This is an article about a scam.  A con job being perpetrated upon intellectual property attorneys to rob them of money.  I’ve been the target of this particular scam on a couple of separate occasions over the last few months as have friends of mine who recognized it when I told them about it.  As any fan of “The Sting” will tell you, scams have various components or phases.  Here’s how this one works:

The Set-Up

During this phase, the grifter identifies the mark, or the target of the scam.  When I spoke by phone to one of the scammers who targeted me, the first question I asked him was how he found me.  He didn’t say it was a referral, he said he found me because of my website.

The Tale

You, the mark, receive an email from a potential client, purportedly from a business entity in Mexico, or some other country in Central America or South America.  It could come from anywhere in the world.  The email asks if you’d be willing to assist the potential client with a business dispute pertaining to copyright infringement.  The email says that you are being asked to help because the infringer is located in the jurisdiction where you practice law.

The tale continues in this email following this line:

  • Potential client (hereinafter PC) says that it owns a copyright which it licensed to a business partner (hereinafter BP).
  • PC says that it had an arrangement with BP to develop products incorporating the copyrighted material—software, for instance, in some gadget.
  • PC has found out that BP was using the copyrighted material to make additional gadgets outside of the scope of the license agreement without telling PC, that is, without authorization.
  • After a routine audit revealed this, PC challenged BP.  This resulted in a Settlement Agreement wherein BP agreed to share with PC a percentage of the profits that had been gained from its unauthorized sales.
  • BP did not abide by the terms of the Settlement Agreement; it never shared any of those profits.
  • PC wants to hire you, the IP attorney, to step in and send a demand letter to BP to get the profits to which it is entitled under the terms of the Settlement Agreement.

The Hook

The email closes with the grifter offering to send you a significant retainer.  This is offered before you even accept the representation.

The Wire

If you accept the representation and send the demand letter to the fake BP, you receive what looks like a legitimate cashier’s or certified check from the fake BP. 

The Sting

The check, of course, is phony; but once you have received it, the grifter demands that you immediately transfer the funds, or some fraction thereof, to his or her account, explaining that time is of the essence (for some reason or other: this varies) and the money is needed immediately.  If you effect the transfer, that’s the sting.  The check bounces.

Those are the rough outlines of the scam.  I’m sure there are variations on how exactly the grifter accomplishes the sting and gets the money from you, the mark.  With a little imagination, I’m sure there are other scenarios that could be envisioned that are not limited to copyright.

The Moral

Investigate prior to accepting any representation.  In my case, I knew I was dealing with a grifter from the very beginning but set up a call with him anyway just to hear what he had to say.  Watch “The Sting.”

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