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Someone Pretending to be Your Company!
What do you do when someone is passing themselves off as you?
makemetop




msg:3950865
 7:49 am on Jul 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

In my many years in this market, I've not heard of this happening before but this has just happened to me.

Someone registers with various B to B sites under my trademark and when companies ask for SEM services, they get the lead and call the client saying they are from my trademark and offer the same services as my company. They produce a website which is mytrademark.xyz! (a TLD I haven't registered - though I have done most).

The potential client searches for my trademark and sees we have been around for ages. They are told by the person who contacted them that they are their account manager and don't call the office but their direct number.

The company decides to go with the people who contacted them, an invoice (using my company registration number and a fake VAT number) is raised using my trademark. The client is then asked to wire money to a bank account opened under my trademark (probably a personal account of joe bloggs trading as my trademark). After paying, client then later calls me and asks about what we are doing! This has now happened 3 times (that we know of) in the past couple of weeks and the total sent to the pretender amounts to several thousands of .

We know nothing about it (obviously)! Result? Very upset clients, a smear to my name and (it appears) little I can do quickly.

What have I done?

a) Report situation to Trading Standards for trademark "passing off".
b) Report to police (and they have taken a full statement from us and taken evidence - although the "fraud" has taken place over various jurisdictions - but my trademark is valid in all applicable jurisdictions where this has taken place).
c) Sent a "cease and desist" to the undoubtedly fake address they are using.
d) Got the hosting company to take down the replica website (they put up another one slightly changing the trademark - but referring to mine on the site). We've sent another cease and desist.

However, they are still continuing with this activity with someone calling us on Friday with another tale of woe having sent 1,300 to these scammers only last week.

Obviously, we can sue (if we ever find these people) but it is likely to cost us a lot of money with the probability of us getting nothing back.

What would you do in these circumstances having really exhausted what we can do using statuatory authorities who seem to be dragging their heels not through lack of evidence or paperwork (I've been sent the e-mail communications, copies of invoices, wire instructions etc) - but because I am in a different jurisdiction to the people who have been scammed.

My first instinct was to put up something that would warn people about the scam if they typed in our trademark for a search - but that could be a double-edged sword!

So - any suggestions? Has this happened to someone else in our space?

 

maximillianos




msg:3950963
 1:57 pm on Jul 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

I would send a request to the sites they registered with and request the accounts be removed or replaced with your contact information.

We had a case where a user was posting on another site under a handle trying to look like they were representing our site. We simply emailed the admin and the account was remove.

makemetop




msg:3950992
 3:24 pm on Jul 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

Done that - but it is playing "catch-up". We only know about the sites they registered with after the event. Most, I've never heard of!

HRoth




msg:3951428
 10:53 am on Jul 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

The way to find them would be to ask those complaining customers where their payments went. Even if they use a credit card instead of a wire transfer, the name of the company would be on their bill. If you can't ask these people for this info, have someone pose as a customer and thereby find out who takes their payments.

rich_b




msg:3951460
 11:54 am on Jul 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

Have you emailed all your existing clients to put them on their guard?

makemetop




msg:3951757
 7:43 pm on Jul 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

where their payments went..

Yes - I know exactly where the payments went - the bank, the sort code/IBANN and account number. The name on the account is my trademark! The people do not take credit card payments.

My lawyers have written to the bank who will divulge no information about the account holder and deny any liability for anything. Hopefully the police (who also have that information) will be able to freeze the account when they get around to it.

..existing customers..

Luckily they are not going to be affected by this. They already have accounts with us (many for several years) which are paid for by direct debits or automated credit card payments every month - and we send out invoices from a proper accounting system - not a Word created invoice!

As said, this "scam" is really aimed at the small business who is looking for SEM services and wants to deal with a well established business and probably don't have much of an idea what they should expect to receive in service. The victims are not really the type of customer I would normally take on, but used to look after a lot.

My current new customers always get a month's free trial service before entering into a contract and they are primarily SEM agencies or largish companies wanting in-house assistance with their SEM marketing. We weed out companies who don't fit that profile.

makemetop




msg:3952974
 2:27 pm on Jul 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

As an update...

Police have said that this is being done by a known fraudster who has been arrested previously for the same kind of passing-off. Obviously not that clever to be caught twice by the same police force! A knock on the door is apparently imminent!

Essex_boy




msg:3955783
 2:10 pm on Jul 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

has anyone told the VAT people ? They have greater powers than the police in some respects. I.e they dont need a warrant to break into the house and place him under house arrest without the approval of the courts.

Ive come across this before a similar situ was a company director doing something like this and pocketing the firms money.

leadegroot




msg:3962372
 9:58 am on Jul 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

Re: finding them before your potential customers find them - do you have a google alert running for your trademark?
It would let you know about new entries, so hopefully you can shut them down with the host before they get any money sent to them?

makemetop




msg:3962414
 11:15 am on Jul 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

Google alert..

These people have no web presence that has been spidered, as far as I can see - or are so low in the results for my trademark to be invisible (there are many thousands of results for it).

The police do seem to be taking this seriously as we just got a call from detectives in England who are putting the case together.

leadegroot




msg:3962419
 11:32 am on Jul 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

I would expect the B to B sites you mentioned would pop up in the alert, letting you jump on it :)

but hopefully it is all the same people and the police are about to jump on them...

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