How simple is it to start an anonymous shell corporation? Fusion investigative correspondent Natasha del Toro went to Delaware — famous for its corporate secrecy — to find out. Witness the birth of She Sells Sea Shells LLC, a business incorporated in five minutes for an anonymous beneficial owner — Natasha’s cat Suki. No ID necessary!
It was all in good fun, but it highlights the complications of tracking down financial wrongdoers who take advantage of business-friendly anonymous structures like Delaware’s. As Natasha’s investigative colleague, Catherine Dunn, writes:
Two hours due north of FBI headquarters, Delaware – aka our nation’s “First State” – has more companies than state residents on its books. More than 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies call Delaware their corporate home (on paper, at least). Last year, the state incorporated some 170,000 companies. This past winter, Transparency International listed Delaware on a Top 10 list of “Grand Corruption” cases around the world.
Nancy and Stephen Wolf, the friendly Delaware agents who helped Natasha set up her cat’s company, explained that clients love their state’s privacy laws. “Many times we don’t know who our clients are,” Nancy said. “They sign up for our services at our website, we get their name and address.”
Nancy and Stephen said they report suspicious client activities immediately, but most clients don’t raise red flags. Then again, most clients don’t share any info on what their companies actually do. “We know the LLC name or corporate name, but we don’t know what they’re doing or what kind of business they have,” Nancy said.
Inspired to start your own shell? You can do it, too, by following the steps below. Want to know why you’d need one? Learn more about the use and abuse of (mostly overseas) shell companies in Fusion’s new deep investigation, Dirty Little Secrets.