In the past, email scams were pretty easy to spot. Usually they came from email addresses that seemed sketchy, were filled with misspellings and odd grammar, or requested money or absurd personal information. Recently, however, email scams have become increasingly more advanced, even fooling email spam filters. Email scammers now use domains that are identical or similar to the entities they’re imitating and using language that sounds legitimate.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently issued a warning to Trademark and Patent owners of a rise in sophisticated scams targeting registrant owners. These emails are especially alarming because to recipients they appear to come from the USPTO, down to their @uspto.gov email domain and instead of being sent to a random list of email addresses, recipients are actual owners of trademarks and patents through the USPTO. Scammers find victims through the USPTO’s database of current and past registrations.
Cyber criminals involved in the scam attempts targeting holders of U.S. patents and trademarks use many of the same tactics used by those of other scams, but with their own twists. If you are or were a recipient of one such email, you may have noticed some or all of the following:
- Spoofing email addresses to appear as though they came from the USPTO.
- Use of language that urges immediate action, like “patent cancellation notice” or “important notification regarding your federal trademark”.
- False claims that the USPTO requires a separate registration of clients and that there are penalties for noncompliance.
- Incorrect USPTO trademark filing information, such as incorrect fees.
- Letters originating from an address outside of Alexandria, Virginia.
The goals of the scammers behind these attempts to scam U.S. Patent and Trademark registrants are to make money. They may do this by requesting that you pay fees directly to them or they may trick you into falling for a phishing scam by requesting that you update your personal information, which they then sell for a profit on the deep web. Either outcome can cost you a lot of money in erroneous fees or identity theft.
Avoiding this Scam
If you are a holder of a U.S. patent or trademark, because your information is publicly available on the USPTO database online, you are a target. Because of this, it’s especially important that you’re aware of the scams and that you take steps to avoid falling victim.
Visit the Trademark Status & Document Retrieval (TSDR) database. The TSDR database shows a list of all legitimate outgoing communication from the USPTO. If the email or letter you received does not appear there, it did not come from the USPTO.
Use browser protection to block phishing scams. In cases where scammers impersonating the USPTO conduct phishing scams, they lead victims to a website appearing nearly identical to the USPTO website. This leaves victims clueless when they later find that their information was compromised. Avoid accidentally falling for phishing scams by activating browser protection to block these sites altogether.
If you’ve already been scammed, report it. The USPTO advises that all who were scammed file a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and if the communication came through email, forward a copy of the email to the USPTO at TMScams@uspto.gov.