It seems like hackers and internet scammers are always targeting small creative businesses. It amazes me how clever the scams are starting to get as I can usually spot a scam or phishing email pretty quick. But let me tell you all about the latest scam that I fell for so you can keep an eye out for this. 

My Experience

Last week, I received a copyright infringement notice via email from a lawyer on behalf of a company (a real company by the way). The lawyer referenced an image I had used from one of these license-free image sites (think Pixabay or Unsplash). They had requested removal or credit to the company that owned the image. 

The letter referenced the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (” DMCA”) and Section 512(c), and had a website and contact information for the law office. It even had a case number attached, which really freaked me out. It sounded legit.

I obviously took down the image because I was not going to credit and provide free advertising on my site. It was a simple request and easy to do and as a creator myself, I’d either want credit or removal as well if I owned the rights to the image. 

I responded to the letter that it was removed and figured that was the end of it.

The Red Flags

This is when things started to catch my attention. Less than a week later, I received the same exact email. It was as if my response was ignored. Frustrated, I began to notice inconsistencies and major red flags. Here’s what stuck out at a second glance and a bit more research

  1. It was odd that the request was targeting an image that was a royalty-free stock image (however, I assumed something had changed)
  2. The email was not addressed to me, it was addressed to “the owner of [my website domain address]”. With a few extra seconds of searching the lawyer could have found out my name
  3. The second legal letter was sent on a Sunday at 4:43 AM – an odd day and time to be sending out legal notices
  4. When clicking to check out the lawyer’s website, my browser asked “are you sure you want to click this link?” 
  5. Google did not yield results for the lawyer or law office when I generally searched
  6. A real lawyer I asked to help me with this situation could not find him (or his practice) when researching in a professional database
  7. When I called the two phone numbers listed on their website, it began to play advertisements and eventually hung up on me
  8. I never received any response from the lawyer upon emailing back multiple times

I eventually reached out to the company that had “hired” this lawyer to clarify their legal claim and inform them that I couldn’t get ahold of their “lawyer.” I wanted to make sure I crossed all my T’s and dotted all my I’s just in case.

Luckily, the company said that this is a scam and unfortunately not the first time they have been mentioned and used in these types of emails. 

Scam Motivations

While I am not sure what the motive is for these emails here are some possible motives behind the scam or how the scam could continue had I fallen for it. 

Phishing Scam

Once the targeted victim clicks the link in the email, virus software is downloaded to the computer where further hacking and damage can occur

Black Hat SEO Scam

A poor SEO strategy where the targeted victim is duped into providing credit to the image caption as a link to the “owner.” The link goes back to a company that now has more external links pointing towards the website. This builds their SEO online to eventually lead to more traffic, sales, etc. 

Money Fraud

There is the possibility of a money scam where you might eventually be asked to pay to “license the image” or you pay to settle the copyright issue. I, however, was not asked to pay.

What To Do

It’s important not to panic if you get one of these emails. Here is my list of best practices to help in these situations

  1. Carefully read the email: Is the return email address real? What time was it sent? What day was it sent? 
  2. Notice inconsistencies: Are the emails using proper grammar? Addressing you by name?
  3. Keep asking questions: Are you getting responses? Are things not adding up? 
  4. Reach out for legal advice: There are free and very affordable solutions to getting your legal questions answered for creatives. When in doubt, run your concern by a professional lawyer. 

Comment below if you have received this email or something similar. What happened to you and did you find out the motivations behind these scams?

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