With the peak holiday period approaching and regular personnel absent from their posts, many phoney companies are taking advantage by sending out fake invoices and mails to unwitting temporary staff. Over time their methods have become increasingly refined and it can sometimes be difficult to know which invoices are fakes and which are genuine.
These fake invoices often relate to domain names or brands. For instance, the people behind these phoney companies note when a brand name is registered or publicised. They follow it up by sending out an invoice-like document through the post which appears to originate from some public authority and which in many cases mentions publicising of the brand on a given website. The amount specified on the fake invoice usually approximates the amount that would be invoiced by the authority in question.
I receive many phone calls from exasperated brand name holders wondering what they can do about these fake invoices. They are left wondering if such an invoice is in any way binding without their approval? Or should they simply disregard it and not pay?
I usually reply that where an “invoice” concerns the publicising of a brand name or similar, frequently it is formulated to give the impression of an offer (often this only becomes apparent when you read the fine print on the “invoice”) and therefore it can simply be filed away and forgotten.
As far as domain names are concerned, the approach by the phoney company commonly involves them claiming to have been appointed to register one or more domain names, but that because the domains are similar to those of the approached company or its brand(s), they make an offer to the owner to register the domains in his/her name instead. In reality, the phoney company has not been appointed to register the aforementioned domains by any other party. The first thing you should do is to determine whether you require the domains mentioned in the offer. If this is the case, you should immediately contact your regular domain provider and arrange for registration of the domains. You should not reply to the offer (which is normally sent by mail) nor inform the sender that you will arrange for registration yourself, as this will indicate to the sender that there is interest in the domains on your part and they will then seek to pre-empt you by registering the domain name(s) that you are interested in. It is then very likely that they will demand money from you in return for transferring the domain name(s) to your company.
Should you receive a call from a phoney salesperson, take care not to say anything that can be misconstrued as approval on your part. It is very easy to say something which, subsequently taken out of context, can be interpreted as placement of an order.
And if you receive an invoice…?
If, despite your best efforts to make clear that you are not placing an order, you still receive an invoice – what should you do? You should immediately contest the invoice by drawing a line through it and writing on it ”Contested, no order placed” and faxing and returning the invoice. You should retain a copy of the contested invoice, as you may at a later date require it as evidence. If the invoice has been assigned to another party, it should be returned to both the original sender and the party to which it has been assigned. You should also consider reporting the matter to the police, as the fake invoice can constitute attempted fraud.
This was a brief summary of how you should respond upon receipt of a fake invoice or suspect offer to register brand and domain names. Should you require further information, I would advise contacting your regular IP Law provider who will be able to provide assistance.
Jonas Kullgren, Attorney at Law