Can Existing Companies be Made Anonymous?
If you have an existing company, is it possible to “make it anonymous” by removing ownership information that is listed online or made available by the Secretary of State?
The quick answer is “no.” The longer answer is, “you can certainly change and update ownership information of your existing company, to remove or obfuscate ownership details, but there are important limitations that reduce the effectiveness of any anonymity.”
To understand the issues, you might want to start with watching the video or reading the blog article entitled, Maintaining Your Privacy with an Anonymous LLC, to give you an understanding of what an Anonymous LLC is and what it isn’t.
Information Used for Existing Companies
- Organizer or Incorporator (can never be changed)
- Registered Agent
- Members, Managers, Directors or Officers (sometimes optional, depending on state and type of company)
- Physical Mailing Address
For your existing company, if you or another owner is listed as the organizer or incorporator, this can never change and you’re stuck with it. If you or another owner’s information is listed for any of the other elements, it certainly can be changed. This involves changing the actual ownership of your existing company, usually by inserting an anonymous holding company between the current owners and the old company (i.e. the existing owners will own the holding company, instead of the existing company).
Two issues will persist, however. First, the Secretary of State will usually keep the old Articles with the old information on file, to be accessed or downloaded from the Internet by any one who asks. Second, many third-party websites and services will “screen scrape” or otherwise take data from the Secretary of State, and for whatever reason, such third-party websites are quick to post information for new companies but not so quick or outright fail to revise the information after updates to the Secretary of State.
Thus, it’s “impossible to fully put the genie back in the bottle” with respect to anonymity for an existing company, if it wasn’t setup properly for anonymity purposes in the beginning.
Sure, information can be changed, and sure, if someone does a cursory look at the Secretary of State for a company, they may not see an owner name (except for the organizer or incorporator). However, if they do any research whatsoever, such as looking at the original articles, doing a google search on the company name, or a reverse address lookup on the old Physical Mailing Address, what will they find? Is that acceptable?
How to Form an Anonymous Company
If you have an existing company, the only real way to create an anonymous company is to form a new Anonymous LLC from a qualified and reputable organization, such as a properly licensed business attorney. After you form a new Anonymous LLC, you want to have that Anonymous LLC acquire the assets of the old company, and then close and dissolve the old company.
While this is the recommended approach, there are two potential problems. First, if you want to use the same brand name, this creates an obvious connection between the new and old company that can easily be looked up on the Internet. Second, you have a new company, and therefore will need a new FEIN, bank accounts, etc, and you lose the credit you may have built up in the old company.
At the end of the day, it’s a question of the lesser evil: Change ownership in the existing company with the reduced anonymity as explained above, or create a new Anonymous LLC along with the problems just identified. You need to decide what makes the most sense for what you do, and the level of anonymity you need.