Invoice overload: ACCC warns about questionable trade mark renewals

21 August 2009

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is reminding business owners to be vigilant after a spike in complaints about unsolicited letters that may appear to be trade mark renewal notices.

In the past month the ACCC has received more than 150 complaints and inquiries about trade mark letters.

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper said business owners are a regular target for unsolicited mailouts.

"Capitalising on a busy office environment many of these letters can be from unscrupulous traders. The letters are often designed to trick the account payer into paying for unnecessary services such as domain name registrations, listings on online databases and ads in various publications.

"The end result is the business owner paying for a new listing on a website or in a directory, often of little value."

The websites tend to have poor search functions and are not actively promoted on the internet. The directories and publications appear to have limited circulation. Letters that look like domain name registration renewals are usually touting for new customers, and rely on limited knowledge of the domain name systems.

"It is all too easy for the inexperienced not to notice or understand the subtle difference between a '.com' or '.com.au' domain name," Dr Schaper said. "Once the money is paid the business becomes the owner of a new domain and has not renewed their existing one."

The ACCC has taken court action against a number of traders involved in false billing activity including Australialink Pty Ltd and Business Pages Pty Ltd for conduct associated with their respective online directories and Domain Names Australia Pty Ltd for domain name renewals.

However, a few simple steps can help to avoid signing up to unnecessary and potentially costly services:

  • Don't assume that any 'renewal' notice is from your original supplier. You may receive many such offers from operators competing for your business or they could be scammers. Check all the details
  • Ensure that only authorised employees are responsible for payments and they should have ready access to important dates and suppliers. Update them on any scam or unsolicited service that may be targeting businesses
  • If the service is something that you would like, shop around to see what deals are available and who are the most reliable suppliers
  • If you receive letters of demand you may need to get legal advice to understand your rights
  • Alert your industry association or local business advisor about any offers that you think may be untoward or misleading. They may be able to warn others in your network.

Dr Schaper said small businesses cannot afford the cost of signing up to questionable or duplicate services.

"If you have any doubts about trade marks or offers of a legal nature it pays to get independent advice."

The IP Australia website (www.ipaustralia.gov.au) provides details on trade mark issues as well as warnings about recent unsolicited mailouts associated with trade marks and associated traders.

SCAMwatch also has general information on business scams, including those associated with false billing at www.scamwatch.gov.au.

Release number: 
NR 201/09
ACCC Infocentre: 

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Media enquiries: 
Ms Lin Enright - (02) 6243 1108