Fake invoices, pretty convincing at first glance

I’ve seen a few news stories here and there about businesses getting fake invoices and some actually paying them without actually checking to see if it’s a legitimate bill or not.

I’ve recently applied for Australian trademarks for my business name and for the name of my comic strip and have had quite a few fake invoices sent to me in the post as a result.

They all come from overseas, with some looking like official documents concerning my Trade Mark applications, all designed to make it look like I need to pay the amount due in order to have my application approved.

They’re always worded in very fine print that if I pay the amount on the invoice then I’m agreeing to a binding contract which involves me giving them the rights to the overseas management of my trademarks.

They also always include a disclaimer, hidden away in the fine print, stating that the letter is not an invoice but a solicitation offering me their services which will become binding once the amount is paid.

The amounts vary from $9 to $5000 on each fake invoice. I’ve contacted the AFP, the Australian Government and IP Australia who all say they know about the fake invoices, but there’s nothing they can do except to advise people not to pay them.

Has anyone else ever received a fake invoice in the mail? They really do make them look like they’re real bills that need to be paid and I can imagine they’d actually be making quite a bit of money from the scheme due to some people not reading the fine print or not being aware that scams like these even exist.

It doesn’t help with trade mark applications that your personal details such as address and phone number get published online for the whole world to see after you make the application, which gives the con artists all the information they need to send you a convincing looking fake invoice in the mail.

For people who do get caught out, they end up giving their banking details to fraudsters, so goodness knows what the con artists can do with all that information under their belt.


Thanks for letting us know @NubglummerySnr, it’s tough out there so take extra care.

This fake invoice racket has been going on as far back as I can remember running businesses (in the 70’s). They were for any number of bogus things such as entries into non-existent phone books, trade indexes, trade marks, etc.

It must be lucrative as it’s still going strong.

It relies on people just paying without checking. Luckily you are a ware! :smile:

When I got my first fake invoice, it looked like I needed to pay $600 to get the trademark approved, which I knew was incorrect as I’d thoroughly researched the process before making the application. That’s when I noticed all the disclaimers in tiny print saying that it wasn’t actually an invoice, just an offer to let them take charge of my own application, with the stipulation that any payment was a sign that I had agreed to them taking it from me. It really did look like an official invoice from the Trademark office.

Lucky you didn’t sign. They may have then offered to sell you your trademark back to you; for a significant price.

This is also a common problem if you have a registered web address. I’ve had many an email from fraudsters trying to get me to pay $600 or more to renew my registered domain names, which would effectively also give the fraudsters ownership of them. I always log in to my personal account to deal with my registered domain names, which only cost about $20 or so to renew, and that way I also continue to own the rights to them. I had one friend who got an invoice for $3000 to renew her domain name. She knew it wasn’t right because it was only supposed to cost about $15 to renew. Again, these come with fine print. This time stating that you willingly hand over all rights to the fraudsters who can then rent your domain name back to you for a heavily inflated yearly price if you wish to continue using the web address, and apparently it’s all legal if you actually do pay them to take control of it, because it was stipulated in the fine print.

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Yes, the fake invoices have been going for quite some time and even my son, who is a programmer, received a Telstra Invoice, which he showed me, and insisted we look very carefully, as the hackers are very, very good at what they do. We also pass any on to Scamwatch, which is all that one can do. Just be vigilant and DO NOT click on any e-mails requesting information, rather contact a business telephone number either from the website or telephone directory.

I’ve had a similar scam involving registering my a trademark in China.

Very convincing emails using my initial application documentation and a call. All from a trademark agency in China purporting to “finalise” the application a few days before receiving the actual notice of my application being approved. I was fortunate that I was busy and didn’t have time to look at it properly, then the real approval came through and I caught on. Promptly told them where to go and what I thought of their tactics.

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Yes indeed. I get fake invoices from AGL, and don’t have any kind of business relationship with the company. I looked into them when they first arrived, and then later when they continued, and they came from an “address” which appeared to be from Argentina. I just deleted them after considering reporting them to AGL but the process for contacting AGL seemed too cumbersome to be true. I didn’t know of Scamwatch - is this something worth publicising?

NubglummerySnr I would be extremely concerned that this has occurred after you applied to the Australian Trademarks for a business name. Surely your information is confidential and should never be released to other parties??

Nup. It’s how it’s done unfortunately. Anyone who applies for a trademark will get their name and address plastered all over the Internet. No idea why it’s done that way, all I know is that is how it’s done. Something to do with transparency so the world knows who owns what and who is claiming what is my guess. If you go to IP Australia online, which is the department that looks after Trademarks in Australia, then register for search results, you can search for trademarks pending and then view the full address of the owner for each one.

From the Trademark Application Guide at 404 Page Not Found

Publication of your details online
The name and address of the applicant(s) are published on our database and will be available on the internet. In some circumstances, other information in relation to the prosecution of your application may be made available on request to third parties. You must have an address in Australia. All the correspondence we send to you will be to this address. It is very important to advise us of any change of address.

Be vigilant – check all letters and invoices
Anyone can access information about your trade mark, including your contact details, online. Some people may use this information to send letters and invoices to you requesting payment for IP services that you have not requested. They may send you an invoice, or offer to provide a service, such as:

  • registering your trade mark
  • publishing your trade mark in an international register
  • providing you with trade mark monitoring services.
    See our website for a current list of companies that send these unofficial invoices, and for examples of the invoices they send. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) website also contains a warning about these companies.
    Before paying a fee for any IP-related service, we recommend you carefully consider what, if any, value the service will provide.

Warning, do not pay unnecessary fees!
These companies are not associated with us, WIPO or its International Bureau. The services offered by these companies do not provide official trade mark registration or trade mark rights in Australia or overseas.

Well, it’s been a while, but I’ve just received another fake invoice. This one’s from the World Organization for Trademarks (wotra-register.com) claiming:



followed by some very hard to read fine print using a light grey very small font on the white paper it’s printed on, then:


It then has an invoicy looking bit at the bottom saying:

DUE ON OR BEFORE 4/3/2017:
2090 USD

AFTER 4/4/2017:
2150 USD

followed by NHB Bank details located in Budapest

Of course the letter arrived on the 6/4/2017, so if I was to pay the smaller amount, I’d most likely get a letter saying that I really should have paid the higher amount and they’d probably impose an extra fee for having to process the extra amount if I was even sillier enough to pay for that as well.

As usual, if you get your magnifying glass out and read the fine print under very good lighting conditions it rabbits on about how this is just an offer and has nothing to do with your actual official trademark registration, but should you be stupid enough to pay then you’re basically signing over all rights to your trademark for a period of 12 months, at which point they’ll most likely send a new fake invoice to renew your listing with them. The back of the letter is filled from top to bottom with lots of official looking terms and conditions in an even lighter shade of grey which I can’t be bothered even attempting to read. It’s all designed to make it look like an official document with legal crap on it that’s not actually legal crap.

Why the government insists on publishing home addresses in the publicly visible trademark register, when they know it’s allowing these con artists to scam everyone who owns or is applying for a trademark, I still do not know.

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