Scams aimed at small businesses – including nonprofits – abound. We previously warned about misleading mailers titled “Annual Minutes Compliance Notice.” Since then, our clients have been receiving letters coming from “U.S. Trademark Compliance Service.”
David Lazarus writes about this new scan in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. He actually attempted to visit the address on one such mailer. His story is revealing. While the US Patent and Trademark Office, the official “keeper” of trademarks in the United States, has not yet acted against the senders of such letters, last June, the World Intellectual Property Organization “issued a warning that ‘unscrupulous entities and individuals in various countries’ are operating ‘fraudulent schemes’ that prey on trademark holders,” according to Lazarus.
In California, a new law attempts to protect consumers from such scams. Any solicitation that appears to come from a California government agency must now include a large, boldface disclaimer on the front and back of every page and makes it illegal to use a name that makes the mailing appear to have come from a government entity. Penalties are also increased.
Nonetheless, these protections are not enough. We all must be vigilant when we receive suspicious looking mailings. Read the fine print. If you think it’s a scam, contact your lawyer or accountant, or the real government agency it appears to have come from. And don’t be shy about filing a complaint!