Scams of all kinds are becoming more sophisticated, with trademark scams happening “all too often”, according to trademark lawyers and the Federal Government’s intellectual property department.
The ACCC couldn’t supply figures on the number of scam complaints, but a spokesman said all scams were becoming more polished. He said the ACCC is notified of unsolicited services every day and they are becoming more sophisticated.
SmartCompany.com.au yesterday received this invoice for $US1650.
The document looks like a trademark certificate and many accounts departments would most likely just pay it, assuming it was evidence of an international trademark registration. But SmartCompany checked with its trademark lawyer, and was told it was a scam.
A quick Google search of the company name TM-Collection reveals a professional-looking website for a publishing and graphic design firm in the Hungarian city of Szombathely which purports to print an “international catalogue of trademarks”.
A closer inspection of the document reveals a disclaimer: “By transferring the amount indicated you approve this offer for listing in the TM-Collection – Edition 2008… After printing you will receive a complimentary copy of the publication.”
Trademark lawyer James Omond says unsolicited letters to companies who have applied for a trademark are common and “scammers” are generally based overseas. He says most services offered aren’t illegal, but the letters are misleading. “People see an invoice, asking them to pay for a service and they’re never sure if it’s true or not.”
He says the letters generally are addressed to an accounts department, who pays it “because it looks official”, but small businesses are generally safer because they are more hands-on with their finances.
The government agency responsible for trademarks, Intellectual Property Australia, supplies a list of known scammers in the kit it sends out to trademark applicants. The IP Australia website has a list of 11 companies reported to have sent “deceptive communications”, including TM Collection.
To judge if unsolicited mail is legitimate, Omond says people who have filed a trademark application through a trademark attorney should ignore it, as all official correspondence goes to the attorney. If companies have filed their own applications, he says filtering is simple: “A rule of thumb is, if it doesn’t come from IP Australia, it is probably a scam.”
IP Australia says people should look at the services being offered and “throw unsolicited mail in the bin”.
IP Australia reviews its information products based on customer feedback. If you receive unsolicited correspondence on trade marks, email [email protected], call 1300 651 010, or forward the document in question to the department.