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

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. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.