Scammers are Scum

This is not related to BBQ or Beer. Well, I am drinking some beer while writing this, so that’s about it. During my day job, when my daily Simvastatin regimen is not battling the pork / alcohol regimen, I pay the bills as an intellectual property attorney.

On the short list of things that irritate me are people who order Bud Light in a bar. Gawd, that beer is awful. Another thing? Ripoffs. One type of ripoff is the scam. If it smells like a scam, looks like a scam, etc., then it’s probably a scam. Remember: Scammers are scum.

Mr. Big Client got this (redacted) item in the mail the other day:

Who can spot the clues?

Mr. Corporate Finance Guy at Mr. Big Client may just pay this in due course. $375 isn’t much for some important trademark bill. Shit, it’s DUE NOW?! PAY ASAP! On to the next invoice… this is what the people cashing the sucker check are hoping happens.

Let your common sense decide if this is legit. I will provide some research and opinion. Here’s the clues.

1. US Trademark Registration Office. Never heard of it. Ever. It sure looks a lot like the US Patent & Trademark Office, where you send actual, official filings and filing fees for federal trademarks. Heck, even USTRO looks amazingly similar to USPTO.

2. The real USPTO has no office in Los Angeles that I am aware of. They are based in Alexandria, Virginia. The vast majority of the Executive Branch is based in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

3. What’s at 633 West Fifth Street in Los Angeles? Amazingly, it’s the building at the epicenter of one of the first alien attacks in Independence Day! Remember that party on the roof? Didn’t end well.

Maybe E.T. got one of those invoices.

Well, it’s also the location of a company that lets you host a virtual office, coincidentally also located on the 28th floor of that building. So maybe USTRO is just using this prestigious address for mail delivery? Do they even have operations there?

4. So, what does this cost? A mere $375? Now, where have I seen that fee before? Ah, yes, that’s the fee for filing a trademark application the old fashioned way – through the mail. (It’s cheaper to file online.) We just paid a $375 bill a couple months ago on this, must be another one just like it… may as well pay it!

5. What I find truly amazing is that they posted the required statutory language in the mailing. You cannot mail a solicitation that is disguised as an invoice unless you prominently state that it is a solicitation. This guy either is (or was) an attorney, has an attorney, and/or is seriously experienced at this type of activity. Of course it’s buried at the end of some paragraphs containing references to official government agencies and references to cancellation of the trademark, but it’s still on there.

6. No phone number, no email, no fax – no surprise. I also can’t find anything on the California Secretary of State business entity search database. How odd.

7. Ah, Google. My dear friend. If you search this… entity, you get accidental hits to the USPTO, followed by a bunch of complaints on ripoffreport.com. This started in December 2011 and I found at least 19 separate complaints on that site alone. When a bunch of people suddenly start complaining, it may not be a coincidence.

8. Looking to the uploaded documents on the Rip Off Report website, you might notice something common about them! Each reference number is friggin’ identical: TRB-1781712. In fact, the numbers under the bar codes (2011-2REQ-5FGJ-USTRO and 2REQ-5FGJ-USTRO) are also consistent throughout the postings. Each matches with the document sent to my client. So… I guess these are not unique to each recipient? Do they have any meaning whatsoever, other than to give the impression of random numbers meant to distinguish between clients and/or trademarks? Were these the lucky numbers on the back of last night’s fortune cookie scroll?

9. Wow, they have a Trademark Registration and Monitoring Division within USTRO. Perhaps this is distinct from, and I’m just speculating wildly here, the Uh, Oh The Feds Are On To Us Division and the Time To Change The Name Of The Company Again Division.

10. Finally, the USPTO (not the USTRO) and the International Trademark Association have warnings about sketchy mailings that look official and want money in return. USTRO is not listed there, and I’m sure it’s not because they’ve only been around since December 2011. I’m totally sure it’s because this is a legit enterprise and this is all a huge misunderstanding.

Needless to say, Mr. Big Client did not pay this invoice.

In my humble opinion, this smells scammy. Scammers are scum, so I avoid the stench. I’ll drink to that.

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