We recently wrote about the importance of having a policy for outbound prospecting. One of the reasons we lobby for this is for security concerns, protecting your company and employees. I recently had someone attempt to scam our company, and I thought I'd share it in case you are a business owner, startup founder, or B2B professional. Today we're going to talk about a scammer pretending to be the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
My hope is Google Indexes this so people see it. Let's dive in!
At 3:26PM EST, I got a phone call from (571)-272-6500 claiming to be USPTO, out in Arlington, VA. Spoiler alert: this is a scam.
I searched for the number before answering the call, and seeing the search result made convinced me I needed to answer.
This scammer referenced a filing I did recently with the USPTO, and a case number, my address, my attorney's contact info, etc. They seemed to know everything.
Here's the twist....if you are a business owner who has ever filed a copyright, patent, or trademark, all the filing your company does will be out in a public databases.
This means a scammer can share information that may seem like data only the United States government would have, but everyone can access it.
They started the call by asking me if I have ever filed before (I hadn't). They probably do this to see how familiar someone is with the process. They claimed to be in charge of verifying the filing and registration. Once they finish verifying your patent, trademark, or copyright, you will officially be "registered." They just need a $425 processing fee. They can do it with your credit card or wiring money.
If it only it was that simple scammer. Ryan O'Hara was on the case.
While the person was on the phone with me asking me for boring answers they already had, I decided to lookup the phone number they called me from again, being suspicious.
Sure enough, the number seemed legit on a quick Google search:
Once we finished verifying the form information, the scammer congratulated me on getting the filing done. They just needed to collect that processing fee, so they asked me how I wanted to pay.
Having suspicion already, I asked the scammer a few questions, and typed them into ChatGPT to confirm the answers. This guy knew everything.
He knew the office addresses, other department phone numbers, and I asked what the average time for a filing to be successful was (7-8 months). He had it all lined up. I decided to dig deeper. I went to URL for the website, and searched for the phone number.
I was able to find the same number on the website. There's just one problem.
I told him I was suspicious, and he suggested that I Google the phone number to verify. That's when I knew something was up.
I asked him to have them send something me not on the phone, and have a nice day. I hung up, logged into my Google Voice account, and dialed the number, sure enough, I was right! Check out what comes up if you call the number back:
I asked my lawyer over email if this is common for startup founders. She says it happens all the time.
So what's the big takeaway.
They almost got us. If you are startup founder, always be suspicious of anyone calling you. Don't answer unsaved numbers on your phone. Make your voicemail message push the person to your Pitchfire account to pitch you. If you ever do anything with the government, assume they won't contact you.
Looking for advice on how to build your business? Check out "Take Me Off Your Lists" from Ryan O'Hara, available anywhere you listen to podcasts.
Ryan O'Hara is the founder of Pitchfire. Prior to starting Pitchfire, he has been an early employee at several startups helping them with marketing and prospecting tactics including Dyn (Acquired by Oracle 2016) and LeadIQ (first GTM employee-Series B).
He's had prospecting and marketing campaigns featured in Fortune, Mashable, and TheNextWeb. Ryan specializes in go-to-market strategy, branding, business development, prospecting, and sales training. He also mentors two accelerators, The Iron Yard and The Alpha Loft.