Internet scams are nothing new. We face all kinds today. Successful business brands face a unique type of scamming from people who want to capitalize from the good will and organic web traffic that a popular business or product name generates. Each year I find the need to defend against a handful of these problems. Some have turned up to be large international scamming organizations. Some of the violators were just inexperienced business people who seemed to be unaware of the legal risks they assumed by marketing another business brand without the rights to do so and they back down when learning of the potential financial liabilities. I presume that they knew what they were doing was wrong but were willing to do it anyway at least until the point where they were caught.
Over the years I’ve sought advice from peers and attorneys on this topic. There aren’t any easy answers, especially for dealing with offshore web squatters.
The common characteristic of web-based trademark violations is lack of personal accountability. You won’t find an individual’s name and contact information as the person responsible for the published content. Some try to portray that sense of accountability, but it leads to a dead end. I haven’t yet found a scammer to be active on social media perhaps because their are some business identity protection measures built into large sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.
It costs me considerable time and money to track down trademark violators and close them down. In most cases I’ve been able to successfully resolve problems without an attorney. I’ve only had to take legal action once. It’s been my practice to make notes of each case, sometimes in a published blog, to keep track of the patterns and hopefully help others who may face similar trademark violations.
This is the latest scam operating under the name “myfreedombenefits” and the tress steps I have taken to protect the trademark and correct the scamming problem:
1. Myfreedombenefits.net was registered by Godaddy.com in September 2014. I’ve filed a trademark dispute with Godaddy arguing that this operator is not affiliated with Freedom Benefits and is not authorized to use the trademarked business name. Godaddy has been helpful and cooperative in the past with other trademark violation issues.
2. Apparently in an attempt to gain an heir of legitimacy, the domain operator apparently registered with a local chamber of commerce that published the member’s domain on their web site at
http://business.eschamber.com/list/member/my-freedom-benefits-14023. I was unable to reach a person by telephone so I used the “Contact Us” button to reach the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce but received no response. I repeated my cease and desist request on the chamber’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/easternshorechamber. The group appears to be legitimate but I found it odd that there is no personal contact information and they did not respond to my email and telephone requests. I would think that a Chamber of Commerce would not wish to be affiliated with a member whose business is so clearly designed around the concept of trademark infringement. Yet I cannot explain the lack of response.
3. The Whois listing for the new name publishes the domain registrant as Alodia Arnold, 30297 B Spanish Lane, Spanish Fort, AL 36527. I wrote a standard “cease and desist” letter in October but received no response. (I’ve never received a response to any “cease and desist” letter even though my standard letter is worded softly and politely).
I’ll try to remember to post a follow-up comment once the problem is resolved.