ILNews

On watch for scams

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. File under the Sociology of Hoosier Discipline ... “We will be answering the complaint in due course and defending against the commission’s allegations,” said Indianapolis attorney Don Lundberg, who’s representing Hudson in her disciplinary case. FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW ... Lundberg ran the statist attorney disciplinary machinery in Indy for decades, and is now the "go to guy" for those who can afford him .... the ultimate insider for the well-to-do and/or connected who find themselves in the crosshairs. It would appear that this former prosecutor knows how the game is played in Circle City ... and is sacrificing accordingly. See more on that here ... http://www.theindianalawyer.com/supreme-court-reprimands-attorney-for-falsifying-hours-worked/PARAMS/article/43757 Legal sociologists could have a field day here ... I wonder why such things are never studied? Is a sacrifice to the well connected former regulators a de facto bribe? Such questions, if probed, could bring about a more just world, a more equal playing field, less Stalinist governance. All of the things that our preambles tell us to value could be advanced if only sunshine reached into such dark worlds. As a great jurist once wrote: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." Other People's Money—and How Bankers Use It (1914). Ah, but I am certifiable, according to the Indiana authorities, according to the ISC it can be read, for believing such trite things and for advancing such unwanted thoughts. As a great albeit fictional and broken resistance leaders once wrote: "I am the dead." Winston Smith Let us all be dead to the idea of maintaining a patently unjust legal order.

  2. The Department of Education still has over $100 million of ITT Education Services money in the form of $100+ million Letters of Credit. That money was supposed to be used by The DOE to help students. The DOE did nothing to help students. The DOE essentially stole the money from ITT Tech and still has the money. The trustee should be going after the DOE to get the money back for people who are owed that money, including shareholders.

  3. Do you know who the sponsor of the last-minute amendment was?

  4. Law firms of over 50 don't deliver good value, thats what this survey really tells you. Anybody that has seen what they bill for compared to what they deliver knows that already, however.

  5. As one of the many consumers affected by this breach, I found my bank data had been lifted and used to buy over $200 of various merchandise in New York. I did a pretty good job of tracing the purchases to stores around a college campus just from the info on my bank statement. Hm. Mr. Hill, I would like my $200 back! It doesn't belong to the state, in my opinion. Give it back to the consumers affected. I had to freeze my credit and take out data protection, order a new debit card and wait until it arrived. I deserve something for my trouble!

ADVERTISEMENT