You’ve all said it, or at least one of these things.
“Why don’t they do something about all of this SPAM?”
“Why don’t they do something about all of these phishing emails I get?”
“Why don’t they do something about all of these fraudulent solicitations I get in the mail?”
Well, my dear reader, they is you.
Why is Internet email fraud so rampant? Because you never report it. Why is mail fraud making such a huge comeback? Because you just throw it away. The simple fact is, you are the reason these individuals (and I use that term loosely) don’t get caught.
Let’s make 2018 the year we all report this stuff.
No, someone else isn’t going to report it and make it all go away, you are. Why are you the one? Because you are probably the one who got the email or other attack from the one fool in the group who didn’t hide their IP address before committing the crime. This is how we knew North Korea hacked Sony, someone didn’t bother to hide the fact. Be it due to stupidity or bragging, that single act broke it open. While criminals may send out millions of illegal emails every day, law enforcement needs to scan them all looking for the idiot in the bunch so they can bring the entire group down.
Wikipedia provides us this definition of Mail and Wire Fraud.
In the United States, mail and wire fraud is any fraudulent scheme to intentionally deprive another of property or honest services via mail or wire communication. It has been a federal crime in the United States since 1872.
As a geek who writes books and owns a few Web sites, I get more than my fair share when it comes to mail and wire fraud come-ons. In fact, I have posted before on this very blog about domain name registration scams. Yes, even I’m guilty here. I used the word scam. It is a whitewashing term making it sound more like an annoyance than the crime it is. If you have a domain hosted by one of the big domain hosting sites, they are responsible for renewing the registration, not you. Part of the annual hosting fee is for registration. In truth, you would have to manually unlock the domain using whatever Web interface the current host provides before any other service could register or host the domain. In short, these services soliciting you via email and physical mail are nothing more than fraud. They will take your money and your annual hosting fee will auto-bill with them having done nothing, because they can’t. You never unlocked the domain. If you don’t know what unlocking your domain is, good for you. Now you know any service contacting you about renewing the registration is committing a crime so report it.
Where do you report it? Well, Internet crime is so pervasive the FBI has a relatively new centralized group to confront it. You can find them here. If you were contacted via physical mail you need to sick the Post Office on them and you can do that here or you can take the physical mail into your local Post Office for them to help you begin the process. I haven’t physically taken any in, but, before the Internet that is how we were told to do it. They give you a form, you fill it out, some may even help you fill it out, then you bundle it up and send it off to the Postal Inspectors.
I have only one nit with the FBI site. It’s more of a personal nit than anything. While it is true the FBI is tasked with the criminal investigation of phishing I’m not certain individuals should be sending them the phishing emails. Not if they claim to be from a major financial institution. Oh come on, you’ve all gotten them. Emails from banks you don’t even have accounts with informing you of a problem with your account, they just need some critical information to verify who you are, please click the link in the message body . . . Most large financial institutions have set up spoof@ or phishing@ email addresses to receive these emails. A few clicks on the Web site of the supposed institution (go there yourself via a Web search, don’t click _anything_ in the email) should lead you to their method of reporting fraudulent emails.
Why do I believe the financial institution should be the first point of contact? Because this could be the first inkling they have had a breach and they need to get right on it. Even if you don’t have an account with the institution, your contact information could be in a marketing database they use. All financial institutions are required to report when they’ve been hacked. Reporting the attempt via the FBI could mean hours or days of delay before the institution is first contacted, depending on the current workload at the FBI. That’s hours the hackers can continue exploiting whatever breach they’ve made dramatically increasing the number of people potentially impacted.
So, what brought on this current rant? This rant I will most likely be posting on the same day Ollie normally posts? I got another one in the mail. If you have looked at my Bio and followed a few links you know I have a registered trademark for my geek book series. “The Minimum You Need to Know” Periodically, one has to renew a trademark and justify their still having it. Yes, that is one of the reasons you see so many “for Dummies” and “for Idiots” titles out there. One must justify ownership of a trademark by the care and feeding of it.
The return address on the envelop was rather suspicious. I almost didn’t open it.
The return envelop was even more suspicious. I’ve never known a government entity to outsource their mail services.
Rather official looking document, but, anyone can create an official looking document. They did a rather nice job trying to hide the fee. This was a phish, it wanted my signature so they could claim it as a contract. The cost is what knocked me over.
$1690 + (16 * $835) = $15,050.00
Off the top of my head, I don’t remember what I paid to obtain my initial trademark, but, I can tell you, if it was $15K I would remember it. Not only that, I wouldn’t have been able to sit for about a month. In fact, I had to pay for my trademark twice. The first time I found a nice elderly lawyer in Arizona who had many decades in the business. In hindsight I should have thought about many decades, Arizona being a place people go to retire and the fact he had slowed down to a one man office. No, he didn’t do anything wrong. We had done the deep search and initial filings. All we had left to do was submit the final filing. I got busy consulting and didn’t follow up with him. A few years later, when I went to check on my trademark, it no longer had any status.
No, he didn’t scam me. He died before sending in the final envelop. Without a partner in the firm to assume the duties, and with me being busy, the entire process fell through.
My current Intellectual Property Lawyer. Works at a firm with more than one person. I don’t know his age, but he sounds younger than me on the phone. We’ve never met, but, he very skillfully got me through the entire process and got me through the renewal. If you read the detail on the official looking letter you will see I’m coming up for renewal again. This is why I’m now getting fraudulent offers.
Fraudulent you say? Yes. Take a good look at the bottom of the official looking letter. In particular the Web site and email address. They did everything in their power to make it _seem_ like I was being contacted by the Trademark office of the United States government. Everything _except_ get a .gov address, because they cannot.
This is what the official government Web site looks like today. If you look in the address bar of the browser you will note the .gov address.
Hey, everyone gets hungry, but that is no reason to commit fraud. I’m going to call it fraud too. Why? Because they didn’t send me a nice letter saying “Hi there! I’m Joe Blow, an Intellectual Property Lawyer and I see your trademark is about to expire. I would like to offer my services in filing the renewal. The fee is …”
That would have been legit. I would have tossed it and you wouldn’t have had to read this rant. If Joe Blow would have contacted me around the time I learned the first lawyer died, Joe might have even gotten a new client once I checked him out. Well, no, he wouldn’t, not at $15K. Yes, I’ve heard it is illegal for lawyers to directly solicit business. It is okay for them to pollute the late night airwaves with commercials, but illegal (or close enough) for them to ask for your business directly, which, I guess would make the above letter through the mail even more illegal.
Am I going to report this? You betcha. I’m also hoping the current and past law enforcement people who read this blog because they like Ollie’s books will forward a link to this post to those they know who are still active in law enforcement.
Make it your New Year’s Resolution to report every incident of these crimes.
Make 2018 the year we said No More!