Did You Just Get Scammed?! Identifying Public Information Scams


Let me share a recent way that scammers are trying to steal your money.

My current focus has been getting a trademark for my philosophy of Humanizing Security. Recently, we got a call “from the government” saying that we are almost ready to get our trademark. They asked several confirming questions and said that once I paid the $450 “final filing fee”, I would be ready to start to use the TM, but that an associate of theirs would be getting me the final registration code for the registered trademark symbol (the r within a circle).

The man on the phone had a fair amount of information and was asking me specific questions. It was impressive how much he knew about my trademark process. That must mean he is with the government, right?

I will admit that at first, I was feeling that maybe it was a real Trademark office call, but that faded quickly. I began to notice major red flags. I was not sure why the government needed to call me to confirm the information, since we are working with Fanger Law to do the filing and I would expect anything official to go through them. Secondly, I had already paid a $250 fee when I registered the Trademark, so I would not expect another “fee”.

I was lucky enough to know that the TM is not a restricted marking and that anyone could put TM next to a word – it’s the registered trademark symbol, the r within a circle, that is restricted and must be granted. Essentially, this means that the person on the phone was not giving me anything significant for the money he was asking for.

Here are some of the ways that I vetted the phone call:

  1. I asked if he was with the government.
    1. There was a long pause as he determined what he should say – in the end, he said yes, but the delay was suspiciously long.
  2. I told him that we are working with a lawyer and asked for his information to share with our lawyer.
    1. He responded that he was just gathering information and all he needed was the credit card to hold; nothing would be charged at this time. NOTE: NEVER GIVE YOUR CREDIT CARD INFORMATION.
  3. I asked for additional information to be mailed to me.
    1. He was silent at this point, then he came back and said that he would email me the information.

One of the first questions you may ask after getting an unexpected call regarding a filing or application for a government program is, “How did the scammers get my information?”. It is important to remember that many government filings are public record, so that means anyone can request your information and then use it to get you to feel that they are official.

This can include:

  1. Trademarks
  2. Patents
  3. Copyrights
  4. New Business filings
  5. Court filings
  6. SBA filings
  7. GSA

And beyond.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Here are some suggestions:

  1. It is recommended to have a lawyer when doing government filings.
  2. Be aware of the process and costs before you begin.
  3. Expect to be scammed – never answer unsolicited calls.
  4. If an unexpected call or email comes in, talk with your lawyer to see if it is part of the process.
  5. Ask any agency to confirm their department and reason for the call – also ask for things in writing.
  6. Ask for the caller’s name and department, then find that department on the web and their official phone number – call and see if that person works there.
  7. Never give out credit card or bank information.

It is hard to know who to trust, especially when gathering your information from a government filing is so easy that hackers can lead you to a sense of comfort and safety by sharing such information. This comfort feeling is what the hackers count on, and it can get you to pay them hundreds to thousands of dollars for no real service. Worst of all, there may be no recourse because they are not officially committing a crime because you willingly gave them your money.

Remember: just because they ask for money does not mean you should give them money. Take some time to confirm the person that you are talking with and if they are truly with the government. Hackers are there to get your trust and betray - caution can save you distress and money!


Ken Fanger is the President of On Technology Partners and the award-winning author of “RELAX: A Guide to True Cyber Security”. He has 30 years in technology and security and has started the movement of Humanizing Security to help create allies of all of us. Connect with us at https://ontechnologypartners.com/contact/

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