Firm websites being impersonated by fraudsters
LAWPRO has heard from a number of Ontario lawyers that their firm websites have been copied by fraudsters to further their schemes, such as the “inheritance from a long-lost relative” scam or immigration scams overseas. While we have seen these impersonation scams for over a year now, there seems to be another spike lately, perhaps related to fraudsters hoping to take advantage of Covid-19 confusion.
In these impersonations, the fraudsters often use the name of a real law firm in one jurisdiction, the web content from a firm in another jurisdiction, and the phone number or contact information from a third jurisdiction. As a result, the fraudster’s site has an air of legitimacy to assist them in their illegal deeds. Firms may not even be aware they are being impersonated unless someone being targeted makes the effort to find the real firm information and contact them.
There is not much you can do to prevent this expropriation but you can try asking the service provider hosting the fraudulent website to take it down. To do this, query the fraudster’s website name at a site like https://whois.icann.org/en, where you might be able to see who created the site and which provider is hosting. You can then advise the hosting provider of the expropriation and request action be taken.
Sometimes (see the image below), fraudsters will use a privacy screening service to shield their information. If the hosting provider cannot be determined, the privacy screening service itself should have a feature to report abuses and one would make the request of them. In the case of this fake site, the fraudsters have used a site called Privacy Guardian to hide the name of the domain host.
One would then have to contact Privacy Guardian itself to report that their service is being used for a fraudulent site, which is a breach of their terms and conditions.
You should monitor your website activity for any unwanted activity, especially after you learn that your site has been copied.
It might be prudent to also report the website content theft to the Law Society. Lawyers can contact the Complaints & Compliance Division at 1-800-268-7568 or 416-947-3310.