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On watch for scams

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The invoices look legitimate to the unsuspecting eye, but Indianapolis attorney Amy Wright knows something isn’t right about the documents her client received.

Some have official-looking logos or seals at the top or names that are very similar to the authorities that monitor trademark and intellectual property information or send out bankruptcy and debt collection notices.

scams Fraudulent notices stack up on the desk of Indianapolis intellectual property attorney Amy Wright. Wright says at least once a week her clients give her notices that look like legitimate invoices or government documents, but may in fact be scams. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Wright, who practices at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, says her clients pass along these documents at least once a week, and the number of fraudulent notices that her clients receive has doubled over the years.

“I have to think it’s a very lucrative business sending these out,” Wright said. “We started seeing these a few years ago, but really during the past six months it seems like there have been more of them. So, we’re on the watch and trying to let our clients know.”

Most of the scams are tied to public information, such as patent applications, lawsuits and debt-collection cases. These scams often demand payment for a debt or try to sell a service by giving the impression it’s needed for protection of a particular trademark or domain.

The scams Carmel bankruptcy attorney Erika Singler sees typically involve mortgage foreclosure filers. As she understands the practice, Singler said the scammers look for foreclosures filed on county court dockets to find individuals who are delinquent on home payments. Then, those homeowners receive letters from a purported business saying that the “business” can help rent out the house for enough money to cover the mortgage and sell the house back to the homeowner on a land sale contract or lease with option. All the homeowner needs to do is deed the house to allow for the “business” to draft a lease, collect rent and evict tenants.

“What the scammer then does is rent out the house, but doesn’t pay the mortgage and instead pockets the money and leaves the owner on the hook,” Singler said.

Before 2009, Singler said she saw these types of notices regularly, but the number dropped after a law change that year that alerted homeowners facing foreclosure about fraudulent notices from scammers. In the past year, though, Singler said clients are bringing her more of these notices, though she can’t pinpoint the reason for the increase.

Wright and other IP attorneys say the economy likely plays a part in the increase of these scams in the patent and trademark realm.

“I think it’s probably a combination of things,” Wright said. “It could be economy related, or that companies are starting to become profitable again and these (scammers) think it’s a good time to try this. Or maybe the software and technology to harvest this information is just more advanced now.”

Trademark attorneys have seen notices from the “U.S. Trademark Registration Office” or the “Trademark Monitoring Service,” which don’t exist but could be mistaken for real government offices like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. These notices offer to monitor the progress of a filed trademark application, provide third-party watch services, renew a registration, or provide another service relating to the trademark. On the patent side, attorneys report their clients have notified them about receiving notices from the “Patent & Trademark Office Register of Patents” that are essentially invoices requesting a filing fee payment.

These documents might appear legitimate because they often include an actual business name or trademark application information that’s been submitted or on file publicly.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office recently posted a notice on its website warning consumers about these types of scams. It encourages people who believe they have received a deceptive solicitation to file an online consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and to forward these solicitations to the USPTO at TMFeedback@uspto.gov.

white Tragesser

Joel Tragesser with Frost Brown Todd in Indianapolis says his clients bring him about six to eight of these notices a month – some from the U.S. and others from international entities.

“Many times, these entities will send to larger clients but try to bypass the person in charge,” he said. “They might send them to accounts payable or the financial people who might not know the difference between a legitimate notice or not. I tell all my clients not to pay, and to make sure that everyone in the office knows that.”

When a client gives him one of these notices, Tragesser searches the entity’s name to determine if it’s legitimate. Sometimes, he stumbles upon another lawyer’s blog or public notice alerting readers that the particular entity is operating a possible scam. Usually, that’s about as far as it goes for Tragesser and his clients. He tells them not to pay and to disregard these notices unless they come directly from him or another of the client’s counsel. Legitimate third-party payers sometimes do try to contact clients, but he says the firm typically handles those and it’s not something the client receives without the attorneys first alerting them.

One approach Tragesser takes to prevent clients from receiving these notices is during the application process when he is filling out forms with the applicant’s information. He often lists his own information or leaves that blank so that all contact comes to him. That curbs public record searches using that information to send out these scam notices.

“Obviously, it’s not foolproof because my clients still receive notices,” he said. “But maybe it is successful to some degree since I’ve never had someone pay.”

Like her colleagues say, Wright emphasizes the importance of her clients alerting their financial departments and secretaries about these potential scams. Sometimes, notices are for small amounts and might not register on the radar of suspicious activity for anyone, she said.

“Most of my clients know that any correspondence about trademarks or their legal interests will come from me,” she said. “If it’s not (from me), it could very well be a scam.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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