Scammers are honing in on trademark owners and businesses, so it’s crucial for businesses and their employees to stay vigilant. Even if what seems like an official notice about intellectual property is received, it’s prudent to be skeptical. There’s been a surge in third parties trying to defraud businesses, especially in connection with business name, internet domain, and trademarks.

Clients may receive a notice that purports to originate from some entity with a seemingly-official name, such as the “United States Trademark Office.” These messages often push for immediate action to avoid supposed disasters. They might say things like, “Renew your trademark now!” or claim fees are overdue or a USPTO transaction wasn’t paid up. Scammers are even trying to spoof USPTO phone numbers. The USPTO has a whole page devoted to these scams:

There are some red flags which help identify improper action. Legitimate communications about federal trademark registration will originalte by mail or email from the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, with an email address. The USPTO hardly ever reaches out to trademark owners directly, and certainly not by phone. Except for registration certificates, the USPTO only communicate to the address on file, usually the law firm. If a communication is sent to a client by the USPTO, recipient will be at the address provided by the counsel to the USPTO, which is not public. When in doubt, the best course of action is to send such notices straight to counsel.

Similarly, businesses might get notices claiming a third party is about to file a trademark or domain registration using business’s own name, unless they act immediately. These senders might pose as a national trademark office (often from China) or a US law firm. They might say if the business doesn’t act fast, they’ll lose their name rights, using legal terms and citing statutes in an attempt to appear more official. Sometimes, these scammers even claim they’ll keep working with their client if the business doesn’t act — a clear and apparent conflict of interest and therefore an indicator of the lack of truthfulness of the sender.  Lawyers and government offices don’t call up opponents to warn about upcoming filings or to stop their clients’ plans.

These communications tend to share a few traits: urgent warnings, threats of losing a name, domain, or trademark rights, and demands for cash. They may target those least likely to have contact with counsel, such as accounting departments or human resources – whatever can be found on the business’s website.  Thus, educating every employee in the business about these highly-questionable notices and stressing the importance of routing communication through official channels, which may mean going through counsel, can help lower the chances of the scam working.

Being prepared can avoid undesirable outcomes.

James E. “Jim” Hudson III is a shareholder in the firm’s Intellectual Property Law Group.  For more information contact Jim here.

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For questions related to the case mentioned above, please contact Jim Hudson, Bill Jensen, or a member of Crain Caton’s Intellectual Property Law Practice Group.