If you don't respond, you may wind up with bigger problems
Scams based on social engineering are commonplace in both the corporate and personal world. They are also becoming increasingly sophisticated and difficult to spot. These types of scams are typically carried out over email—although they have also spread to social media, messaging services, and apps. The scams work by leveraging the anonymity of electronic communication and preying on the unawareness of victims to manipulate them into doing what the scammer wants. Because of the prevalence of these and other scams, people have become extremely leery of unsolicited emails making any sort of demands.
As a consequence of this, Alex Buonassisi, an intellectual property lawyer at boutique IP firm Oyen Wiggs says: “People have become so conditioned to scams, they may disregard legitimate demands from rights holders with legal rights to enforce their intellectual property.”
He cites two government-authorized copyright collectives: SOCAN, which protects the rights of songwriters, music publishers, composers, and visual artists; and SODRAC, which protects visual arts, crafts, and other musical artists— both of which are entitled by law to collect copyright royalties on behalf of their clients.
“When people don’t respond to legitimate demands, they can find themselves with much bigger problems,” says Buonassisi. “For example, SOCAN may send a demand letter to a company they believe is playing a client’s music without authorization. If they are ignored, SOCAN can bring a lawsuit against the company, making it very costly.”
Spot the difference: this is a scam; that isn’t a scam
“I suggest clients not automatically assume electronic demand letters are scams,” Buonassisi adds. “If it seems like a scam, do an internet search and find out if the organization is a legitimate one. If the demand purports to be from a Canadian lawyer, look them up on a law society website to confirm they are a legitimate lawyer. If you are still hesitant, before responding or ignoring a demand letter, contact a lawyer.”
Cyber-scammers use a wide variety of scam tactics to exploit victims. Another common one is domain name scams. After a person has registered their domain name, sometimes they receive an email from someone trying to persuade them to register a number of overpriced international domain names that they don’t need.
“For a few thousand dollars, the scammer will offer to sell them foreign domain registrations, when they can actually do it themselves for a fraction of the cost,” says Buonassisi. “If someone sends the scammer money, they either disappear or they may register the domain, in which case the person has vastly overpaid for it.”
Yet another commonly used scam involves trademarks and patents. In Canada, it is mandatory to provide a physical address when submitting a trademark application. These then become part of a publicly listed registry that is open to the general public to view and which reveals all pending trademark applicants and registered owners.
“These fraudulent ploys involve sending trademark owners what appear to be official notices from a trademark office, which contain an invoice or seek payment of a fee,” he says, adding although most fraudulent notices come via the mail, they may also come to your inbox.
Companies must confront a host of increasingly sophisticated scams. Safeguarding against these scams, while not ignoring legitimate demands, is crucial to ensuring your company’s continued success.