmental protection in Prince William Sound. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Wallin examines fishing vessel documents during a fishing vessel inspection in Cordova, Alaska. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Colclough
A new scam is targeting boat owners looking to save a little time online, but it’s costing them hundreds of dollars: Websites offering documentation renewal services for a fee.
These websites lure boaters with the appearance and convenience of an official government website, but, just because a site looks like the Coast Guard and works like the Coast Guard, that does not mean it’s the Coast Guard. Boaters using these websites can end up spending three times the standard fee, and Coast Guard boarding officers will not accept their vessel’s documentation as valid.
Why? The U.S. Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center, located in Falling Waters, West Virginia, is the only authorized entity to issue Certificates of Documentation required for vessels engaged in commercial trade and optional for vessels weighing five or more net tons engaged in recreational use and activities.
The NVDC is aware there are commercial entities that offer to manage the certification and renewal process on behalf of vessel owners for a fee. The Coast Guard does not endorse any of these companies, and the companies do not operate on behalf of the Coast Guard in any way. The services they provide are legal, but the certificates issued are not deemed in compliance.
Any fees charged beyond the $26 renewal fee or other agreements offered by such companies are in no way associated with the NVDC certification process. In addition, these companies are not authorized to issue any form of documentation, including travel letters and/or permits that authorize operation of any vessel.
“These are legitimate companies similar to the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] that have satellite offices open on the weekends and after hours. They’ll give you your tags, but it’s going to cost you twice as much because you’re paying for their service,” said Russell Hazlett, commercial fishing vessel examiner for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. “These companies are not issuing the certificate, but rather, they are the middleman who charges a fee for processing the paperwork on your behalf.”
According to Hazlett, many fishermen in Alaska sign up with a company to handle their annual documentation and end up paying hundreds of dollars. They often realize too late they are not dealing directly with the Coast Guard.
During dockside safety examinations, Hazlett provides operators with a copy of the marine safety advisory bulletin sent by the NVDC May 16, 2017, which advises vessel operators to be aware of third party service providers.
”Just this year alone I have come across probably eight people who have fallen victim to it,” said Hazlett. “I have warned them: When you go to renew your documentation, just be aware there is another company that provides that service.”
Hazlett noted that many third party websites resemble a Coast Guard website complete with an anchor-themed logo and color scheme that closely matches the Department of Homeland Security seal.
A librarian in Naknek, Alaska, filed for her husband after she received an official-looking letter marked “reinstatement courtesy notice” from a website offering documentation services. The letter even listed the boat’s hull number and looked every bit like an official Coast Guard document. The website bore all the markers for an official domain except one: the non-official site ended in “.us” instead of “.mil.”
“It looked like a Coast Guard site, but when you scrolled all the way to the bottom, the site claimed in the tiniest font they are not affiliated with the U.S. Coast Guard,” said the librarian.
The librarian cancelled her credit card and proceeded to dispute the charge. It was when she entered “coast guard renewal scam” in an online search engine that she realized she was not alone. It turns out there are a number of forums online of fishermen in Alaska and across the rest of the country, who share their stories and seek information on how to get their money back from third-party providers.
“I was worried we got scammed, which we did. I ended up paying about $150 when it only really costs $26. I was really worried we wouldn’t get the certificate in time for my husband to go fishing,” said the librarian.
The wife of a fisherman in Whittier, Alaska, paid twice the standard fee of $26 after her husband received an email that stated his permit could be renewed with a fee.
“I thought it was free, so I told him I’ll renew it, because the website looked so official. And that’s why I was probably duped,” she said.
The charge on her credit card statement coupled with unreturned calls from the third party provider tipped her off that the transaction was not legitimate.
“We thought because of budget cuts there was now a charge, but I thought to myself, hmmm, it smells like rotten fish,” she said.
She disputed the charge with her credit card company on the grounds of fraud; however, the representative told her she was responsible for the charge because she agreed to it.
“I said: No. You’ll need to look up Webster for the definition of fraud. Fraud means that someone misrepresented their intention,” she said.
She eventually received a refund after talking to a supervisor, but not every boat owner is so lucky.
When it comes time to renew the documentation, always remember the Coast Guard website offering documentation uses a .mil domain name. Web domains using .us, .com and .org are not authorized. Get the Coast Guard-approved certificate that helps save money just like a Coast Guard-approved life jacket helps save lives.
For more information on Certificates of Documentation call the Coast Guard’s NVDC at 800-799-8362 or visit http://www.uscg.mil/nvdc/.
Victim Location 27707
Total money lost $200
Type of a scam Online Purchase
Annually the Coast Guard sends out documentation renewal notices. This previously had been free, but recently there has been a service charge. In 2017 and 2018 communication with the Coast Guard offices was difficult, and historically their mailings have been a bit sloppy. E.g. the form is typically a crooked Xerox.
In 2018 they updated their process, but this group – the Maritime Documentation Center – sent out renewal notices in advance of the Coast Guard. The renewal notices appeared official.
I called the number on the mailing to try and straighten out some documentation questions I had for 2017. The Maritime Documentation Center agent said that the issue had been cleared up, and that I could go ahead now and renew my documentation for three years.
While they may have never stated – I don’t remember – that they were The Coast Guard, they declared that they were the Documentation Center, and that they posed as if they represented the government. They made claims about my documentation being in effect that only a representative of the government could state for certain.
They claimed that the annual renewal was now $75, and that I now had the option for renewing for multiple years. They took my $225 for a three year renewal, and they did submit my renewal for 2018. However, the actual renewal is $26, and at that time you could not renew for multiple years.
This month (March 2019) I received my US Coast Guard renewal notice that showed my documentation would expire in April, and that I had not paid for any further renewal. When I called the Coast Guard to clear this up they explained that I had been speaking with the Maritime Documentation Center, but NOT the Coast Guard.
I called the Maritime Documentation Center at the number saved from the previous year. When speaking on the phone, they do not make any attempts to make it clear that they are not the Coast Guard. I explained to them that I had received a renewal notice, and that I wanted to speak with somebody about correcting my record since I had paid for three years. Their agent did not explain that they simply process form requests. Instead he told me that everything was fine, and that I should just tear up the renewal notice from the government.
At this point in our conversation I asked them to clarify who they were. They then asserted that they made no claim to be from the government. I then wanted to cancel my service since they should not be filing any paperwork with the government on my behalf. The agent said he could not do that. I would have to communicate with their billing via email. I have since done that. They will agree to cancel my service, but not refund my money.
This business poses as representatives of the US Coast Guard.
They misrepresent the cost of the annual renewal.
They push for a multi-year renewal and charge about 300% for the service.
They do file your paperwork for you, but that actually creates a liability for the consumer since they are making representations for you to the US government.
Victim Location 60490
Total money lost $49
Type of a scam Online Purchase
Maritime Documentation represents themselves as the actual Coastguard website for Boat Documentation renewal. I knew my documentation was within a couple of months of expiring, so I went online to renew my certificate. My search took me to the Maritime Site: https://maritimedocumentation.us/. There was zero reference to them being a third party or "middleman", unless hidden. I paid the $75 renewal fee and did recieve my certificate of documentation. However, the same day, I recieved a bill from the Coast Guard for my renewal which was only $26. This is clearly a fraudulant or at the very least a misleading business practice that costs consumers three times the cost to renew.