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Invoice fraud

After filing for an international trademark some time ago, we started receiving invoices from various companies regarding our application. The letters had striking similarities. All of them were very formal and well written, and at first sight, they looked just like an official invoice for trademark registration. However, our registration costs were already paid in full to WIPO, so obviously, all of these invoices were scams.

Just yesterday we received another fake invoice, this time from scammers calling themselves the F.I.P.T.R. service. They kindly inform us that this is short for Federated Institute for Patent & Trademark Registry. As usual, the name suggests that the letter originates from some obscure government office, which clearly is not the case. The letter starts with valid and publicly available information about our trademark application. This is followed by a breakdown of costs including the "Charges of registration", totaling at 1529,30 euros. They present us with two payment options at the end of the letter; we can part with our money by cheque or money transfer. Either way, they are expecting our payment within eight days.

To the scanned invoice (PDF)

On the other side of the invoice we find the "General terms of contract and trade", which look convincingly like the usual legalese one would expect to find in this type of correspondence. Only when reading the letter closely it becomes apparent that it is a scam. Visiting their website confirms it.

Despite the letter being clearly misleading, the fake invoice might still be considered legal in many jurisdictions. Hidden in the middle of the letter there is a small print saying "This is not a bill". The terms section further explains that the 1500 euros or so is not really related to our trademark application, but would instead buy us access to a database containing general information about trademarks. Of course, the same information is freely available from the USPTO, so unsurprisingly, there is nothing to be gained by paying the scammers.

The lesson here is that one should be very skeptical not only of unsolicited email, but also of snail mail invoices and letters. It is advisable to always read the small print and terms, but simply looking up the sender on the web is a good start.

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