Avoiding the Online Rip-Off

There is a level of sophistication to the data collection on the Internet that I think most of us cannot fathom. Incisive conclusions can be drawn by the amount of time between purchases or inquiries or any given number of "inputs" that are recorded. This is why I have to take a deep breath whenever a client or potential client or a friend tells me of an intriguing deal that "might make all the difference." I take that deep breath to imagine all the whys and what-ifs that might justify a great deal falling into a talented person's lap like manna from heaven. And then I think of all the why-nots.

Almost every month, I receive an email from a company in another country; it's usually an Asian company, but sometimes it's located in the UK or Sweden or Germany. Never Nigeria. The request sounds like a reasonable proposition: review and redline a sales agreement or the like. They request a retainer agreement. They are very accommodating. If I do my research, I usally can match up the names, faces, and titles with legitimate websites in that country, but a careful review of the letter reveals a slight difference between the URLs. If I look up the URL from the letter, which make contain a double consonant or vowel, the domain is never owned by the company named in the letter. They are almost never from the country in the letter. These letter-writers are always scammers, I'm sure. I'm not sure what their angle is, but they are learning from my responses. And I know I am not the only transactional attorney who receives these kinds of inquiries. The data is being collected. "Mined." From people whose business it is to protect lay people from liability.

We live in a global economy. Our arts and products can easily reach the far-flung areas of the globe. There are good laws, protocols, and treaties that are not limited to one country or the other. But the quality of enforcement mechanisms are another story altogether. Practically speaking, who but a deep-pocketed corporation has the wherewithal to enforce an agreement in another country? Most creative entrepreneurs and artists don't even have the wherewithal to repeatedly travel to another nearby state to see a lawsuit through to the bitter end.

Therefore, I urge clients to think twice before even considering a contract with someone in another country. To think about the safeguards available to them. To envision the potential rabbit hole, time suck, and money drain that a fantastic deal--in the literal sense--that "can make all the difference" might really be. Because while technology has made the world a lot smaller, there are still plenty of places to hide.