Who is Selling Your Products? Investigating and Identifying Third-Party Marketplace Sellers

 

Brands who handle their investigations internally are familiar with prolonged time investments into investigating marketplace sellers and how infuriating it is when the investigation runs into a dead end. New investigation methods are making it easier to achieve a quick win when seeking to help defend your brand within popular internet marketplaces.

David Howell, Vorys’ director of brand protection and Denise Mosteller, online brand protection manager for Implus recently discussed strategies and tactics to successfully investigate and identify third-party marketplace sellers. The following is the transcript of their discussion.

David: Today we’re going to be reviewing who is selling your products, and if anybody’s ever listened to any of the webinar series that I’ve done in my career, I’ve been doing this for roughly about 17 years now, you’ve known that I’ve always talked about ‑‑ any brand protection strategy, you need to look at the who, what, where, when, why and how your products are being sold or offered online and who is selling it. Today we’re going to review that through online marketplaces and give you the best practices and the best tools to conduct some of these investigations yourself.  And when you need that next level, myself or Denise, who I’ll introduce here in a second, will be here to answer those questions as we move forward.So, moving on, again, my name is David Howell.  I joined Vorys within this last year as the director of brand protection, and I have Denise Mosteller with me who is the online brand protection manager for Implus. I’ve known Denise for quite a few years, and she has been doing this online investigation research for well over 20 years, so thank you for joining us, Denise.  I do appreciate taking the time.

So, moving on, again, my name is David Howell.  I joined Vorys within this last year as the director of brand protection, and I have Denise Mosteller with me who is the online brand protection manager for Implus. I’ve known Denise for quite a few years, and she has been doing this online investigation research for well over 20 years, so thank you for joining us, Denise.  I do appreciate taking the time.

Denise: Well, thanks for having me.  I’m glad to be here.
David: Let’s jump right in and talk a little bit about why we even need to worry about these investigations and what we’re looking for and then we’ll jump into some of the investigations right off.

So just a little bit about Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.  We are a large law firm based in Columbus, and we have offices around the country.  We were established in 1909.  We have about 375 attorneys.  We are one of the 200 largest law firms in the United States but, more importantly, we’re a go-to firm for 23 of the Fortune 500 companies, amongst just many other companies that we work from, we have many areas of practice.  The group that I work in and the group that will be discussing today is our online unauthorized seller enforcement group.

So through a lot of thought leadership, a lot of different things that we do with this, we have a very diverse team, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here bringing a different added value to what this group is actually trying to solve these problems for a lot of these brands and companies.  In the end, it’s not about anything other than growing your business, and growing your sales and protecting it, and that’s really what we’re going to talk about today.

So, let’s just dive right into a few of the statistics.  So, what is marketplace or what is happening out there?  This is not news to anybody.  It is increasingly growing.  There are a few numbers that I would like to just leave everybody with today, that this year alone, in 2017, we’re going to see 6,375 as its noted today, brick and mortar retail stores that are closing their doors.  And what’s that mean?  It’s shifting the sales from those brick and mortar onto online marketplaces, and we see that today, so that’s not shocking.

But there’s been a demographic that maybe, little bit of an assumption here, that’s been holding out or not embracing the online sales or online marketplace, but these stores, these underperforming stores that may be closing down, what’s happening is that last bit of demographic is now going to be pushed to buy those goods and services that they did in those closing stores, now to move them more online.

So, what does that do?  It’s going to start seeing this growth increase.  So, we steadily see it ‑‑ 10, 15, 20 percent growth; different numbers show different statistics.  So, for 2017, when we finish up this holiday season coming up, or even beyond, and that’s really what we want to take a look at.  The more sales, the more traffic, the more we’re going to need to go out there and actively monitor and protect the brands and their sales.

So, what are the sources of unauthorized sellers?  You have unauthorized distributors.  How are they getting these products?  A lot of companies will have a one, two or three-step distribution and maybe there are other entities that are acquiring this product towards being diverted.  You have professional resellers.  There are a lot of companies out there, in my experience, on some of these very large marketplaces, there are large sellers that are acquiring these products that are professional resellers, and they’re acquiring this.  There are one off-sellers.  There’s the one that just acquired a box of something, or they saw a sale, and they went and grabbed that product, and they’re selling it online.

There are schemes that are out there, like credit card thieves.  There are all types of issues of these third-party or unauthorized sellers.  And here’s what we really want to take a look at is, you know, you look at this slide and you see that you look at that plain, aerobatic, kind of a death spiral is what we’re really looking at here, because it’s important to understand that when you have these unauthorized sales or third-party sales out there, there are a few things that really start to happen.

Your brand value diminishes, so now you start having these products being sold at a lower price than what you want them sold at and that starts to lead to consumer confidence issues.  Because then you start looking at how there are so many offerings from a price deviation of 30, 40, 50, 60 percent?

Then you get this consumer confidence ‑‑ it’s very hard once you start losing consumer confidence to build that back up.  And that’s one of the things that we want to look at.  So, as prices drop we start looking at these things, and that’s what we’re going talk about today here in a second.

If you heard me speak before, whether I coined the term or I’ve been preaching it for a very long time, I’ve always talked about the three pillars of brand protection.  You had to have a good monitoring solution, a good investigation research solution, and a good enforcement strategy.

Well, since I’ve joined Vorys, I’ve worked very closely with Whitney Gibson, who is the leader of the online seller enforcement group, and he has changed my thought process.  There are four pillars of this.  So, if you remove those three that I talked about, the first pillar should be the really good proper legal foundation for enforcement.  And what is that?  That’s putting these policies, these reseller agreements, whatever those types of things, depending on what your business model is, having that good policy and talking about how the who, what, where, when, why and how you’re allowed to sell that product online.

Now you’re in a position to monitor for those unauthorized sellers, research and investigate, which is what we’re going to talk about here in just a moment, but now you have legal grounds for enforcement.  When it comes to determining the strength of your legal ground, let’s focus on material difference.  These unauthorized sellers will go to the first sales doctrine, and that’s how they’re justifying their ability to sell and offer your products.  Well, material difference, we can come in, evaluate your reseller agreements, your policies, and your products and try to work with you to put a material difference argument.

Now, a lot of times, people look at the material difference and think it’s a physical material difference.  Whether it’s a packaging issue, or it looks a little bit different, or somebody scratched off the logo, and those things are a material difference, but what about looking at what guarantees you have?  The courts have determined that a material difference does not have to be a physical one, and there is, I think, 70 plus cases that have ruled in favor that not only does it not have to be a physical material difference, but you only need to prove one material difference.

So what are some of those material differences?  We talk about guarantees, maybe warranties.  What type of guarantees do you have?  What if those guarantees do not go over to a third-party seller that may be selling your products, right?  What about different distributors and retailers?  You have a vetting process.  So, a retailer has to go through a process to become authorized, and if they have not done that, they’re not authorized to sell those goods and that, again, could be a type of material difference.

What are your policies to recall, if you have any issues where lot numbers or expirations, or things like this are popping up there?  What type of recourse do you have and are those in your policies?  These are minor changes that really can triage your existing policy to include those.

Looking at your customer complaints, customer service, the customer ‑‑ you know, different types you have for servicing those.  If they’re sold outside the proper channel, those might not be there for you, and that could be deemed a material difference.  Some other ones that we can talk about quickly.  They’re not flagged here, but shipping and storage of products.

So when we’re talking about a product that may be a type of cream, or it could be a battery, or it could be things that if they’re not stored properly, those then are removing that warranty.  They’re removing that quality that then can be deemed a possible material difference.

So now looking at that enforcement process.  Now we’re talking about those four pillars of brand protection.  So we got the putting the right policies and procedures and resale agreements in place and moving that now down to monitoring.  How do you monitor for this?

There are a lot of technology partners that Vorys works with.  Very good technology that helps you identify these unauthorized sellers on these marketplaces and auction sites.  But then you need to move through the investigation.  Again, I keep saying we’re gonna touch on that in a second.  But the enforcement, now, once you go through the funnel, these are the types of things that are going to now build your enforcement to be successful.  If you don’t put these things in place, I can’t reiterate that enough; you’re going to play the proverbial whack-a-mole when trying to enforce and solve these problems that are plaguing you on these online marketplaces.

Uncovering a third-party seller.  So, what is a third-party seller?  I think that’s probably one of the biggest questions that either you know, or you don’t know.  Well, you have an authorized seller, which would be someone you have vetted through the process, and they’re allowed to have your product and then resell your product, and they’re reselling it in a way that’s by your resale agreement that you may have with them.

A third-party seller is somebody who is not ‑‑, and we’ll just be very generically ‑‑ I think, Denise, it’d be fair to say they’re them, right?  Anybody who’s not.

Denise: Right.
David: Okay.  So now we’re going to start relying a lot on Denise here to educate all of us on what we’re looking for.  So there are basic steps that you can take, and we’re going to show everyone on the call today some basic steps how you can conduct an investigation and what to look for.

Now, after this call and after this webinar today, if you want, we have created two documents that we will distribute.  One is, we will review each of these, kind of a checklist, if you will, of things you can do and how to go about doing that, and another one is a state secretary registration list that when you do identify some of these, you can actually click that and go to that secretary of state and run that business entity.  Kind of a very useful tool.

Denise: It saves time.
David: It saves a lot of time.  Okay, Denise.  Now let’s get the conversation started.  So thank you for bearing with me there for ten minutes kind of why we’re on the call today.

So, Denise, now we dive into it.  For today, we’ve removed a lot of the information that isn’t relevant as far as the identities of some of the marketplaces, as well as some of the people that we’ve investigated.  But what we want to do today is say, the first thing you come across the marketplace and a seller, what’s the first thing you want to do, Denise?  What would be the first logical step?

Denise: The first thing that I do is look over their seller page.  I look for any identifying information, a logo, a phone number, their username.  I look at ‑‑ even their description on this one, it’s generic, but sometimes people will put some unique language in their description about their company.  I pay attention to that, as well as misspellings. With all of the information that we see here is what we’re going to take and use to search on the web in other places.
David: So that’s a good point.  I know over the investigations that I’ve conducted when you’re going through this, this page just kind of shows you their storefront, if you will.  Right?
Denise: Right.
David: But a lot of these marketplaces, they’ll have an About Us section, they’ll have shipping policies, they’ll have different FAQs if you will.  I’ve found a lot where you’re searching this, and they say, “We collect sales tax in X state.”  Right?
Denise: Right.  Yes.  They will list it, or sometimes you find where it’s shipped from; and that’s all very valuable information because it gives you another, basically, a pointer to them.
David: It’s the breadcrumbs that lead you to that, and that’s what’s important.  The first thing is, whatever marketplace you’re on, whatever auction site you’re on, really dive in and look at that store and see ‑‑ and here’s another example.

So here, you know, this is an auction site, a little bit different than the last one.  But here, you still see the logo.  You still see the username ‑‑, and this is where Denise has educated me even over the years.  You know, Denise, when we look at something like this, and we see this offering on this auction site, what’s relevant here?

Denise: On this page, you’ll see the location.  I think this one is Chesapeake, Virginia.  You’ll see the seller information, where this gives the seller’s name.  You can click on it, and it will go on this page.

And then you see the number that’s the seller?  You want to click on that as well.  Because when you click on that, you get to even more information about the seller.  And I like the View ID History.  That’s one of the first places I go to on the auction websites.

David: Let’s take a moment on this because it is important.  It’s not just for this auction site.  There’s a majority of the marketplaces out there that will have some level of an ID history.  They’ll let you know if someone changed names or there are ways to find that out.  A lot of times this is overlooked because when they first ‑‑ what I always say when a bad faith seller out there starts off selling a product, they do so not thinking whether they’re going to be big or someone’s going to come looking after them.  Right, Denise?
Denise: That’s correct.
David: And then all of a sudden, “Oh, I just received a cease and desist letter” or “Now people are looking at me, and I go and change my name.”  Right?
Denise: That’s correct.  Yes.
David: So, now when you have this piece of information, and you look ‑‑ well, now we see that this individual has changed his name three times.  And what does this tell you, Denise?
Denise: Which I like when they change their name a lot.  So, when I saw this one, it tells me a couple of things.  If you look at the middle user ID name, my first guess is their name is Rick, and they were either born in ‘45, or they’re 45 years old.  For me, it gives some identifying information that I can start searching and put different things together, and we also had the city and the state with this one as well.

I have seen ones where people have used their first, their last name and their age, and those are great.  But when it’s something like Goldberg45Rick, it’s not very common, so it’s also something that’s great to throw into a web search and see what comes back, because people tend to use their usernames in more than one place.  And, often, those usernames are used with their stuff, like, on their social media, which I know that we’ll get into that.  So, looking at the different usernames can give you a lot of information.

David: Let’s just recap, just in these three slides that we just talked about.  We were able to see where he said he’s selling, in Chesapeake.

We were able to see that he changed his name and where he’s at right here, and kind of how long he’s been selling and what his feedback rating is.  So, we can see he’s moving a lot of product.  He may be 45; his name may be Rick.  He’s in Chesapeake.  We’re starting to follow those breadcrumbs.  And these are some good breadcrumbs, too, right?

Denise: Right.  And sometimes they lead us right where we need to, and in all fairness, sometimes they don’t.  But it’s a great start.
David: It is.  Which leads us into one of your best assets for ‑‑ other than Vorys and Denise, of course, one of your best assets is Google.  And how to use Google.  What we’re going to talk about ‑‑ now when doing Google searches, there are a lot of tools you can go, and you can put a phone number in, and there are tools that I use.  But wouldn’t you say Google is probably your favorite way to just dump a phone number in?
Denise: Yes, I prefer Google out of all of the other ones.
David: You’ve educated me on this because I used to go to Google as maybe my third or fourth search because I would dump it in a few other different areas.  But what Denise has shown me over the years is that when I would put a phone number in, I would get a very generic result, and sometimes you’ve got a ten-digit phone number and it’s showing you pieces and parts of it.  So, Denise has shown me that if we go and put asterisks around it and search, we get exact matches.  Correct?
Denise: Right, if you put the quotes around it, and you search you get a more defined search in what you’re looking for and by throwing the number in Google before you choose specific databases, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re gonna pull up everywhere it is anyways and then you can move forward looking through all of those hits that you received.

So, that’s why I prefer Google.  But with that being said, there are times that I will also use Bing because Bing may give me some other information.

David: Yes.
Denise: So especially when I’m stuck or as pieces are not lining up, I may throw it in Bing or I may change how I search it.  With a phone number, there’s not a lot of changing up that you can do.
David: That’s true.
Denise: But when you use other things you can change it up and how you put it in there.  So, you just have to play with it.
David: And that’s important.  A lot of it is more playing and making a few changes and then adjusting one little thing here and there.  You brought up a good point with Bing.  In all the investigations I’ve done, a lot of times if I run a search, and, again, Google is by far probably the more accurate for a lot of the data, but if I don’t find something there, I’ve done tricks where I’ll look at maybe Safari on my smart device because that will give me a different search results.  Being in Yahoo can give you different search results.

Maybe it’s not better, but, again, you’re looking for a bread crumb and there have been times where getting frustrated, leaning back on my desk, I grab my phone, type that phone number into Safari and I get a different search result and it just leads me down a different path that may be something or may not.

Denise: Right and all these things just take a few minutes.  That’s the other thing about it.
David: Yes, and, again, that’s a good point when you talk about a few minutes here because a lot of times if you’re conducting an investigation, you usually will either find somebody, in let’s say 20 or 30 minutes, or it’s going to be a much longer investigation because you’ve done a good job.
Denise: Ryan, I see your question about using Spokeo for phone numbers.  I’m not a big fan of the site.  The reason being is I find that their information is not as accurate or up to date as some other places so that I may use it, or it may come up in my Google search, but I don’t specifically go there because I feel that their information is not as accurate.  There are different paid sites that you can use as well, but so much of, and everything we’re talking about today, is everything that you can freely find off the internet.
David: Yes, and, again, some of those sites, and even some of the ones that I’ve used, I’ve used White Pages before, and I do like White Pages, but you have to take a lot of that with kind of a grain of salt because it’s not as updated as you’d think.  You get almost a false sense of success when you see a phone number that may be there tied to an address and then find out its eight years old, where Google will give you something a little more accurate because their relevance rating is going to be higher.
Denise: Right, and I can add this piece to it.  I know that what I can do as an investigator is very different than what you can do is in a law firm, or other people have certain parameters they have to follow.  I’m a huge fan of calling a phone number. I will call every single phone number that I find, and that is how I learn if they’re good or bad numbers.  So, my advice when you’re allowed to do it or if you can’t get an investigator to do it, make the phone calls.  When you have a phone number, use it.  Getting somebody on the phone and catching them off guard is some of the best information that you can get.  I have solved many investigations that way.
David: That’s a really good point because I know that since joining the firm, one of my favorite things is making a phone call.  I’ve used Skype in this instance before.  Or something of that nature where it’s a little hidden because you don’t always want to talk to somebody.  You may want to get the recording.

Well, in the legal world, now that I work for a very large law firm, it’s called pretexting, and there are a few other things that go on there that I can’t do, but you, as the brand, you can do those.  You can place those phone calls.  I would probably recommend making the calls as anonymous as possible.

Denise: Right, and I will tell you this from experience, *67 doesn’t always work, and it does allow them to call you right back.  They may not know the number, but they can call you right back.  So, if you are going to use that, at least be quick on your feet.  I prefer an ‑‑ I call it a burn phone.  You paid for the number, so I just know I have a lot more leeway than you do but for people that do, use the phone, but don’t use your one.
David: Another really interesting tool, and there’s a little misconception here on searching images in Google because a lot of people are trying to go just in the regular search tool and search it and then go to the image button.
Denise: You have to go to Google Images and not only the main page of Google.   On Google, it says “Images” underneath.  You can search by image.  You have an option to either put a website in or drag an image. I drag images from all my marketplaces, so if they have a logo, I drag that image in there.  I drag pictures in there.  Anything that I can drag and put in there that I think may give me some information, I do it.

Sometimes you get nothing, but sometimes you get a lot of information that doesn’t mean anything.  Social media pictures, if you think that you have the right one, are almost some of the best to put in there because you find them other places.  But it’s another one of those quick tools.  Try it especially with logos to see what else pops up, but make sure you are in Google Images.

David: Yes and that’s important and for a lot of people on the phone here, when they’re looking at some of these marketplace storefronts, both the auction sites as well as these top marketplaces, they have logos next to their store name.  Whether they’re a basic logo, but that is something you can drag and drop, because even in my experience and in those first couple slides, that was an investigation that I conducted.  You were able to connect those two marketplaces if you will.  The seller names are slightly different, but the image and logo show they’re the same and then that also brought up some of the other things that we’ll talk about with the social media.
David: Another tool that is out there free and for everybody to use is Marketplace Pulse.  Now, when I first started doing investigations pretty heavily over the last couple years, Marketplace Pulse didn’t lead me to a lot of the directions because I was looking at it a little bit different.  And, again, consulting with Denise over the years, she’s helped me out.  Working with Whitney and the team here at Vorys, we started looking at the different aspects of Marketplace Pulse and what to look for.
Denise: The biggest things I look for here, and you can run auction sites in here and marketplace sites in here.  You can put the seller name in the search bar and it will pop up, and it will tell you sometimes where they’re located, how long they’ve been doing it, not that I care about that as much.  The other thing I look for is it will list their previous seller names.  There are some marketplaces that are not as easy to find the seller name as it is on the auction websites.  This is a pretty good one because if they know it, it’s in there.  It just gives you another thing to search, just like this one.  His username or his old username was westin4826.

So again, I look at that, and that’s pretty specific to that person.

Denise: Chances are they probably have done other things using that username.  So the biggest things I look for is their previous names and where they’re located.
David: That’s important because you can always reverse search.  Look at the previously known as, and see if you can associate that with maybe another type of marketplace or another type of seller.

There is good information and, again, knowing where they’re based out of or knowing where it’s shipping from will be especially helpful.  Again, take it with a grain of salt.  It’s not 100 percent accurate, but it’s a good piece of information that’s guiding you down that path.

Denise: The other thing it doesn’t show you, a lot of times, you’ll find out if they’re new sellers, which you can find marketplaces.  You will see a lot of them that pop up on and off, and it gives you an idea of what they’re doing and fishing and probably isn’t going to stay there very long when they have a habit of that.
David: Exactly, and sometimes the ones that pop on and off really quickly or the feedback says they’ve only been around ‑‑ they’ve only sold ten items, that takes a little diligence for us the investigators to say, “How far do we want to go down?  You’ve got four products for sale, is this something we want to monitor, or is somebody we want to go down the path and spend all the time and effort on?  Maybe we just move on.”
David: I’ve even consulted but sometimes if there are one or two products, just buy them.   Not only will you remove the two products, but you’ll capture a lot of information.  You’ll get rid of the inventory, and that could be a way to go.  Now again, I’m not encouraging that but sometimes when it’s only one or two, maybe it’s better to spend $100, buy the product, and you’re not spending $100 or a lot of hours investigating it.
Denise: Well, and sometimes they’re also fishing to see if they can get away with it.

So a simple email to them or a message to them will make them stop.  I don’t pay a lot of attention to those sellers.

David: One of the things that I find very interesting about social media is it’s kind of a human trait that the longer you’re getting away with something, maybe the more you’re going to brag about it.  Or you’re going to lead it somehow or tell somebody about it.

Now, in this case, that’s not exactly what happened.  There was an investigation that I conducted, where I ran that image search, and I was able to pull up their social media page, and once I pulled up the social media page, all the information started to come in.  So now, not only did I have two marketplaces, now I had a social media site, and all I was doing at this point now was validating data.

Denise: I love social media pages because, if you see even in the corner, often you get an address, a phone number, and email.  So, it provides a lot of information.
David: Exactly.  So now we go into one ‑‑, and you showed me this slide just a few days ago, and I think this is important because this goes to what you were saying earlier, a little bit about people ‑‑ kind of creature of habit.  Right?
Denise: Right.  So this is a good example where I used the username that I had found on another marketplace.  It was a previous seller name that was used, and I put it in Google and got some hits, and one was a dating site.  So this is one of them.  I found other ones, and it provided me with his first and last name.  And another one I found out that he was a Leo.  So, I’m going to guess that his birthday is 8/4 and not 4/8 or there’s some correlation there.
David: Everybody recalls about three slides ago the former username on that marketplace, under Marketplace Pulse, was his Snapchat name.  Right?
Denise: Yes, it’s a Snapchat name, and then he changed it to something wholesale.
David: Little something and ‑‑ so there you go.  You were able to search that and found this and then ‑‑
Denise: But it linked to his Facebook page.  I was able to find his Facebook page, his LinkedIn page.  He’s on a couple of dating sites.  He’s not very well hidden.  I can tell you where he spent Fourth of July as well.
David: So, now we touched a little bit about one of the tools that I’ve used quite a bit.  Again, you take it with a grain of salt, but it is a page search.  It’s not very expensive.  By all means, I’m not here reselling the service or anything, but White Pages has done a lot.  If someone’s been in a place for a long time and has that, White Pages has been a really good resource for me.

Again, more for validating the data, less than researching, right?  You need to have a good piece of data to put in here to search.  And in this instance, I was able to search a phone number that I was able to acquire from the social media web page, dumped it in here, and then I started seeing, different like his marketplace sites were shipping from Maryland.  Next thing you know, he had ‑‑ his initials on his logo fell in line with his name and a phone number.  Now, I’m building the case, if you will.

Denise: I’m going to add something.  I don’t think we have a slide about it, but I’d like to mention it.  On this thing, you found an address. I like to do property record searches with addresses.  Especially in a lot of ‑‑ you have to search, find out what county they are in, go in that county assessor’s office, and it will give you a good idea if they still live there because you can get their property records.
David: I think that’s a good point.

Now what was interesting, we can say, is when we looked at that ID history on the auction site, and we saw Rick and 45 and some of that?  That was that slide, right?

Denise: Yes.
David: It verified he was Rick and he was 45.  And wasn’t his last name a variation?
Denise: Well, I’ll just say his last name had the word “warn” in it.  This is why you should be careful of what your usernames are and gave that as an example of from his username; this is what I found.  And I had a phone number and a cell phone number.
David: It was a compelling sight, and it was a compelling search.

So, again, as we’re going down this list, this is usually what I would say is, kind of, my last check box is conducting a product buy.
There are two types of product buys.  There’s the product buy to ID somebody, part of an investigation but a lot of times there’s a product buy then to verify the product itself.  Serial numbers, lot numbers that then will help track distribution.

In this case, we’re talking about conducting a product buy because maybe some of those other search results that we were searching were not conclusive enough.

David: Now the one thing that I want to emphasize when you’re doing a product buy, you want to make sure that it’s not fulfilled by the marketplace you’re buying.  Because then what you’re really ‑‑ unless you know it’s going to have maybe a packaging slip, lot number or serial number you’re trying to verify, if it’s fulfilled by that specific marketplace, you’re going to run into a distribution point.  That’s not going to lead you anywhere.

However, when it’s not fulfilled, you gather a piece of information, and I would say the majority of the product buys I end up conducting, whether it be on the marketplace or the auction site, has led me to be able to send an enforcement.

Denise: I’ll add this part of it.  When you’re making a product buy to obtain their contact information, it doesn’t matter what you buy.
David: Yes, you can buy the cheapest product.   You don’t necessarily have to buy the product of your product or a product of your client’s.  You just want to get sometimes the lowest cost product.

There are times when you identify a third-party seller and the majority of it is fulfilled by that marketplace, or one of the primes that are out there, look through his whole store.  Take a minute and look at his inventory and odds are you’ll find a product or two that are in there that are not fulfilled by the marketplace.  Buy those products.

Denise: One step further and I know one thing I do, especially that’s working for a brand is, we have some of our customers that sell on the marketplaces that aren’t supposed to.  But they don’t sell under the customer name I have.  I can run the customer name through my database, and it doesn’t pop up.

When I have an address, and maybe I even found it elsewhere, I can run that through my customer database and find who they are.  The other thing is a brand ‑‑ put this information through your database of customers. I have found a lot of information that way.

David: Yes and I don’t know what the statistics are today.  I haven’t been running investigations as aggressively as I have in the past, but there was a time where I very comfortably could say half of the investigations came back, and it was an authorized seller selling under a different entity, or a different name, or some variation of it because they were trying to move that product out of their inventory.

Whether the sellers are doing it in bad faith, that’s for the brand to decide but that’s where the investigation comes into play, knowing where it’s being shipped from.  You only have one reseller in Chesapeake and all of a sudden you’re selling a direct seller, and you have one reseller there, and that’s where all the product’s moving from?  Start putting those pieces together.

David: Okay, so what do you do when you do a product buy?  Well, if you do a buy and you pay for it, a lot of times you can acquire the information there.  Back in the day, if we go back, maybe six, seven years ago, sites like PayPal probably used to provide a lot of information. Because they’re a financial institution, they would provide you with names, phone numbers, addresses, etc.

It’s pulled back a little bit.  However, that being said, in this instance, I was able to obtain a website address.  Now, the website address can lead me to do a reverse search on that website address and then gather information as well.  As you can see, I bought a very inexpensive product, had it shipped, gathered that e-mail, gathered that web URL, but I was able to do one other thing that a lot of people need to think about.

For that auction site we talked about, there’s a process called PIA, which is a personal information acquisition.  It’s a request.

If you’ve conducted a transaction with this seller, you can then go through there and request that seller’s information.  Is that correct?

Denise: Yes, but remember, when you request that seller’s information, they get your information.

So another reason why you don’t necessarily want to do this from your personal account that you use because they get your information.

David: Yes, and it comes in an e-mail, but this is a screenshot of an e-mail that has come in.  So now they have your information, you have their information. If you’re making a constant request like this, through an auction site, they’re receiving this information as well.

I acquired a phone number, which validated that again and then I also acquired Maryland that verified it again along with that seller name, which then verified it back to another marketplace.  It was then a very compelling investigation.

Now, with these examples that we’re showing today, in this case, we were building a case, so we gathered as much information across the board.  For a lot of brands that are on the phone today, you might not need to go this far.  You don’t have to go through the product buyer. If you held that information, just through the social media page, right, Denise?

Denise: Right.
David: As a brand protection director for a brand,   that would be more than enough for you, right?
Denise: Right.  It gives you the information to send a letter, at least a starting point.
David: See if they’ll fall in compliance or where you need to escalate. This goes to the point during that transaction I had on the auction site; I was able to run a reverse history.  I didn’t find much information on it because the domain name was inactive and it was an old one, but it still shows you, you can now run that, and a lot of times there’s what everybody’s probably familiar with a Who Is history.  It tells you who owns the domain name today.  Unfortunately, probably 60, 70 percent or, I don’t know what the exact number is, are privacy protected.
Denise: Some of the older ones or people that have been around for a while didn’t think to protect theirs, so it is good to go through the history to see what you find and also sometimes, in some of them you can see old screenshots of the website, which will also provide identifying information that they may have removed after, for whatever reason.
David: That’s actually a good point, so there’s a Who Is history which is what we’re looking at right here, but if you look over to the bottom left, I like to call that the Who was history.
David: A lot of times when someone registers a domain name, they’re just thinking that’s a great business idea, and they just register.  Then they go back later and change it.  What’s important to look here is if the creation date and the expiration date has not changed, odds are the domain name has never changed ownership.

That’s what you look for when you’re looking for the who was because those two pieces of information cannot be changed or altered.  If they are changed and altered, usually it’s an expired went to redemption, went out to the public, then was re-registered.  Now, does that mean it could not be sold and then transferred through escrow to somebody else?  No.  But, again, it’s giving you a piece of information that you can then crawl through.  So it’s important.

DomainTools is a great service to use to go through there.  It limits you to how much searches you can do, but there are other services.

Denise: You can use Whoisology.  There’s the free form of it that will give you some of the information you need.  It’s always a good start before you start paying for anything.  Use everything that’s free that’s out there.
David: There’s another service that is free, and a lot of people don’t know about. DomainTools will give you a little brief snapshot of what that website looked like, but there’s a neat tool out there that’s been archiving the website for quite some time.?
Denise: Are you talking about the Wayback Machine?
David: The Wayback Machine.  Yes.  I was doing an investigation for one of our cosmetic clients, and the URL was down everything.  I was able to go to the Wayback Machine, look at that domain name, couple years back and the contact information was right there, and the domain name was privacy.  So, the Wayback Machine does well.

Again, we’re going very quickly through here, and a lot of questions are popping up.

Okay, so, now, one of the things that I did, I think it was three or four months ago because of the amount of investigations that I was doing and we’re going through, we were looking at state registrations when we find a business name, and it’s amazing how you can do so many investigations in your career and you end up going to Google and typing in Florida Secretary of State and then clicking there, and then you go to the business search, then you gotta go to the LLC search.

What I did a few months back, I created a one-page document, all 50 states, all links to all of them.  I’ll share that with everybody after the call.  If you request that from me, I’ll give that to you.  But it’s important to search these types of things.

Denise: It is important because it will give you additional information or it can confirm what you already know.  If somebody is in Ohio, and I don’t find them in Ohio, I will tend to also search them in Florida, Nevada, I think Delaware, may be a popular one that people don’t live in but they tend to register their companies. You know, where they tend to register, and each Secretary of State will provide different information.  I believe in Texas; you may even have to pay a dollar to request the information. But they are not expensive.
Denise: No, but it’s another accession, now that you have all the links down.  Is another quick tool that is, for the most part, free, that will help you verify the information.
David: I think we have it on desktops just sitting there, because you just want to go quick, when you see a seller’s information or About Us page and he collects sales tax in Colorado.  Oh, let me search Colorado for a few variations of that. That’s why it’s important and knowing that they’re still active and they’re still conducting business.

Let’s summarize because we’re nearing the end of our webinar. The summary is let’s search all aspects of the marketplace.  The About Us page, the seller feedback, that’s your first step.  You’ve identified an unauthorized sale or offering out there.  Let’s dig into every aspect of that.  Feedback is a big one.  Sometimes people complain, right?

And they’ll complain like, “I called Denise at 213490, and she was a jerk.”  Well, that’s the feedback, and now you got a phone number on Denise, right?

Denise: Or sometimes I’ve gotten tracking numbers.  So then when I didn’t have a city or a state and I could then put the tracking number in.
David: That’s a great point.  A lot of times when you do a product buy, always take a look at that tracking number because United States Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, you find the zip code of origin.

Research seller information within the search engines.  Research the marketplace and review sites.  Social media’s a big one.  Reverse names, conduct the product buys, one of the last resorts unless there’s a reason you’re doing that.  A domain name search and the state business registration.

Denise: Let me add one thing that we didn’t touch when I do search engine searches.  I think there’s some people on the phone that probably know me because I reached out to them.  When I search a seller’s name, I sometimes will find pdfs or other do-not-call lists that other manufacturers have put out there, and I pick up the phone, and I call that manufacturer or that brand, and I explain to them who I am and ask them what information that they have, and have found that sometimes, especially the difficult ones, coming together and working on something, it helps both of us.

Sometimes you find their information, and it’s not making sense because it’s not what you found, so I call them and ask them, “Where did your information come from?”  But use your colleagues, especially when you find some of that out there.  It’s helped me several times.

David: That’s a really good point.  And, again, what we tried to do today, and I hope everybody found it to be beneficial, is to empower you to do as much work as you can on your own.  It’s not always about, just call David and he’s going to charge you money just to do every investigation.  No.  We want to be here, Denise, myself, you know, others that are on the call here.  They’re your colleagues.  They’re your industry experts that can help you do these types of things on your own.  When you get to that point, and you get to that roadblock, that’s where you want to call and say, “I’ve exhausted this.  Can you help out?”  And sometimes another set of eyes can find something fairly quickly.

Going back to the beginning, I think one of the most important things, and I can’t emphasize this enough, as what I’ve learned over the last year, is there is a way to truly enforce your brands, your products, on these marketplaces and it all starts with creating the legal grounds, in the beginning, to enforce it.

So, now when you identify these people, you identify these sellers, you now have legal ground under a material difference argument in many aspects to shut that site down, to get that seller off, to have a claim.  It starts with a cease and desist letter.  That’s a type of enforcement that everybody’s aware of.

And I’ve got a question here,  “Do we have a template for a cease and desist?” We do, and there are things like that that we can work with you on.  But there’s escalated levels of enforcement where we’ve seen even draft complaints.  Now, a lot of times that scares a lot of people when working with a law firm thinking, “Oh, a draft complaint that costs thousands of dollars.”  Well, a draft complaint is a cease and desist letter on steroids.  But it is a document that is X versus Y, and it scares unauthorized sellers.

There are other things we can also do to help you.  We could subpoena marketplaces for seller information if need be.  There are other levels of legal ramifications or remedies that you can then have that pushes that unauthorized seller to get them to move down.  So, there’s a lot of questions coming on and, unfortunately, we’ve only got about five minutes left here, so I think we’ll go through a few of these.

Betsy, you asked if there are any international tools.  I think, Denise, you’re probably better to answer this question because you work with a lot of international clients.  I have not expanded much in the international realm.

Denise: I think I saw another question there ask, there are some marketplaces that are international and somebody had mentioned this, it’s one of the questions or comments.  It’s good to point out that when you search that fellow name on some of the other international marketplaces, you will find more information because it’s more transparent.

As for international tools, especially if it is out of the country, I always start with a Google search, and that will lead me to other tools.  I have found Chinese business records that way, and I’ve found addresses.  One time I called an international one and found the seller because somehow I found the number on the internet and I hit it somehow, it was a list that must have been sold on the dark web somewhere, but I ended up finding the person’s name, address, phone number and their credit card information, it was expired, from this list because sometimes I’ll search and put /.pdf in it to see if I can pull pdfs.  So, I don’t use specific international tools, I always start with a Google search and see where that takes me.

David: But you can also Google because Google results are going to vary by country so that you can do Google.co.uk.
Denise: Correct. It’s a good starting place, and then you’ll find other tool s like shipping and customer information.
David: Amy asked a question here, and said, “Have you had any luck finding resellers on a specific marketplace who hide behind the fulfillment or the fulfilled buy?”  Well, I’m going to say that my answer is yes, because the majority of them are, right?
Denise: Right, but you’re not going to find, in all fairness all of those.

I will say back when I was doing a lot more of these seller investigations on a regular basis; we had a 76 percent success rate with ones that it was fulfilled by the warehouse.  Amazingly enough, sometimes a simple e-mail asking them questions, they will give you some additional contact information, even though they’re not supposed to.  I had a seller once provide their name, address and phone number.  Now, that doesn’t happen very often, but you can ask.

So, if you do, it’s usually having a conversation with them is where you’re more likely to, or you might want to keep watching their marketplace site because today you may check it and they may have nothing that isn’t fulfilled by them.

David: Let me add another point on the fulfillment side, and, again, this is when I first joined the firm.  I was doing an investigation.  I was so frustrated because I couldn’t find anything that helped and I was upset, so I hit return, and I was done and then all of a sudden I got an e-mail with their phone number and everything from the return.
Denise: Right.
David: It solved it because the fulfillment product that I received didn’t lead me anywhere and then I got that information from return
David: We only have three minutes here real quick.  Right here, Eva, we’re talking about calling neighboring business.  I think this is one of Denise’s favorite things to do.  Unfortunately, the firm, as they said, I can’t go due to pretexting and a few other things but go ahead, Denise.
Denise: Eva, I have done this as well, especially in strip malls.  I had one where the individual had been doing a lot of lying, but everything lined up to this person, and I just couldn’t get that smoking gun, but I knew in my gut it was this person.  So, I did the same thing.  I then found a business next door and told them that I was trying to send them something.  I just started asking questions.  And got that information, but it is a very good thing to do.  I’m telling you when you can use it and if you can’t, hire somebody that can.  The phone is your best friend.

Especially if you’re quick on your feet.  If you’re not quick on your feet and you have to think it all out, you should not be the one making the call.

David: Exactly.  So, Ali, can you employ us if you need to do an in-depth investigation?  Absolutely.  Feel free to reach out to me; we’re more than willing to walk you through that process and see if we can help you out there.

One person asks that, “Can I share Denise’s contact information?”  I think you’re okay with that, aren’t you Denise?

Denise: Yes.
David: I think we’ll share that, so if you reach out to me, I’ll be sure to get that out, and then one last question.

This is from Diane when making calls to phone numbers, what questions do you ask and in what order?  So, I’m going to answer quickly here.  On me, I like to hear a voicemail.  It leaves me information because I don’t want to talk to them, but I know Denise, you take a different approach a lot of times.

Denise: I like the voicemail as well, but I like to talk to them, and it depends.  It depends on if I made a buy from them and I want to return it, so it all depends.  Sometimes I have called and asked them if they were such and such marketplace seller.  If you catch them off-guard, they will answer you, and sometimes they ask me things like, “Where did you get my phone number?”  And I say, “It was on the page,” and they don’t have time to go back and look at their page or look somewhere else to see if I’m telling them the truth and I have them on the phone and I tend to answer their questions with my questions.
David: Well, great.  Well, again, Denise, I can’t thank you enough for not only participating and helping me over the years with investigations but also coming up and spending this time here in Columbus with us.  I hope everybody on the webinar was able to have some information, some good takeaways.  Again, my information’s on the screen there.  Please feel free to reach out to me.

I’ll send you the list of state registration.  I’ll send you the checklist of investigations, and I am here to help answer questions.  You’re sharing industry information.  It’s all about a big network to solve the overall problem, and that’s what we’re here for.  We’re here to help you succeed and then protect.  That’s what our goal is.  So, again, thank you for joining us today and have a great day.

David: Today we’re going to be reviewing who is selling your products, and if anybody’s ever listened to any of the webinar series that I’ve done in my career, I’ve been doing this for roughly about 17 years now, you’ve known that I’ve always talked about ‑‑ any brand protection strategy, you need to look at the who, what, where, when, why and how your products are being sold or offered online and who is selling it. Today we’re going to review that through online marketplaces and give you the best practices and the best tools to conduct some of these investigations yourself.  And when you need that next level, myself or Denise, who I’ll introduce here in a second, will be here to answer those questions as we move forward.So, moving on, again, my name is David Howell.  I joined Vorys within this last year as the director of brand protection, and I have Denise Mosteller with me who is the online brand protection manager for Implus. I’ve known Denise for quite a few years, and she has been doing this online investigation research for well over 20 years, so thank you for joining us, Denise.  I do appreciate taking the time.
Denise: Well, thanks for having me.  I’m glad to be here.
David: Let’s jump right in and talk a little bit about why we even need to worry about these investigations and what we’re looking for and then we’ll jump into some of the investigations right off.

So just a little bit about Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.  We are a large law firm based in Columbus, and we have offices around the country.  We were established in 1909.  We have about 375 attorneys.  We are one of the 200 largest law firms in the United States but, more importantly, we’re a go-to firm for 23 of the Fortune 500 companies, amongst just many other companies that we work from, we have many areas of practice.  The group that I work in and the group that will be discussing today is our online unauthorized seller enforcement group.

So through a lot of thought leadership, a lot of different things that we do with this, we have a very diverse team, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here bringing a different added value to what this group is actually trying to solve these problems for a lot of these brands and companies.  In the end, it’s not about anything other than growing your business, and growing your sales and protecting it, and that’s really what we’re going to talk about today.

So, let’s just dive right into a few of the statistics.  So, what is marketplace or what is happening out there?  This is not news to anybody.  It is increasingly growing.  There are a few numbers that I would like to just leave everybody with today, that this year alone, in 2017, we’re going to see 6,375 as its noted today, brick and mortar retail stores that are closing their doors.  And what’s that mean?  It’s shifting the sales from those brick and mortar onto online marketplaces, and we see that today, so that’s not shocking.

But there’s been a demographic that maybe, little bit of an assumption here, that’s been holding out or not embracing the online sales or online marketplace, but these stores, these underperforming stores that may be closing down, what’s happening is that last bit of demographic is now going to be pushed to buy those goods and services that they did in those closing stores, now to move them more online.

So, what does that do?  It’s going to start seeing this growth increase.  So, we steadily see it ‑‑ 10, 15, 20 percent growth; different numbers show different statistics.  So, for 2017, when we finish up this holiday season coming up, or even beyond, and that’s really what we want to take a look at.  The more sales, the more traffic, the more we’re going to need to go out there and actively monitor and protect the brands and their sales.

So, what are the sources of unauthorized sellers?  You have unauthorized distributors.  How are they getting these products?  A lot of companies will have a one, two or three-step distribution and maybe there are other entities that are acquiring this product towards being diverted.  You have professional resellers.  There are a lot of companies out there, in my experience, on some of these very large marketplaces, there are large sellers that are acquiring these products that are professional resellers, and they’re acquiring this.  There are one off-sellers.  There’s the one that just acquired a box of something, or they saw a sale, and they went and grabbed that product, and they’re selling it online.

There are schemes that are out there, like credit card thieves.  There are all types of issues of these third-party or unauthorized sellers.  And here’s what we really want to take a look at is, you know, you look at this slide and you see that you look at that plain, aerobatic, kind of a death spiral is what we’re really looking at here, because it’s important to understand that when you have these unauthorized sales or third-party sales out there, there are a few things that really start to happen.

Your brand value diminishes, so now you start having these products being sold at a lower price than what you want them sold at and that starts to lead to consumer confidence issues.  Because then you start looking at how there are so many offerings from a price deviation of 30, 40, 50, 60 percent?

Then you get this consumer confidence ‑‑ it’s very hard once you start losing consumer confidence to build that back up.  And that’s one of the things that we want to look at.  So, as prices drop we start looking at these things, and that’s what we’re going talk about today here in a second.

If you heard me speak before, whether I coined the term or I’ve been preaching it for a very long time, I’ve always talked about the three pillars of brand protection.  You had to have a good monitoring solution, a good investigation research solution, and a good enforcement strategy.

Well, since I’ve joined Vorys, I’ve worked very closely with Whitney Gibson, who is the leader of the online seller enforcement group, and he has changed my thought process.  There are four pillars of this.  So, if you remove those three that I talked about, the first pillar should be the really good proper legal foundation for enforcement.  And what is that?  That’s putting these policies, these reseller agreements, whatever those types of things, depending on what your business model is, having that good policy and talking about how the who, what, where, when, why and how you’re allowed to sell that product online.

Now you’re in a position to monitor for those unauthorized sellers, research and investigate, which is what we’re going to talk about here in just a moment, but now you have legal grounds for enforcement.  When it comes to determining the strength of your legal ground, let’s focus on material difference.  These unauthorized sellers will go to the first sales doctrine, and that’s how they’re justifying their ability to sell and offer your products.  Well, material difference, we can come in, evaluate your reseller agreements, your policies, and your products and try to work with you to put a material difference argument.

Now, a lot of times, people look at the material difference and think it’s a physical material difference.  Whether it’s a packaging issue, or it looks a little bit different, or somebody scratched off the logo, and those things are a material difference, but what about looking at what guarantees you have?  The courts have determined that a material difference does not have to be a physical one, and there is, I think, 70 plus cases that have ruled in favor that not only does it not have to be a physical material difference, but you only need to prove one material difference.

So what are some of those material differences?  We talk about guarantees, maybe warranties.  What type of guarantees do you have?  What if those guarantees do not go over to a third-party seller that may be selling your products, right?  What about different distributors and retailers?  You have a vetting process.  So, a retailer has to go through a process to become authorized, and if they have not done that, they’re not authorized to sell those goods and that, again, could be a type of material difference.

What are your policies to recall, if you have any issues where lot numbers or expirations, or things like this are popping up there?  What type of recourse do you have and are those in your policies?  These are minor changes that really can triage your existing policy to include those.

Looking at your customer complaints, customer service, the customer ‑‑ you know, different types you have for servicing those.  If they’re sold outside the proper channel, those might not be there for you, and that could be deemed a material difference.  Some other ones that we can talk about quickly.  They’re not flagged here, but shipping and storage of products.

So when we’re talking about a product that may be a type of cream, or it could be a battery, or it could be things that if they’re not stored properly, those then are removing that warranty.  They’re removing that quality that then can be deemed a possible material difference.

So now looking at that enforcement process.  Now we’re talking about those four pillars of brand protection.  So we got the putting the right policies and procedures and resale agreements in place and moving that now down to monitoring.  How do you monitor for this?

There are a lot of technology partners that Vorys works with.  Very good technology that helps you identify these unauthorized sellers on these marketplaces and auction sites.  But then you need to move through the investigation.  Again, I keep saying we’re gonna touch on that in a second.  But the enforcement, now, once you go through the funnel, these are the types of things that are going to now build your enforcement to be successful.  If you don’t put these things in place, I can’t reiterate that enough; you’re going to play the proverbial whack-a-mole when trying to enforce and solve these problems that are plaguing you on these online marketplaces.

Uncovering a third-party seller.  So, what is a third-party seller?  I think that’s probably one of the biggest questions that either you know, or you don’t know.  Well, you have an authorized seller, which would be someone you have vetted through the process, and they’re allowed to have your product and then resell your product, and they’re reselling it in a way that’s by your resale agreement that you may have with them.

A third-party seller is somebody who is not ‑‑, and we’ll just be very generically ‑‑ I think, Denise, it’d be fair to say they’re them, right?  Anybody who’s not.

Denise: Right.
David: Okay.  So now we’re going to start relying a lot on Denise here to educate all of us on what we’re looking for.  So there are basic steps that you can take, and we’re going to show everyone on the call today some basic steps how you can conduct an investigation and what to look for.

Now, after this call and after this webinar today, if you want, we have created two documents that we will distribute.  One is, we will review each of these, kind of a checklist, if you will, of things you can do and how to go about doing that, and another one is a state secretary registration list that when you do identify some of these, you can actually click that and go to that secretary of state and run that business entity.  Kind of a very useful tool.

Denise: It saves time.
David: It saves a lot of time.  Okay, Denise.  Now let’s get the conversation started.  So thank you for bearing with me there for ten minutes kind of why we’re on the call today.

So, Denise, now we dive into it.  For today, we’ve removed a lot of the information that isn’t relevant as far as the identities of some of the marketplaces, as well as some of the people that we’ve investigated.  But what we want to do today is say, the first thing you come across the marketplace and a seller, what’s the first thing you want to do, Denise?  What would be the first logical step?

Denise: The first thing that I do is look over their seller page.  I look for any identifying information, a logo, a phone number, their username.  I look at ‑‑ even their description on this one, it’s generic, but sometimes people will put some unique language in their description about their company.  I pay attention to that, as well as misspellings. With all of the information that we see here is what we’re going to take and use to search on the web in other places.
David: So that’s a good point.  I know over the investigations that I’ve conducted when you’re going through this, this page just kind of shows you their storefront, if you will.  Right?
Denise: Right.
David: But a lot of these marketplaces, they’ll have an About Us section, they’ll have shipping policies, they’ll have different FAQs if you will.  I’ve found a lot where you’re searching this, and they say, “We collect sales tax in X state.”  Right?
Denise: Right.  Yes.  They will list it, or sometimes you find where it’s shipped from; and that’s all very valuable information because it gives you another, basically, a pointer to them.
David: It’s the breadcrumbs that lead you to that, and that’s what’s important.  The first thing is, whatever marketplace you’re on, whatever auction site you’re on, really dive in and look at that store and see ‑‑ and here’s another example.

So here, you know, this is an auction site, a little bit different than the last one.  But here, you still see the logo.  You still see the username ‑‑, and this is where Denise has educated me even over the years.  You know, Denise, when we look at something like this, and we see this offering on this auction site, what’s relevant here?

Denise: On this page, you’ll see the location.  I think this one is Chesapeake, Virginia.  You’ll see the seller information, where this gives the seller’s name.  You can click on it, and it will go on this page.

And then you see the number that’s the seller?  You want to click on that as well.  Because when you click on that, you get to even more information about the seller.  And I like the View ID History.  That’s one of the first places I go to on the auction websites.

David: Let’s take a moment on this because it is important.  It’s not just for this auction site.  There’s a majority of the marketplaces out there that will have some level of an ID history.  They’ll let you know if someone changed names or there are ways to find that out.  A lot of times this is overlooked because when they first ‑‑ what I always say when a bad faith seller out there starts off selling a product, they do so not thinking whether they’re going to be big or someone’s going to come looking after them.  Right, Denise?
Denise: That’s correct.
David: And then all of a sudden, “Oh, I just received a cease and desist letter” or “Now people are looking at me, and I go and change my name.”  Right?
Denise: That’s correct.  Yes.
David: So, now when you have this piece of information, and you look ‑‑ well, now we see that this individual has changed his name three times.  And what does this tell you, Denise?
Denise: Which I like when they change their name a lot.  So, when I saw this one, it tells me a couple of things.  If you look at the middle user ID name, my first guess is their name is Rick, and they were either born in ‘45, or they’re 45 years old.  For me, it gives some identifying information that I can start searching and put different things together, and we also had the city and the state with this one as well.

I have seen ones where people have used their first, their last name and their age, and those are great.  But when it’s something like Goldberg45Rick, it’s not very common, so it’s also something that’s great to throw into a web search and see what comes back, because people tend to use their usernames in more than one place.  And, often, those usernames are used with their stuff, like, on their social media, which I know that we’ll get into that.  So, looking at the different usernames can give you a lot of information.

David: Let’s just recap, just in these three slides that we just talked about.  We were able to see where he said he’s selling, in Chesapeake.

We were able to see that he changed his name and where he’s at right here, and kind of how long he’s been selling and what his feedback rating is.  So, we can see he’s moving a lot of product.  He may be 45; his name may be Rick.  He’s in Chesapeake.  We’re starting to follow those breadcrumbs.  And these are some good breadcrumbs, too, right?

Denise: Right.  And sometimes they lead us right where we need to, and in all fairness, sometimes they don’t.  But it’s a great start.
David: It is.  Which leads us into one of your best assets for ‑‑ other than Vorys and Denise, of course, one of your best assets is Google.  And how to use Google.  What we’re going to talk about ‑‑ now when doing Google searches, there are a lot of tools you can go, and you can put a phone number in, and there are tools that I use.  But wouldn’t you say Google is probably your favorite way to just dump a phone number in?
Denise: Yes, I prefer Google out of all of the other ones.
David: You’ve educated me on this because I used to go to Google as maybe my third or fourth search because I would dump it in a few other different areas.  But what Denise has shown me over the years is that when I would put a phone number in, I would get a very generic result, and sometimes you’ve got a ten-digit phone number and it’s showing you pieces and parts of it.  So, Denise has shown me that if we go and put asterisks around it and search, we get exact matches.  Correct?
Denise: Right, if you put the quotes around it, and you search you get a more defined search in what you’re looking for and by throwing the number in Google before you choose specific databases, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re gonna pull up everywhere it is anyways and then you can move forward looking through all of those hits that you received.

So, that’s why I prefer Google.  But with that being said, there are times that I will also use Bing because Bing may give me some other information.

David: Yes.
Denise: So especially when I’m stuck or as pieces are not lining up, I may throw it in Bing or I may change how I search it.  With a phone number, there’s not a lot of changing up that you can do.
David: That’s true.
Denise: But when you use other things you can change it up and how you put it in there.  So, you just have to play with it.
David: And that’s important.  A lot of it is more playing and making a few changes and then adjusting one little thing here and there.  You brought up a good point with Bing.  In all the investigations I’ve done, a lot of times if I run a search, and, again, Google is by far probably the more accurate for a lot of the data, but if I don’t find something there, I’ve done tricks where I’ll look at maybe Safari on my smart device because that will give me a different search results.  Being in Yahoo can give you different search results.

Maybe it’s not better, but, again, you’re looking for a bread crumb and there have been times where getting frustrated, leaning back on my desk, I grab my phone, type that phone number into Safari and I get a different search result and it just leads me down a different path that may be something or may not.

Denise: Right and all these things just take a few minutes.  That’s the other thing about it.
David: Yes, and, again, that’s a good point when you talk about a few minutes here because a lot of times if you’re conducting an investigation, you usually will either find somebody, in let’s say 20 or 30 minutes, or it’s going to be a much longer investigation because you’ve done a good job.
Denise: Ryan, I see your question about using Spokeo for phone numbers.  I’m not a big fan of the site.  The reason being is I find that their information is not as accurate or up to date as some other places so that I may use it, or it may come up in my Google search, but I don’t specifically go there because I feel that their information is not as accurate.  There are different paid sites that you can use as well, but so much of, and everything we’re talking about today, is everything that you can freely find off the internet.
David: Yes, and, again, some of those sites, and even some of the ones that I’ve used, I’ve used White Pages before, and I do like White Pages, but you have to take a lot of that with kind of a grain of salt because it’s not as updated as you’d think.  You get almost a false sense of success when you see a phone number that may be there tied to an address and then find out its eight years old, where Google will give you something a little more accurate because their relevance rating is going to be higher.
Denise: Right, and I can add this piece to it.  I know that what I can do as an investigator is very different than what you can do is in a law firm, or other people have certain parameters they have to follow.  I’m a huge fan of calling a phone number. I will call every single phone number that I find, and that is how I learn if they’re good or bad numbers.  So, my advice when you’re allowed to do it or if you can’t get an investigator to do it, make the phone calls.  When you have a phone number, use it.  Getting somebody on the phone and catching them off guard is some of the best information that you can get.  I have solved many investigations that way.
David: That’s a really good point because I know that since joining the firm, one of my favorite things is making a phone call.  I’ve used Skype in this instance before.  Or something of that nature where it’s a little hidden because you don’t always want to talk to somebody.  You may want to get the recording.

Well, in the legal world, now that I work for a very large law firm, it’s called pretexting, and there are a few other things that go on there that I can’t do, but you, as the brand, you can do those.  You can place those phone calls.  I would probably recommend making the calls as anonymous as possible.

Denise: Right, and I will tell you this from experience, *67 doesn’t always work, and it does allow them to call you right back.  They may not know the number, but they can call you right back.  So, if you are going to use that, at least be quick on your feet.  I prefer an ‑‑ I call it a burn phone.  You paid for the number, so I just know I have a lot more leeway than you do but for people that do, use the phone, but don’t use your one.
David: Another really interesting tool, and there’s a little misconception here on searching images in Google because a lot of people are trying to go just in the regular search tool and search it and then go to the image button.
Denise: You have to go to Google Images and not only the main page of Google.   On Google, it says “Images” underneath.  You can search by image.  You have an option to either put a website in or drag an image. I drag images from all my marketplaces, so if they have a logo, I drag that image in there.  I drag pictures in there.  Anything that I can drag and put in there that I think may give me some information, I do it.

Sometimes you get nothing, but sometimes you get a lot of information that doesn’t mean anything.  Social media pictures, if you think that you have the right one, are almost some of the best to put in there because you find them other places.  But it’s another one of those quick tools.  Try it especially with logos to see what else pops up, but make sure you are in Google Images.

David: Yes and that’s important and for a lot of people on the phone here, when they’re looking at some of these marketplace storefronts, both the auction sites as well as these top marketplaces, they have logos next to their store name.  Whether they’re a basic logo, but that is something you can drag and drop, because even in my experience and in those first couple slides, that was an investigation that I conducted.  You were able to connect those two marketplaces if you will.  The seller names are slightly different, but the image and logo show they’re the same and then that also brought up some of the other things that we’ll talk about with the social media.
David: Another tool that is out there free and for everybody to use is Marketplace Pulse.  Now, when I first started doing investigations pretty heavily over the last couple years, Marketplace Pulse didn’t lead me to a lot of the directions because I was looking at it a little bit different.  And, again, consulting with Denise over the years, she’s helped me out.  Working with Whitney and the team here at Vorys, we started looking at the different aspects of Marketplace Pulse and what to look for.
Denise: The biggest things I look for here, and you can run auction sites in here and marketplace sites in here.  You can put the seller name in the search bar and it will pop up, and it will tell you sometimes where they’re located, how long they’ve been doing it, not that I care about that as much.  The other thing I look for is it will list their previous seller names.  There are some marketplaces that are not as easy to find the seller name as it is on the auction websites.  This is a pretty good one because if they know it, it’s in there.  It just gives you another thing to search, just like this one.  His username or his old username was westin4826.

So again, I look at that, and that’s pretty specific to that person.

Denise: Chances are they probably have done other things using that username.  So the biggest things I look for is their previous names and where they’re located.
David: That’s important because you can always reverse search.  Look at the previously known as, and see if you can associate that with maybe another type of marketplace or another type of seller.

There is good information and, again, knowing where they’re based out of or knowing where it’s shipping from will be especially helpful.  Again, take it with a grain of salt.  It’s not 100 percent accurate, but it’s a good piece of information that’s guiding you down that path.

Denise: The other thing it doesn’t show you, a lot of times, you’ll find out if they’re new sellers, which you can find marketplaces.  You will see a lot of them that pop up on and off, and it gives you an idea of what they’re doing and fishing and probably isn’t going to stay there very long when they have a habit of that.
David: Exactly, and sometimes the ones that pop on and off really quickly or the feedback says they’ve only been around ‑‑ they’ve only sold ten items, that takes a little diligence for us the investigators to say, “How far do we want to go down?  You’ve got four products for sale, is this something we want to monitor, or is somebody we want to go down the path and spend all the time and effort on?  Maybe we just move on.”
David: I’ve even consulted but sometimes if there are one or two products, just buy them.   Not only will you remove the two products, but you’ll capture a lot of information.  You’ll get rid of the inventory, and that could be a way to go.  Now again, I’m not encouraging that but sometimes when it’s only one or two, maybe it’s better to spend $100, buy the product, and you’re not spending $100 or a lot of hours investigating it.
Denise: Well, and sometimes they’re also fishing to see if they can get away with it.

So a simple email to them or a message to them will make them stop.  I don’t pay a lot of attention to those sellers.

David: One of the things that I find very interesting about social media is it’s kind of a human trait that the longer you’re getting away with something, maybe the more you’re going to brag about it.  Or you’re going to lead it somehow or tell somebody about it.

Now, in this case, that’s not exactly what happened.  There was an investigation that I conducted, where I ran that image search, and I was able to pull up their social media page, and once I pulled up the social media page, all the information started to come in.  So now, not only did I have two marketplaces, now I had a social media site, and all I was doing at this point now was validating data.

Denise: I love social media pages because, if you see even in the corner, often you get an address, a phone number, and email.  So, it provides a lot of information.
David: Exactly.  So now we go into one ‑‑, and you showed me this slide just a few days ago, and I think this is important because this goes to what you were saying earlier, a little bit about people ‑‑ kind of creature of habit.  Right?
Denise: Right.  So this is a good example where I used the username that I had found on another marketplace.  It was a previous seller name that was used, and I put it in Google and got some hits, and one was a dating site.  So this is one of them.  I found other ones, and it provided me with his first and last name.  And another one I found out that he was a Leo.  So, I’m going to guess that his birthday is 8/4 and not 4/8 or there’s some correlation there.
David: Everybody recalls about three slides ago the former username on that marketplace, under Marketplace Pulse, was his Snapchat name.  Right?
Denise: Yes, it’s a Snapchat name, and then he changed it to something wholesale.
David: Little something and ‑‑ so there you go.  You were able to search that and found this and then ‑‑
Denise: But it linked to his Facebook page.  I was able to find his Facebook page, his LinkedIn page.  He’s on a couple of dating sites.  He’s not very well hidden.  I can tell you where he spent Fourth of July as well.
David: So, now we touched a little bit about one of the tools that I’ve used quite a bit.  Again, you take it with a grain of salt, but it is a page search.  It’s not very expensive.  By all means, I’m not here reselling the service or anything, but White Pages has done a lot.  If someone’s been in a place for a long time and has that, White Pages has been a really good resource for me.

Again, more for validating the data, less than researching, right?  You need to have a good piece of data to put in here to search.  And in this instance, I was able to search a phone number that I was able to acquire from the social media web page, dumped it in here, and then I started seeing, different like his marketplace sites were shipping from Maryland.  Next thing you know, he had ‑‑ his initials on his logo fell in line with his name and a phone number.  Now, I’m building the case, if you will.

Denise: I’m going to add something.  I don’t think we have a slide about it, but I’d like to mention it.  On this thing, you found an address. I like to do property record searches with addresses.  Especially in a lot of ‑‑ you have to search, find out what county they are in, go in that county assessor’s office, and it will give you a good idea if they still live there because you can get their property records.
David: I think that’s a good point.

Now what was interesting, we can say, is when we looked at that ID history on the auction site, and we saw Rick and 45 and some of that?  That was that slide, right?

Denise: Yes.
David: It verified he was Rick and he was 45.  And wasn’t his last name a variation?
Denise: Well, I’ll just say his last name had the word “warn” in it.  This is why you should be careful of what your usernames are and gave that as an example of from his username; this is what I found.  And I had a phone number and a cell phone number.
David: It was a compelling sight, and it was a compelling search.

So, again, as we’re going down this list, this is usually what I would say is, kind of, my last check box is conducting a product buy.
There are two types of product buys.  There’s the product buy to ID somebody, part of an investigation but a lot of times there’s a product buy then to verify the product itself.  Serial numbers, lot numbers that then will help track distribution.

In this case, we’re talking about conducting a product buy because maybe some of those other search results that we were searching were not conclusive enough.

David: Now the one thing that I want to emphasize when you’re doing a product buy, you want to make sure that it’s not fulfilled by the marketplace you’re buying.  Because then what you’re really ‑‑ unless you know it’s going to have maybe a packaging slip, lot number or serial number you’re trying to verify, if it’s fulfilled by that specific marketplace, you’re going to run into a distribution point.  That’s not going to lead you anywhere.

However, when it’s not fulfilled, you gather a piece of information, and I would say the majority of the product buys I end up conducting, whether it be on the marketplace or the auction site, has led me to be able to send an enforcement.

Denise: I’ll add this part of it.  When you’re making a product buy to obtain their contact information, it doesn’t matter what you buy.
David: Yes, you can buy the cheapest product.   You don’t necessarily have to buy the product of your product or a product of your client’s.  You just want to get sometimes the lowest cost product.

There are times when you identify a third-party seller and the majority of it is fulfilled by that marketplace, or one of the primes that are out there, look through his whole store.  Take a minute and look at his inventory and odds are you’ll find a product or two that are in there that are not fulfilled by the marketplace.  Buy those products.

Denise: One step further and I know one thing I do, especially that’s working for a brand is, we have some of our customers that sell on the marketplaces that aren’t supposed to.  But they don’t sell under the customer name I have.  I can run the customer name through my database, and it doesn’t pop up.

When I have an address, and maybe I even found it elsewhere, I can run that through my customer database and find who they are.  The other thing is a brand ‑‑ put this information through your database of customers. I have found a lot of information that way.

David: Yes and I don’t know what the statistics are today.  I haven’t been running investigations as aggressively as I have in the past, but there was a time where I very comfortably could say half of the investigations came back, and it was an authorized seller selling under a different entity, or a different name, or some variation of it because they were trying to move that product out of their inventory.

Whether the sellers are doing it in bad faith, that’s for the brand to decide but that’s where the investigation comes into play, knowing where it’s being shipped from.  You only have one reseller in Chesapeake and all of a sudden you’re selling a direct seller, and you have one reseller there, and that’s where all the product’s moving from?  Start putting those pieces together.

David: Okay, so what do you do when you do a product buy?  Well, if you do a buy and you pay for it, a lot of times you can acquire the information there.  Back in the day, if we go back, maybe six, seven years ago, sites like PayPal probably used to provide a lot of information. Because they’re a financial institution, they would provide you with names, phone numbers, addresses, etc.

It’s pulled back a little bit.  However, that being said, in this instance, I was able to obtain a website address.  Now, the website address can lead me to do a reverse search on that website address and then gather information as well.  As you can see, I bought a very inexpensive product, had it shipped, gathered that e-mail, gathered that web URL, but I was able to do one other thing that a lot of people need to think about.

For that auction site we talked about, there’s a process called PIA, which is a personal information acquisition.  It’s a request.

If you’ve conducted a transaction with this seller, you can then go through there and request that seller’s information.  Is that correct?

Denise: Yes, but remember, when you request that seller’s information, they get your information.

So another reason why you don’t necessarily want to do this from your personal account that you use because they get your information.

David: Yes, and it comes in an e-mail, but this is a screenshot of an e-mail that has come in.  So now they have your information, you have their information. If you’re making a constant request like this, through an auction site, they’re receiving this information as well.

I acquired a phone number, which validated that again and then I also acquired Maryland that verified it again along with that seller name, which then verified it back to another marketplace.  It was then a very compelling investigation.

Now, with these examples that we’re showing today, in this case, we were building a case, so we gathered as much information across the board.  For a lot of brands that are on the phone today, you might not need to go this far.  You don’t have to go through the product buyer. If you held that information, just through the social media page, right, Denise?

Denise: Right.
David: As a brand protection director for a brand,   that would be more than enough for you, right?
Denise: Right.  It gives you the information to send a letter, at least a starting point.
David: See if they’ll fall in compliance or where you need to escalate. This goes to the point during that transaction I had on the auction site; I was able to run a reverse history.  I didn’t find much information on it because the domain name was inactive and it was an old one, but it still shows you, you can now run that, and a lot of times there’s what everybody’s probably familiar with a Who Is history.  It tells you who owns the domain name today.  Unfortunately, probably 60, 70 percent or, I don’t know what the exact number is, are privacy protected.
Denise: Some of the older ones or people that have been around for a while didn’t think to protect theirs, so it is good to go through the history to see what you find and also sometimes, in some of them you can see old screenshots of the website, which will also provide identifying information that they may have removed after, for whatever reason.
David: That’s actually a good point, so there’s a Who Is history which is what we’re looking at right here, but if you look over to the bottom left, I like to call that the Who was history.
David: A lot of times when someone registers a domain name, they’re just thinking that’s a great business idea, and they just register.  Then they go back later and change it.  What’s important to look here is if the creation date and the expiration date has not changed, odds are the domain name has never changed ownership.

That’s what you look for when you’re looking for the who was because those two pieces of information cannot be changed or altered.  If they are changed and altered, usually it’s an expired went to redemption, went out to the public, then was re-registered.  Now, does that mean it could not be sold and then transferred through escrow to somebody else?  No.  But, again, it’s giving you a piece of information that you can then crawl through.  So it’s important.

DomainTools is a great service to use to go through there.  It limits you to how much searches you can do, but there are other services.

Denise: You can use Whoisology.  There’s the free form of it that will give you some of the information you need.  It’s always a good start before you start paying for anything.  Use everything that’s free that’s out there.
David: There’s another service that is free, and a lot of people don’t know about. DomainTools will give you a little brief snapshot of what that website looked like, but there’s a neat tool out there that’s been archiving the website for quite some time.?
Denise: Are you talking about the Wayback Machine?
David: The Wayback Machine.  Yes.  I was doing an investigation for one of our cosmetic clients, and the URL was down everything.  I was able to go to the Wayback Machine, look at that domain name, couple years back and the contact information was right there, and the domain name was privacy.  So, the Wayback Machine does well.

Again, we’re going very quickly through here, and a lot of questions are popping up.

Okay, so, now, one of the things that I did, I think it was three or four months ago because of the amount of investigations that I was doing and we’re going through, we were looking at state registrations when we find a business name, and it’s amazing how you can do so many investigations in your career and you end up going to Google and typing in Florida Secretary of State and then clicking there, and then you go to the business search, then you gotta go to the LLC search.

What I did a few months back, I created a one-page document, all 50 states, all links to all of them.  I’ll share that with everybody after the call.  If you request that from me, I’ll give that to you.  But it’s important to search these types of things.

Denise: It is important because it will give you additional information or it can confirm what you already know.  If somebody is in Ohio, and I don’t find them in Ohio, I will tend to also search them in Florida, Nevada, I think Delaware, may be a popular one that people don’t live in but they tend to register their companies. You know, where they tend to register, and each Secretary of State will provide different information.  I believe in Texas; you may even have to pay a dollar to request the information. But they are not expensive.
Denise: No, but it’s another accession, now that you have all the links down.  Is another quick tool that is, for the most part, free, that will help you verify the information.
David: I think we have it on desktops just sitting there, because you just want to go quick, when you see a seller’s information or About Us page and he collects sales tax in Colorado.  Oh, let me search Colorado for a few variations of that. That’s why it’s important and knowing that they’re still active and they’re still conducting business.

Let’s summarize because we’re nearing the end of our webinar. The summary is let’s search all aspects of the marketplace.  The About Us page, the seller feedback, that’s your first step.  You’ve identified an unauthorized sale or offering out there.  Let’s dig into every aspect of that.  Feedback is a big one.  Sometimes people complain, right?

And they’ll complain like, “I called Denise at 213490, and she was a jerk.”  Well, that’s the feedback, and now you got a phone number on Denise, right?

Denise: Or sometimes I’ve gotten tracking numbers.  So then when I didn’t have a city or a state and I could then put the tracking number in.
David: That’s a great point.  A lot of times when you do a product buy, always take a look at that tracking number because United States Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, you find the zip code of origin.

Research seller information within the search engines.  Research the marketplace and review sites.  Social media’s a big one.  Reverse names, conduct the product buys, one of the last resorts unless there’s a reason you’re doing that.  A domain name search and the state business registration.

Denise: Let me add one thing that we didn’t touch when I do search engine searches.  I think there’s some people on the phone that probably know me because I reached out to them.  When I search a seller’s name, I sometimes will find pdfs or other do-not-call lists that other manufacturers have put out there, and I pick up the phone, and I call that manufacturer or that brand, and I explain to them who I am and ask them what information that they have, and have found that sometimes, especially the difficult ones, coming together and working on something, it helps both of us.

Sometimes you find their information, and it’s not making sense because it’s not what you found, so I call them and ask them, “Where did your information come from?”  But use your colleagues, especially when you find some of that out there.  It’s helped me several times.

David: That’s a really good point.  And, again, what we tried to do today, and I hope everybody found it to be beneficial, is to empower you to do as much work as you can on your own.  It’s not always about, just call David and he’s going to charge you money just to do every investigation.  No.  We want to be here, Denise, myself, you know, others that are on the call here.  They’re your colleagues.  They’re your industry experts that can help you do these types of things on your own.  When you get to that point, and you get to that roadblock, that’s where you want to call and say, “I’ve exhausted this.  Can you help out?”  And sometimes another set of eyes can find something fairly quickly.

Going back to the beginning, I think one of the most important things, and I can’t emphasize this enough, as what I’ve learned over the last year, is there is a way to truly enforce your brands, your products, on these marketplaces and it all starts with creating the legal grounds, in the beginning, to enforce it.

So, now when you identify these people, you identify these sellers, you now have legal ground under a material difference argument in many aspects to shut that site down, to get that seller off, to have a claim.  It starts with a cease and desist letter.  That’s a type of enforcement that everybody’s aware of.

And I’ve got a question here,  “Do we have a template for a cease and desist?” We do, and there are things like that that we can work with you on.  But there’s escalated levels of enforcement where we’ve seen even draft complaints.  Now, a lot of times that scares a lot of people when working with a law firm thinking, “Oh, a draft complaint that costs thousands of dollars.”  Well, a draft complaint is a cease and desist letter on steroids.  But it is a document that is X versus Y, and it scares unauthorized sellers.

There are other things we can also do to help you.  We could subpoena marketplaces for seller information if need be.  There are other levels of legal ramifications or remedies that you can then have that pushes that unauthorized seller to get them to move down.  So, there’s a lot of questions coming on and, unfortunately, we’ve only got about five minutes left here, so I think we’ll go through a few of these.

Betsy, you asked if there are any international tools.  I think, Denise, you’re probably better to answer this question because you work with a lot of international clients.  I have not expanded much in the international realm.

Denise: I think I saw another question there ask, there are some marketplaces that are international and somebody had mentioned this, it’s one of the questions or comments.  It’s good to point out that when you search that fellow name on some of the other international marketplaces, you will find more information because it’s more transparent.

As for international tools, especially if it is out of the country, I always start with a Google search, and that will lead me to other tools.  I have found Chinese business records that way, and I’ve found addresses.  One time I called an international one and found the seller because somehow I found the number on the internet and I hit it somehow, it was a list that must have been sold on the dark web somewhere, but I ended up finding the person’s name, address, phone number and their credit card information, it was expired, from this list because sometimes I’ll search and put /.pdf in it to see if I can pull pdfs.  So, I don’t use specific international tools, I always start with a Google search and see where that takes me.

David: But you can also Google because Google results are going to vary by country so that you can do Google.co.uk.
Denise: Correct. It’s a good starting place, and then you’ll find other tool s like shipping and customer information.
David: Amy asked a question here, and said, “Have you had any luck finding resellers on a specific marketplace who hide behind the fulfillment or the fulfilled buy?”  Well, I’m going to say that my answer is yes, because the majority of them are, right?
Denise: Right, but you’re not going to find, in all fairness all of those.

I will say back when I was doing a lot more of these seller investigations on a regular basis; we had a 76 percent success rate with ones that it was fulfilled by the warehouse.  Amazingly enough, sometimes a simple e-mail asking them questions, they will give you some additional contact information, even though they’re not supposed to.  I had a seller once provide their name, address and phone number.  Now, that doesn’t happen very often, but you can ask.

So, if you do, it’s usually having a conversation with them is where you’re more likely to, or you might want to keep watching their marketplace site because today you may check it and they may have nothing that isn’t fulfilled by them.

David: Let me add another point on the fulfillment side, and, again, this is when I first joined the firm.  I was doing an investigation.  I was so frustrated because I couldn’t find anything that helped and I was upset, so I hit return, and I was done and then all of a sudden I got an e-mail with their phone number and everything from the return.
Denise: Right.
David: It solved it because the fulfillment product that I received didn’t lead me anywhere and then I got that information from return
David: We only have three minutes here real quick.  Right here, Eva, we’re talking about calling neighboring business.  I think this is one of Denise’s favorite things to do.  Unfortunately, the firm, as they said, I can’t go due to pretexting and a few other things but go ahead, Denise.
Denise: Eva, I have done this as well, especially in strip malls.  I had one where the individual had been doing a lot of lying, but everything lined up to this person, and I just couldn’t get that smoking gun, but I knew in my gut it was this person.  So, I did the same thing.  I then found a business next door and told them that I was trying to send them something.  I just started asking questions.  And got that information, but it is a very good thing to do.  I’m telling you when you can use it and if you can’t, hire somebody that can.  The phone is your best friend.

Especially if you’re quick on your feet.  If you’re not quick on your feet and you have to think it all out, you should not be the one making the call.

David: Exactly.  So, Ali, can you employ us if you need to do an in-depth investigation?  Absolutely.  Feel free to reach out to me; we’re more than willing to walk you through that process and see if we can help you out there.

One person asks that, “Can I share Denise’s contact information?”  I think you’re okay with that, aren’t you Denise?

Denise: Yes.
David: I think we’ll share that, so if you reach out to me, I’ll be sure to get that out, and then one last question.

This is from Diane when making calls to phone numbers, what questions do you ask and in what order?  So, I’m going to answer quickly here.  On me, I like to hear a voicemail.  It leaves me information because I don’t want to talk to them, but I know Denise, you take a different approach a lot of times.

Denise: I like the voicemail as well, but I like to talk to them, and it depends.  It depends on if I made a buy from them and I want to return it, so it all depends.  Sometimes I have called and asked them if they were such and such marketplace seller.  If you catch them off-guard, they will answer you, and sometimes they ask me things like, “Where did you get my phone number?”  And I say, “It was on the page,” and they don’t have time to go back and look at their page or look somewhere else to see if I’m telling them the truth and I have them on the phone and I tend to answer their questions with my questions.
David: Well, great.  Well, again, Denise, I can’t thank you enough for not only participating and helping me over the years with investigations but also coming up and spending this time here in Columbus with us.  I hope everybody on the webinar was able to have some information, some good takeaways.  Again, my information’s on the screen there.  Please feel free to reach out to me.

I’ll send you the list of state registration.  I’ll send you the checklist of investigations, and I am here to help answer questions.  You’re sharing industry information.  It’s all about a big network to solve the overall problem, and that’s what we’re here for.  We’re here to help you succeed and then protect.  That’s what our goal is.  So, again, thank you for joining us today and have a great day.

David: Today we’re going to be reviewing who is selling your products, and if anybody’s ever listened to any of the webinar series that I’ve done in my career, I’ve been doing this for roughly about 17 years now, you’ve known that I’ve always talked about ‑‑ any brand protection strategy, you need to look at the who, what, where, when, why and how your products are being sold or offered online and who is selling it. Today we’re going to review that through online marketplaces and give you the best practices and the best tools to conduct some of these investigations yourself.  And when you need that next level, myself or Denise, who I’ll introduce here in a second, will be here to answer those questions as we move forward.So, moving on, again, my name is David Howell.  I joined Vorys within this last year as the director of brand protection, and I have Denise Mosteller with me who is the online brand protection manager for Implus. I’ve known Denise for quite a few years, and she has been doing this online investigation research for well over 20 years, so thank you for joining us, Denise.  I do appreciate taking the time.
Denise: Well, thanks for having me.  I’m glad to be here.
David: Let’s jump right in and talk a little bit about why we even need to worry about these investigations and what we’re looking for and then we’ll jump into some of the investigations right off.

So just a little bit about Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.  We are a large law firm based in Columbus, and we have offices around the country.  We were established in 1909.  We have about 375 attorneys.  We are one of the 200 largest law firms in the United States but, more importantly, we’re a go-to firm for 23 of the Fortune 500 companies, amongst just many other companies that we work from, we have many areas of practice.  The group that I work in and the group that will be discussing today is our online unauthorized seller enforcement group.

So through a lot of thought leadership, a lot of different things that we do with this, we have a very diverse team, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here bringing a different added value to what this group is actually trying to solve these problems for a lot of these brands and companies.  In the end, it’s not about anything other than growing your business, and growing your sales and protecting it, and that’s really what we’re going to talk about today.

So, let’s just dive right into a few of the statistics.  So, what is marketplace or what is happening out there?  This is not news to anybody.  It is increasingly growing.  There are a few numbers that I would like to just leave everybody with today, that this year alone, in 2017, we’re going to see 6,375 as its noted today, brick and mortar retail stores that are closing their doors.  And what’s that mean?  It’s shifting the sales from those brick and mortar onto online marketplaces, and we see that today, so that’s not shocking.

But there’s been a demographic that maybe, little bit of an assumption here, that’s been holding out or not embracing the online sales or online marketplace, but these stores, these underperforming stores that may be closing down, what’s happening is that last bit of demographic is now going to be pushed to buy those goods and services that they did in those closing stores, now to move them more online.

So, what does that do?  It’s going to start seeing this growth increase.  So, we steadily see it ‑‑ 10, 15, 20 percent growth; different numbers show different statistics.  So, for 2017, when we finish up this holiday season coming up, or even beyond, and that’s really what we want to take a look at.  The more sales, the more traffic, the more we’re going to need to go out there and actively monitor and protect the brands and their sales.

So, what are the sources of unauthorized sellers?  You have unauthorized distributors.  How are they getting these products?  A lot of companies will have a one, two or three-step distribution and maybe there are other entities that are acquiring this product towards being diverted.  You have professional resellers.  There are a lot of companies out there, in my experience, on some of these very large marketplaces, there are large sellers that are acquiring these products that are professional resellers, and they’re acquiring this.  There are one off-sellers.  There’s the one that just acquired a box of something, or they saw a sale, and they went and grabbed that product, and they’re selling it online.

There are schemes that are out there, like credit card thieves.  There are all types of issues of these third-party or unauthorized sellers.  And here’s what we really want to take a look at is, you know, you look at this slide and you see that you look at that plain, aerobatic, kind of a death spiral is what we’re really looking at here, because it’s important to understand that when you have these unauthorized sales or third-party sales out there, there are a few things that really start to happen.

Your brand value diminishes, so now you start having these products being sold at a lower price than what you want them sold at and that starts to lead to consumer confidence issues.  Because then you start looking at how there are so many offerings from a price deviation of 30, 40, 50, 60 percent?

Then you get this consumer confidence ‑‑ it’s very hard once you start losing consumer confidence to build that back up.  And that’s one of the things that we want to look at.  So, as prices drop we start looking at these things, and that’s what we’re going talk about today here in a second.

If you heard me speak before, whether I coined the term or I’ve been preaching it for a very long time, I’ve always talked about the three pillars of brand protection.  You had to have a good monitoring solution, a good investigation research solution, and a good enforcement strategy.

Well, since I’ve joined Vorys, I’ve worked very closely with Whitney Gibson, who is the leader of the online seller enforcement group, and he has changed my thought process.  There are four pillars of this.  So, if you remove those three that I talked about, the first pillar should be the really good proper legal foundation for enforcement.  And what is that?  That’s putting these policies, these reseller agreements, whatever those types of things, depending on what your business model is, having that good policy and talking about how the who, what, where, when, why and how you’re allowed to sell that product online.

Now you’re in a position to monitor for those unauthorized sellers, research and investigate, which is what we’re going to talk about here in just a moment, but now you have legal grounds for enforcement.  When it comes to determining the strength of your legal ground, let’s focus on material difference.  These unauthorized sellers will go to the first sales doctrine, and that’s how they’re justifying their ability to sell and offer your products.  Well, material difference, we can come in, evaluate your reseller agreements, your policies, and your products and try to work with you to put a material difference argument.

Now, a lot of times, people look at the material difference and think it’s a physical material difference.  Whether it’s a packaging issue, or it looks a little bit different, or somebody scratched off the logo, and those things are a material difference, but what about looking at what guarantees you have?  The courts have determined that a material difference does not have to be a physical one, and there is, I think, 70 plus cases that have ruled in favor that not only does it not have to be a physical material difference, but you only need to prove one material difference.

So what are some of those material differences?  We talk about guarantees, maybe warranties.  What type of guarantees do you have?  What if those guarantees do not go over to a third-party seller that may be selling your products, right?  What about different distributors and retailers?  You have a vetting process.  So, a retailer has to go through a process to become authorized, and if they have not done that, they’re not authorized to sell those goods and that, again, could be a type of material difference.

What are your policies to recall, if you have any issues where lot numbers or expirations, or things like this are popping up there?  What type of recourse do you have and are those in your policies?  These are minor changes that really can triage your existing policy to include those.

Looking at your customer complaints, customer service, the customer ‑‑ you know, different types you have for servicing those.  If they’re sold outside the proper channel, those might not be there for you, and that could be deemed a material difference.  Some other ones that we can talk about quickly.  They’re not flagged here, but shipping and storage of products.

So when we’re talking about a product that may be a type of cream, or it could be a battery, or it could be things that if they’re not stored properly, those then are removing that warranty.  They’re removing that quality that then can be deemed a possible material difference.

So now looking at that enforcement process.  Now we’re talking about those four pillars of brand protection.  So we got the putting the right policies and procedures and resale agreements in place and moving that now down to monitoring.  How do you monitor for this?

There are a lot of technology partners that Vorys works with.  Very good technology that helps you identify these unauthorized sellers on these marketplaces and auction sites.  But then you need to move through the investigation.  Again, I keep saying we’re gonna touch on that in a second.  But the enforcement, now, once you go through the funnel, these are the types of things that are going to now build your enforcement to be successful.  If you don’t put these things in place, I can’t reiterate that enough; you’re going to play the proverbial whack-a-mole when trying to enforce and solve these problems that are plaguing you on these online marketplaces.

Uncovering a third-party seller.  So, what is a third-party seller?  I think that’s probably one of the biggest questions that either you know, or you don’t know.  Well, you have an authorized seller, which would be someone you have vetted through the process, and they’re allowed to have your product and then resell your product, and they’re reselling it in a way that’s by your resale agreement that you may have with them.

A third-party seller is somebody who is not ‑‑, and we’ll just be very generically ‑‑ I think, Denise, it’d be fair to say they’re them, right?  Anybody who’s not.

Denise: Right.
David: Okay.  So now we’re going to start relying a lot on Denise here to educate all of us on what we’re looking for.  So there are basic steps that you can take, and we’re going to show everyone on the call today some basic steps how you can conduct an investigation and what to look for.

Now, after this call and after this webinar today, if you want, we have created two documents that we will distribute.  One is, we will review each of these, kind of a checklist, if you will, of things you can do and how to go about doing that, and another one is a state secretary registration list that when you do identify some of these, you can actually click that and go to that secretary of state and run that business entity.  Kind of a very useful tool.

Denise: It saves time.
David: It saves a lot of time.  Okay, Denise.  Now let’s get the conversation started.  So thank you for bearing with me there for ten minutes kind of why we’re on the call today.

So, Denise, now we dive into it.  For today, we’ve removed a lot of the information that isn’t relevant as far as the identities of some of the marketplaces, as well as some of the people that we’ve investigated.  But what we want to do today is say, the first thing you come across the marketplace and a seller, what’s the first thing you want to do, Denise?  What would be the first logical step?

Denise: The first thing that I do is look over their seller page.  I look for any identifying information, a logo, a phone number, their username.  I look at ‑‑ even their description on this one, it’s generic, but sometimes people will put some unique language in their description about their company.  I pay attention to that, as well as misspellings. With all of the information that we see here is what we’re going to take and use to search on the web in other places.
David: So that’s a good point.  I know over the investigations that I’ve conducted when you’re going through this, this page just kind of shows you their storefront, if you will.  Right?
Denise: Right.
David: But a lot of these marketplaces, they’ll have an About Us section, they’ll have shipping policies, they’ll have different FAQs if you will.  I’ve found a lot where you’re searching this, and they say, “We collect sales tax in X state.”  Right?
Denise: Right.  Yes.  They will list it, or sometimes you find where it’s shipped from; and that’s all very valuable information because it gives you another, basically, a pointer to them.
David: It’s the breadcrumbs that lead you to that, and that’s what’s important.  The first thing is, whatever marketplace you’re on, whatever auction site you’re on, really dive in and look at that store and see ‑‑ and here’s another example.

So here, you know, this is an auction site, a little bit different than the last one.  But here, you still see the logo.  You still see the username ‑‑, and this is where Denise has educated me even over the years.  You know, Denise, when we look at something like this, and we see this offering on this auction site, what’s relevant here?

Denise: On this page, you’ll see the location.  I think this one is Chesapeake, Virginia.  You’ll see the seller information, where this gives the seller’s name.  You can click on it, and it will go on this page.

And then you see the number that’s the seller?  You want to click on that as well.  Because when you click on that, you get to even more information about the seller.  And I like the View ID History.  That’s one of the first places I go to on the auction websites.

David: Let’s take a moment on this because it is important.  It’s not just for this auction site.  There’s a majority of the marketplaces out there that will have some level of an ID history.  They’ll let you know if someone changed names or there are ways to find that out.  A lot of times this is overlooked because when they first ‑‑ what I always say when a bad faith seller out there starts off selling a product, they do so not thinking whether they’re going to be big or someone’s going to come looking after them.  Right, Denise?
Denise: That’s correct.
David: And then all of a sudden, “Oh, I just received a cease and desist letter” or “Now people are looking at me, and I go and change my name.”  Right?
Denise: That’s correct.  Yes.
David: So, now when you have this piece of information, and you look ‑‑ well, now we see that this individual has changed his name three times.  And what does this tell you, Denise?
Denise: Which I like when they change their name a lot.  So, when I saw this one, it tells me a couple of things.  If you look at the middle user ID name, my first guess is their name is Rick, and they were either born in ‘45, or they’re 45 years old.  For me, it gives some identifying information that I can start searching and put different things together, and we also had the city and the state with this one as well.

I have seen ones where people have used their first, their last name and their age, and those are great.  But when it’s something like Goldberg45Rick, it’s not very common, so it’s also something that’s great to throw into a web search and see what comes back, because people tend to use their usernames in more than one place.  And, often, those usernames are used with their stuff, like, on their social media, which I know that we’ll get into that.  So, looking at the different usernames can give you a lot of information.

David: Let’s just recap, just in these three slides that we just talked about.  We were able to see where he said he’s selling, in Chesapeake.

We were able to see that he changed his name and where he’s at right here, and kind of how long he’s been selling and what his feedback rating is.  So, we can see he’s moving a lot of product.  He may be 45; his name may be Rick.  He’s in Chesapeake.  We’re starting to follow those breadcrumbs.  And these are some good breadcrumbs, too, right?

Denise: Right.  And sometimes they lead us right where we need to, and in all fairness, sometimes they don’t.  But it’s a great start.
David: It is.  Which leads us into one of your best assets for ‑‑ other than Vorys and Denise, of course, one of your best assets is Google.  And how to use Google.  What we’re going to talk about ‑‑ now when doing Google searches, there are a lot of tools you can go, and you can put a phone number in, and there are tools that I use.  But wouldn’t you say Google is probably your favorite way to just dump a phone number in?
Denise: Yes, I prefer Google out of all of the other ones.
David: You’ve educated me on this because I used to go to Google as maybe my third or fourth search because I would dump it in a few other different areas.  But what Denise has shown me over the years is that when I would put a phone number in, I would get a very generic result, and sometimes you’ve got a ten-digit phone number and it’s showing you pieces and parts of it.  So, Denise has shown me that if we go and put asterisks around it and search, we get exact matches.  Correct?
Denise: Right, if you put the quotes around it, and you search you get a more defined search in what you’re looking for and by throwing the number in Google before you choose specific databases, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re gonna pull up everywhere it is anyways and then you can move forward looking through all of those hits that you received.

So, that’s why I prefer Google.  But with that being said, there are times that I will also use Bing because Bing may give me some other information.

David: Yes.
Denise: So especially when I’m stuck or as pieces are not lining up, I may throw it in Bing or I may change how I search it.  With a phone number, there’s not a lot of changing up that you can do.
David: That’s true.
Denise: But when you use other things you can change it up and how you put it in there.  So, you just have to play with it.
David: And that’s important.  A lot of it is more playing and making a few changes and then adjusting one little thing here and there.  You brought up a good point with Bing.  In all the investigations I’ve done, a lot of times if I run a search, and, again, Google is by far probably the more accurate for a lot of the data, but if I don’t find something there, I’ve done tricks where I’ll look at maybe Safari on my smart device because that will give me a different search results.  Being in Yahoo can give you different search results.

Maybe it’s not better, but, again, you’re looking for a bread crumb and there have been times where getting frustrated, leaning back on my desk, I grab my phone, type that phone number into Safari and I get a different search result and it just leads me down a different path that may be something or may not.

Denise: Right and all these things just take a few minutes.  That’s the other thing about it.
David: Yes, and, again, that’s a good point when you talk about a few minutes here because a lot of times if you’re conducting an investigation, you usually will either find somebody, in let’s say 20 or 30 minutes, or it’s going to be a much longer investigation because you’ve done a good job.
Denise: Ryan, I see your question about using Spokeo for phone numbers.  I’m not a big fan of the site.  The reason being is I find that their information is not as accurate or up to date as some other places so that I may use it, or it may come up in my Google search, but I don’t specifically go there because I feel that their information is not as accurate.  There are different paid sites that you can use as well, but so much of, and everything we’re talking about today, is everything that you can freely find off the internet.
David: Yes, and, again, some of those sites, and even some of the ones that I’ve used, I’ve used White Pages before, and I do like White Pages, but you have to take a lot of that with kind of a grain of salt because it’s not as updated as you’d think.  You get almost a false sense of success when you see a phone number that may be there tied to an address and then find out its eight years old, where Google will give you something a little more accurate because their relevance rating is going to be higher.
Denise: Right, and I can add this piece to it.  I know that what I can do as an investigator is very different than what you can do is in a law firm, or other people have certain parameters they have to follow.  I’m a huge fan of calling a phone number. I will call every single phone number that I find, and that is how I learn if they’re good or bad numbers.  So, my advice when you’re allowed to do it or if you can’t get an investigator to do it, make the phone calls.  When you have a phone number, use it.  Getting somebody on the phone and catching them off guard is some of the best information that you can get.  I have solved many investigations that way.
David: That’s a really good point because I know that since joining the firm, one of my favorite things is making a phone call.  I’ve used Skype in this instance before.  Or something of that nature where it’s a little hidden because you don’t always want to talk to somebody.  You may want to get the recording.

Well, in the legal world, now that I work for a very large law firm, it’s called pretexting, and there are a few other things that go on there that I can’t do, but you, as the brand, you can do those.  You can place those phone calls.  I would probably recommend making the calls as anonymous as possible.

Denise: Right, and I will tell you this from experience, *67 doesn’t always work, and it does allow them to call you right back.  They may not know the number, but they can call you right back.  So, if you are going to use that, at least be quick on your feet.  I prefer an ‑‑ I call it a burn phone.  You paid for the number, so I just know I have a lot more leeway than you do but for people that do, use the phone, but don’t use your one.
David: Another really interesting tool, and there’s a little misconception here on searching images in Google because a lot of people are trying to go just in the regular search tool and search it and then go to the image button.
Denise: You have to go to Google Images and not only the main page of Google.   On Google, it says “Images” underneath.  You can search by image.  You have an option to either put a website in or drag an image. I drag images from all my marketplaces, so if they have a logo, I drag that image in there.  I drag pictures in there.  Anything that I can drag and put in there that I think may give me some information, I do it.

Sometimes you get nothing, but sometimes you get a lot of information that doesn’t mean anything.  Social media pictures, if you think that you have the right one, are almost some of the best to put in there because you find them other places.  But it’s another one of those quick tools.  Try it especially with logos to see what else pops up, but make sure you are in Google Images.

David: Yes and that’s important and for a lot of people on the phone here, when they’re looking at some of these marketplace storefronts, both the auction sites as well as these top marketplaces, they have logos next to their store name.  Whether they’re a basic logo, but that is something you can drag and drop, because even in my experience and in those first couple slides, that was an investigation that I conducted.  You were able to connect those two marketplaces if you will.  The seller names are slightly different, but the image and logo show they’re the same and then that also brought up some of the other things that we’ll talk about with the social media.
David: Another tool that is out there free and for everybody to use is Marketplace Pulse.  Now, when I first started doing investigations pretty heavily over the last couple years, Marketplace Pulse didn’t lead me to a lot of the directions because I was looking at it a little bit different.  And, again, consulting with Denise over the years, she’s helped me out.  Working with Whitney and the team here at Vorys, we started looking at the different aspects of Marketplace Pulse and what to look for.
Denise: The biggest things I look for here, and you can run auction sites in here and marketplace sites in here.  You can put the seller name in the search bar and it will pop up, and it will tell you sometimes where they’re located, how long they’ve been doing it, not that I care about that as much.  The other thing I look for is it will list their previous seller names.  There are some marketplaces that are not as easy to find the seller name as it is on the auction websites.  This is a pretty good one because if they know it, it’s in there.  It just gives you another thing to search, just like this one.  His username or his old username was westin4826.

So again, I look at that, and that’s pretty specific to that person.

Denise: Chances are they probably have done other things using that username.  So the biggest things I look for is their previous names and where they’re located.
David: That’s important because you can always reverse search.  Look at the previously known as, and see if you can associate that with maybe another type of marketplace or another type of seller.

There is good information and, again, knowing where they’re based out of or knowing where it’s shipping from will be especially helpful.  Again, take it with a grain of salt.  It’s not 100 percent accurate, but it’s a good piece of information that’s guiding you down that path.

Denise: The other thing it doesn’t show you, a lot of times, you’ll find out if they’re new sellers, which you can find marketplaces.  You will see a lot of them that pop up on and off, and it gives you an idea of what they’re doing and fishing and probably isn’t going to stay there very long when they have a habit of that.
David: Exactly, and sometimes the ones that pop on and off really quickly or the feedback says they’ve only been around ‑‑ they’ve only sold ten items, that takes a little diligence for us the investigators to say, “How far do we want to go down?  You’ve got four products for sale, is this something we want to monitor, or is somebody we want to go down the path and spend all the time and effort on?  Maybe we just move on.”
David: I’ve even consulted but sometimes if there are one or two products, just buy them.   Not only will you remove the two products, but you’ll capture a lot of information.  You’ll get rid of the inventory, and that could be a way to go.  Now again, I’m not encouraging that but sometimes when it’s only one or two, maybe it’s better to spend $100, buy the product, and you’re not spending $100 or a lot of hours investigating it.
Denise: Well, and sometimes they’re also fishing to see if they can get away with it.

So a simple email to them or a message to them will make them stop.  I don’t pay a lot of attention to those sellers.

David: One of the things that I find very interesting about social media is it’s kind of a human trait that the longer you’re getting away with something, maybe the more you’re going to brag about it.  Or you’re going to lead it somehow or tell somebody about it.

Now, in this case, that’s not exactly what happened.  There was an investigation that I conducted, where I ran that image search, and I was able to pull up their social media page, and once I pulled up the social media page, all the information started to come in.  So now, not only did I have two marketplaces, now I had a social media site, and all I was doing at this point now was validating data.

Denise: I love social media pages because, if you see even in the corner, often you get an address, a phone number, and email.  So, it provides a lot of information.
David: Exactly.  So now we go into one ‑‑, and you showed me this slide just a few days ago, and I think this is important because this goes to what you were saying earlier, a little bit about people ‑‑ kind of creature of habit.  Right?
Denise: Right.  So this is a good example where I used the username that I had found on another marketplace.  It was a previous seller name that was used, and I put it in Google and got some hits, and one was a dating site.  So this is one of them.  I found other ones, and it provided me with his first and last name.  And another one I found out that he was a Leo.  So, I’m going to guess that his birthday is 8/4 and not 4/8 or there’s some correlation there.
David: Everybody recalls about three slides ago the former username on that marketplace, under Marketplace Pulse, was his Snapchat name.  Right?
Denise: Yes, it’s a Snapchat name, and then he changed it to something wholesale.
David: Little something and ‑‑ so there you go.  You were able to search that and found this and then ‑‑
Denise: But it linked to his Facebook page.  I was able to find his Facebook page, his LinkedIn page.  He’s on a couple of dating sites.  He’s not very well hidden.  I can tell you where he spent Fourth of July as well.
David: So, now we touched a little bit about one of the tools that I’ve used quite a bit.  Again, you take it with a grain of salt, but it is a page search.  It’s not very expensive.  By all means, I’m not here reselling the service or anything, but White Pages has done a lot.  If someone’s been in a place for a long time and has that, White Pages has been a really good resource for me.

Again, more for validating the data, less than researching, right?  You need to have a good piece of data to put in here to search.  And in this instance, I was able to search a phone number that I was able to acquire from the social media web page, dumped it in here, and then I started seeing, different like his marketplace sites were shipping from Maryland.  Next thing you know, he had ‑‑ his initials on his logo fell in line with his name and a phone number.  Now, I’m building the case, if you will.

Denise: I’m going to add something.  I don’t think we have a slide about it, but I’d like to mention it.  On this thing, you found an address. I like to do property record searches with addresses.  Especially in a lot of ‑‑ you have to search, find out what county they are in, go in that county assessor’s office, and it will give you a good idea if they still live there because you can get their property records.
David: I think that’s a good point.

Now what was interesting, we can say, is when we looked at that ID history on the auction site, and we saw Rick and 45 and some of that?  That was that slide, right?

Denise: Yes.
David: It verified he was Rick and he was 45.  And wasn’t his last name a variation?
Denise: Well, I’ll just say his last name had the word “warn” in it.  This is why you should be careful of what your usernames are and gave that as an example of from his username; this is what I found.  And I had a phone number and a cell phone number.
David: It was a compelling sight, and it was a compelling search.

So, again, as we’re going down this list, this is usually what I would say is, kind of, my last check box is conducting a product buy.
There are two types of product buys.  There’s the product buy to ID somebody, part of an investigation but a lot of times there’s a product buy then to verify the product itself.  Serial numbers, lot numbers that then will help track distribution.

In this case, we’re talking about conducting a product buy because maybe some of those other search results that we were searching were not conclusive enough.

David: Now the one thing that I want to emphasize when you’re doing a product buy, you want to make sure that it’s not fulfilled by the marketplace you’re buying.  Because then what you’re really ‑‑ unless you know it’s going to have maybe a packaging slip, lot number or serial number you’re trying to verify, if it’s fulfilled by that specific marketplace, you’re going to run into a distribution point.  That’s not going to lead you anywhere.

However, when it’s not fulfilled, you gather a piece of information, and I would say the majority of the product buys I end up conducting, whether it be on the marketplace or the auction site, has led me to be able to send an enforcement.

Denise: I’ll add this part of it.  When you’re making a product buy to obtain their contact information, it doesn’t matter what you buy.
David: Yes, you can buy the cheapest product.   You don’t necessarily have to buy the product of your product or a product of your client’s.  You just want to get sometimes the lowest cost product.

There are times when you identify a third-party seller and the majority of it is fulfilled by that marketplace, or one of the primes that are out there, look through his whole store.  Take a minute and look at his inventory and odds are you’ll find a product or two that are in there that are not fulfilled by the marketplace.  Buy those products.

Denise: One step further and I know one thing I do, especially that’s working for a brand is, we have some of our customers that sell on the marketplaces that aren’t supposed to.  But they don’t sell under the customer name I have.  I can run the customer name through my database, and it doesn’t pop up.

When I have an address, and maybe I even found it elsewhere, I can run that through my customer database and find who they are.  The other thing is a brand ‑‑ put this information through your database of customers. I have found a lot of information that way.

David: Yes and I don’t know what the statistics are today.  I haven’t been running investigations as aggressively as I have in the past, but there was a time where I very comfortably could say half of the investigations came back, and it was an authorized seller selling under a different entity, or a different name, or some variation of it because they were trying to move that product out of their inventory.

Whether the sellers are doing it in bad faith, that’s for the brand to decide but that’s where the investigation comes into play, knowing where it’s being shipped from.  You only have one reseller in Chesapeake and all of a sudden you’re selling a direct seller, and you have one reseller there, and that’s where all the product’s moving from?  Start putting those pieces together.

David: Okay, so what do you do when you do a product buy?  Well, if you do a buy and you pay for it, a lot of times you can acquire the information there.  Back in the day, if we go back, maybe six, seven years ago, sites like PayPal probably used to provide a lot of information. Because they’re a financial institution, they would provide you with names, phone numbers, addresses, etc.

It’s pulled back a little bit.  However, that being said, in this instance, I was able to obtain a website address.  Now, the website address can lead me to do a reverse search on that website address and then gather information as well.  As you can see, I bought a very inexpensive product, had it shipped, gathered that e-mail, gathered that web URL, but I was able to do one other thing that a lot of people need to think about.

For that auction site we talked about, there’s a process called PIA, which is a personal information acquisition.  It’s a request.

If you’ve conducted a transaction with this seller, you can then go through there and request that seller’s information.  Is that correct?

Denise: Yes, but remember, when you request that seller’s information, they get your information.

So another reason why you don’t necessarily want to do this from your personal account that you use because they get your information.

David: Yes, and it comes in an e-mail, but this is a screenshot of an e-mail that has come in.  So now they have your information, you have their information. If you’re making a constant request like this, through an auction site, they’re receiving this information as well.

I acquired a phone number, which validated that again and then I also acquired Maryland that verified it again along with that seller name, which then verified it back to another marketplace.  It was then a very compelling investigation.

Now, with these examples that we’re showing today, in this case, we were building a case, so we gathered as much information across the board.  For a lot of brands that are on the phone today, you might not need to go this far.  You don’t have to go through the product buyer. If you held that information, just through the social media page, right, Denise?

Denise: Right.
David: As a brand protection director for a brand,   that would be more than enough for you, right?
Denise: Right.  It gives you the information to send a letter, at least a starting point.
David: See if they’ll fall in compliance or where you need to escalate. This goes to the point during that transaction I had on the auction site; I was able to run a reverse history.  I didn’t find much information on it because the domain name was inactive and it was an old one, but it still shows you, you can now run that, and a lot of times there’s what everybody’s probably familiar with a Who Is history.  It tells you who owns the domain name today.  Unfortunately, probably 60, 70 percent or, I don’t know what the exact number is, are privacy protected.
Denise: Some of the older ones or people that have been around for a while didn’t think to protect theirs, so it is good to go through the history to see what you find and also sometimes, in some of them you can see old screenshots of the website, which will also provide identifying information that they may have removed after, for whatever reason.
David: That’s actually a good point, so there’s a Who Is history which is what we’re looking at right here, but if you look over to the bottom left, I like to call that the Who was history.
David: A lot of times when someone registers a domain name, they’re just thinking that’s a great business idea, and they just register.  Then they go back later and change it.  What’s important to look here is if the creation date and the expiration date has not changed, odds are the domain name has never changed ownership.

That’s what you look for when you’re looking for the who was because those two pieces of information cannot be changed or altered.  If they are changed and altered, usually it’s an expired went to redemption, went out to the public, then was re-registered.  Now, does that mean it could not be sold and then transferred through escrow to somebody else?  No.  But, again, it’s giving you a piece of information that you can then crawl through.  So it’s important.

DomainTools is a great service to use to go through there.  It limits you to how much searches you can do, but there are other services.

Denise: You can use Whoisology.  There’s the free form of it that will give you some of the information you need.  It’s always a good start before you start paying for anything.  Use everything that’s free that’s out there.
David: There’s another service that is free, and a lot of people don’t know about. DomainTools will give you a little brief snapshot of what that website looked like, but there’s a neat tool out there that’s been archiving the website for quite some time.?
Denise: Are you talking about the Wayback Machine?
David: The Wayback Machine.  Yes.  I was doing an investigation for one of our cosmetic clients, and the URL was down everything.  I was able to go to the Wayback Machine, look at that domain name, couple years back and the contact information was right there, and the domain name was privacy.  So, the Wayback Machine does well.

Again, we’re going very quickly through here, and a lot of questions are popping up.

Okay, so, now, one of the things that I did, I think it was three or four months ago because of the amount of investigations that I was doing and we’re going through, we were looking at state registrations when we find a business name, and it’s amazing how you can do so many investigations in your career and you end up going to Google and typing in Florida Secretary of State and then clicking there, and then you go to the business search, then you gotta go to the LLC search.

What I did a few months back, I created a one-page document, all 50 states, all links to all of them.  I’ll share that with everybody after the call.  If you request that from me, I’ll give that to you.  But it’s important to search these types of things.

Denise: It is important because it will give you additional information or it can confirm what you already know.  If somebody is in Ohio, and I don’t find them in Ohio, I will tend to also search them in Florida, Nevada, I think Delaware, may be a popular one that people don’t live in but they tend to register their companies. You know, where they tend to register, and each Secretary of State will provide different information.  I believe in Texas; you may even have to pay a dollar to request the information. But they are not expensive.
Denise: No, but it’s another accession, now that you have all the links down.  Is another quick tool that is, for the most part, free, that will help you verify the information.
David: I think we have it on desktops just sitting there, because you just want to go quick, when you see a seller’s information or About Us page and he collects sales tax in Colorado.  Oh, let me search Colorado for a few variations of that. That’s why it’s important and knowing that they’re still active and they’re still conducting business.

Let’s summarize because we’re nearing the end of our webinar. The summary is let’s search all aspects of the marketplace.  The About Us page, the seller feedback, that’s your first step.  You’ve identified an unauthorized sale or offering out there.  Let’s dig into every aspect of that.  Feedback is a big one.  Sometimes people complain, right?

And they’ll complain like, “I called Denise at 213490, and she was a jerk.”  Well, that’s the feedback, and now you got a phone number on Denise, right?

Denise: Or sometimes I’ve gotten tracking numbers.  So then when I didn’t have a city or a state and I could then put the tracking number in.
David: That’s a great point.  A lot of times when you do a product buy, always take a look at that tracking number because United States Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, you find the zip code of origin.

Research seller information within the search engines.  Research the marketplace and review sites.  Social media’s a big one.  Reverse names, conduct the product buys, one of the last resorts unless there’s a reason you’re doing that.  A domain name search and the state business registration.

Denise: Let me add one thing that we didn’t touch when I do search engine searches.  I think there’s some people on the phone that probably know me because I reached out to them.  When I search a seller’s name, I sometimes will find pdfs or other do-not-call lists that other manufacturers have put out there, and I pick up the phone, and I call that manufacturer or that brand, and I explain to them who I am and ask them what information that they have, and have found that sometimes, especially the difficult ones, coming together and working on something, it helps both of us.

Sometimes you find their information, and it’s not making sense because it’s not what you found, so I call them and ask them, “Where did your information come from?”  But use your colleagues, especially when you find some of that out there.  It’s helped me several times.

David: That’s a really good point.  And, again, what we tried to do today, and I hope everybody found it to be beneficial, is to empower you to do as much work as you can on your own.  It’s not always about, just call David and he’s going to charge you money just to do every investigation.  No.  We want to be here, Denise, myself, you know, others that are on the call here.  They’re your colleagues.  They’re your industry experts that can help you do these types of things on your own.  When you get to that point, and you get to that roadblock, that’s where you want to call and say, “I’ve exhausted this.  Can you help out?”  And sometimes another set of eyes can find something fairly quickly.

Going back to the beginning, I think one of the most important things, and I can’t emphasize this enough, as what I’ve learned over the last year, is there is a way to truly enforce your brands, your products, on these marketplaces and it all starts with creating the legal grounds, in the beginning, to enforce it.

So, now when you identify these people, you identify these sellers, you now have legal ground under a material difference argument in many aspects to shut that site down, to get that seller off, to have a claim.  It starts with a cease and desist letter.  That’s a type of enforcement that everybody’s aware of.

And I’ve got a question here,  “Do we have a template for a cease and desist?” We do, and there are things like that that we can work with you on.  But there’s escalated levels of enforcement where we’ve seen even draft complaints.  Now, a lot of times that scares a lot of people when working with a law firm thinking, “Oh, a draft complaint that costs thousands of dollars.”  Well, a draft complaint is a cease and desist letter on steroids.  But it is a document that is X versus Y, and it scares unauthorized sellers.

There are other things we can also do to help you.  We could subpoena marketplaces for seller information if need be.  There are other levels of legal ramifications or remedies that you can then have that pushes that unauthorized seller to get them to move down.  So, there’s a lot of questions coming on and, unfortunately, we’ve only got about five minutes left here, so I think we’ll go through a few of these.

Betsy, you asked if there are any international tools.  I think, Denise, you’re probably better to answer this question because you work with a lot of international clients.  I have not expanded much in the international realm.

Denise: I think I saw another question there ask, there are some marketplaces that are international and somebody had mentioned this, it’s one of the questions or comments.  It’s good to point out that when you search that fellow name on some of the other international marketplaces, you will find more information because it’s more transparent.

As for international tools, especially if it is out of the country, I always start with a Google search, and that will lead me to other tools.  I have found Chinese business records that way, and I’ve found addresses.  One time I called an international one and found the seller because somehow I found the number on the internet and I hit it somehow, it was a list that must have been sold on the dark web somewhere, but I ended up finding the person’s name, address, phone number and their credit card information, it was expired, from this list because sometimes I’ll search and put /.pdf in it to see if I can pull pdfs.  So, I don’t use specific international tools, I always start with a Google search and see where that takes me.

David: But you can also Google because Google results are going to vary by country so that you can do Google.co.uk.
Denise: Correct. It’s a good starting place, and then you’ll find other tool s like shipping and customer information.
David: Amy asked a question here, and said, “Have you had any luck finding resellers on a specific marketplace who hide behind the fulfillment or the fulfilled buy?”  Well, I’m going to say that my answer is yes, because the majority of them are, right?
Denise: Right, but you’re not going to find, in all fairness all of those.

I will say back when I was doing a lot more of these seller investigations on a regular basis; we had a 76 percent success rate with ones that it was fulfilled by the warehouse.  Amazingly enough, sometimes a simple e-mail asking them questions, they will give you some additional contact information, even though they’re not supposed to.  I had a seller once provide their name, address and phone number.  Now, that doesn’t happen very often, but you can ask.

So, if you do, it’s usually having a conversation with them is where you’re more likely to, or you might want to keep watching their marketplace site because today you may check it and they may have nothing that isn’t fulfilled by them.

David: Let me add another point on the fulfillment side, and, again, this is when I first joined the firm.  I was doing an investigation.  I was so frustrated because I couldn’t find anything that helped and I was upset, so I hit return, and I was done and then all of a sudden I got an e-mail with their phone number and everything from the return.
Denise: Right.
David: It solved it because the fulfillment product that I received didn’t lead me anywhere and then I got that information from return
David: We only have three minutes here real quick.  Right here, Eva, we’re talking about calling neighboring business.  I think this is one of Denise’s favorite things to do.  Unfortunately, the firm, as they said, I can’t go due to pretexting and a few other things but go ahead, Denise.
Denise: Eva, I have done this as well, especially in strip malls.  I had one where the individual had been doing a lot of lying, but everything lined up to this person, and I just couldn’t get that smoking gun, but I knew in my gut it was this person.  So, I did the same thing.  I then found a business next door and told them that I was trying to send them something.  I just started asking questions.  And got that information, but it is a very good thing to do.  I’m telling you when you can use it and if you can’t, hire somebody that can.  The phone is your best friend.

Especially if you’re quick on your feet.  If you’re not quick on your feet and you have to think it all out, you should not be the one making the call.

David: Exactly.  So, Ali, can you employ us if you need to do an in-depth investigation?  Absolutely.  Feel free to reach out to me; we’re more than willing to walk you through that process and see if we can help you out there.

One person asks that, “Can I share Denise’s contact information?”  I think you’re okay with that, aren’t you Denise?

Denise: Yes.
David: I think we’ll share that, so if you reach out to me, I’ll be sure to get that out, and then one last question.

This is from Diane when making calls to phone numbers, what questions do you ask and in what order?  So, I’m going to answer quickly here.  On me, I like to hear a voicemail.  It leaves me information because I don’t want to talk to them, but I know Denise, you take a different approach a lot of times.

Denise: I like the voicemail as well, but I like to talk to them, and it depends.  It depends on if I made a buy from them and I want to return it, so it all depends.  Sometimes I have called and asked them if they were such and such marketplace seller.  If you catch them off-guard, they will answer you, and sometimes they ask me things like, “Where did you get my phone number?”  And I say, “It was on the page,” and they don’t have time to go back and look at their page or look somewhere else to see if I’m telling them the truth and I have them on the phone and I tend to answer their questions with my questions.
David: Well, great.  Well, again, Denise, I can’t thank you enough for not only participating and helping me over the years with investigations but also coming up and spending this time here in Columbus with us.  I hope everybody on the webinar was able to have some information, some good takeaways.  Again, my information’s on the screen there.  Please feel free to reach out to me.

I’ll send you the list of state registration.  I’ll send you the checklist of investigations, and I am here to help answer questions.  You’re sharing industry information.  It’s all about a big network to solve the overall problem, and that’s what we’re here for.  We’re here to help you succeed and then protect.  That’s what our goal is.  So, again, thank you for joining us today and have a great day.

David: Today we’re going to be reviewing who is selling your products, and if anybody’s ever listened to any of the webinar series that I’ve done in my career, I’ve been doing this for roughly about 17 years now, you’ve known that I’ve always talked about ‑‑ any brand protection strategy, you need to look at the who, what, where, when, why and how your products are being sold or offered online and who is selling it. Today we’re going to review that through online marketplaces and give you the best practices and the best tools to conduct some of these investigations yourself.  And when you need that next level, myself or Denise, who I’ll introduce here in a second, will be here to answer those questions as we move forward.So, moving on, again, my name is David Howell.  I joined Vorys within this last year as the director of brand protection, and I have Denise Mosteller with me who is the online brand protection manager for Implus. I’ve known Denise for quite a few years, and she has been doing this online investigation research for well over 20 years, so thank you for joining us, Denise.  I do appreciate taking the time.
Denise: Well, thanks for having me.  I’m glad to be here.
David: Let’s jump right in and talk a little bit about why we even need to worry about these investigations and what we’re looking for and then we’ll jump into some of the investigations right off.

So just a little bit about Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.  We are a large law firm based in Columbus, and we have offices around the country.  We were established in 1909.  We have about 375 attorneys.  We are one of the 200 largest law firms in the United States but, more importantly, we’re a go-to firm for 23 of the Fortune 500 companies, amongst just many other companies that we work from, we have many areas of practice.  The group that I work in and the group that will be discussing today is our online unauthorized seller enforcement group.So through a lot of thought leadership, a lot of different things that we do with this, we have a very diverse team, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here bringing a different added value to what this group is actually trying to solve these problems for a lot of these brands and companies.  In the end, it’s not about anything other than growing your business, and growing your sales and protecting it, and that’s really what we’re going to talk about today.So, let’s just dive right into a few of the statistics.  So, what is marketplace or what is happening out there?  This is not news to anybody.  It is increasingly growing.  There are a few numbers that I would like to just leave everybody with today, that this year alone, in 2017, we’re going to see 6,375 as its noted today, brick and mortar retail stores that are closing their doors.  And what’s that mean?  It’s shifting the sales from those brick and mortar onto online marketplaces, and we see that today, so that’s not shocking.But there’s been a demographic that maybe, little bit of an assumption here, that’s been holding out or not embracing the online sales or online marketplace, but these stores, these underperforming stores that may be closing down, what’s happening is that last bit of demographic is now going to be pushed to buy those goods and services that they did in those closing stores, now to move them more online.So, what does that do?  It’s going to start seeing this growth increase.  So, we steadily see it ‑‑ 10, 15, 20 percent growth; different numbers show different statistics.  So, for 2017, when we finish up this holiday season coming up, or even beyond, and that’s really what we want to take a look at.  The more sales, the more traffic, the more we’re going to need to go out there and actively monitor and protect the brands and their sales.So, what are the sources of unauthorized sellers?  You have unauthorized distributors.  How are they getting these products?  A lot of companies will have a one, two or three-step distribution and maybe there are other entities that are acquiring this product towards being diverted.  You have professional resellers.  There are a lot of companies out there, in my experience, on some of these very large marketplaces, there are large sellers that are acquiring these products that are professional resellers, and they’re acquiring this.  There are one off-sellers.  There’s the one that just acquired a box of something, or they saw a sale, and they went and grabbed that product, and they’re selling it online.

There are schemes that are out there, like credit card thieves.  There are all types of issues of these third-party or unauthorized sellers.  And here’s what we really want to take a look at is, you know, you look at this slide and you see that you look at that plain, aerobatic, kind of a death spiral is what we’re really looking at here, because it’s important to understand that when you have these unauthorized sales or third-party sales out there, there are a few things that really start to happen.

Your brand value diminishes, so now you start having these products being sold at a lower price than what you want them sold at and that starts to lead to consumer confidence issues.  Because then you start looking at how there are so many offerings from a price deviation of 30, 40, 50, 60 percent?

Then you get this consumer confidence ‑‑ it’s very hard once you start losing consumer confidence to build that back up.  And that’s one of the things that we want to look at.  So, as prices drop we start looking at these things, and that’s what we’re going talk about today here in a second.

If you heard me speak before, whether I coined the term or I’ve been preaching it for a very long time, I’ve always talked about the three pillars of brand protection.  You had to have a good monitoring solution, a good investigation research solution, and a good enforcement strategy.

Well, since I’ve joined Vorys, I’ve worked very closely with Whitney Gibson, who is the leader of the online seller enforcement group, and he has changed my thought process.  There are four pillars of this.  So, if you remove those three that I talked about, the first pillar should be the really good proper legal foundation for enforcement.  And what is that?  That’s putting these policies, these reseller agreements, whatever those types of things, depending on what your business model is, having that good policy and talking about how the who, what, where, when, why and how you’re allowed to sell that product online.

Now you’re in a position to monitor for those unauthorized sellers, research and investigate, which is what we’re going to talk about here in just a moment, but now you have legal grounds for enforcement.  When it comes to determining the strength of your legal ground, let’s focus on material difference.  These unauthorized sellers will go to the first sales doctrine, and that’s how they’re justifying their ability to sell and offer your products.  Well, material difference, we can come in, evaluate your reseller agreements, your policies, and your products and try to work with you to put a material difference argument.

Now, a lot of times, people look at the material difference and think it’s a physical material difference.  Whether it’s a packaging issue, or it looks a little bit different, or somebody scratched off the logo, and those things are a material difference, but what about looking at what guarantees you have?  The courts have determined that a material difference does not have to be a physical one, and there is, I think, 70 plus cases that have ruled in favor that not only does it not have to be a physical material difference, but you only need to prove one material difference.

So what are some of those material differences?  We talk about guarantees, maybe warranties.  What type of guarantees do you have?  What if those guarantees do not go over to a third-party seller that may be selling your products, right?  What about different distributors and retailers?  You have a vetting process.  So, a retailer has to go through a process to become authorized, and if they have not done that, they’re not authorized to sell those goods and that, again, could be a type of material difference.

What are your policies to recall, if you have any issues where lot numbers or expirations, or things like this are popping up there?  What type of recourse do you have and are those in your policies?  These are minor changes that really can triage your existing policy to include those.

Looking at your customer complaints, customer service, the customer ‑‑ you know, different types you have for servicing those.  If they’re sold outside the proper channel, those might not be there for you, and that could be deemed a material difference.  Some other ones that we can talk about quickly.  They’re not flagged here, but shipping and storage of products.

So when we’re talking about a product that may be a type of cream, or it could be a battery, or it could be things that if they’re not stored properly, those then are removing that warranty.  They’re removing that quality that then can be deemed a possible material difference.

So now looking at that enforcement process.  Now we’re talking about those four pillars of brand protection.  So we got the putting the right policies and procedures and resale agreements in place and moving that now down to monitoring.  How do you monitor for this?

There are a lot of technology partners that Vorys works with.  Very good technology that helps you identify these unauthorized sellers on these marketplaces and auction sites.  But then you need to move through the investigation.  Again, I keep saying we’re gonna touch on that in a second.  But the enforcement, now, once you go through the funnel, these are the types of things that are going to now build your enforcement to be successful.  If you don’t put these things in place, I can’t reiterate that enough; you’re going to play the proverbial whack-a-mole when trying to enforce and solve these problems that are plaguing you on these online marketplaces.

Uncovering a third-party seller.  So, what is a third-party seller?  I think that’s probably one of the biggest questions that either you know, or you don’t know.  Well, you have an authorized seller, which would be someone you have vetted through the process, and they’re allowed to have your product and then resell your product, and they’re reselling it in a way that’s by your resale agreement that you may have with them.

A third-party seller is somebody who is not ‑‑, and we’ll just be very generically ‑‑ I think, Denise, it’d be fair to say they’re them, right?  Anybody who’s not.

Denise: Right.
David: Okay.  So now we’re going to start relying a lot on Denise here to educate all of us on what we’re looking for.  So there are basic steps that you can take, and we’re going to show everyone on the call today some basic steps how you can conduct an investigation and what to look for.

Now, after this call and after this webinar today, if you want, we have created two documents that we will distribute.  One is, we will review each of these, kind of a checklist, if you will, of things you can do and how to go about doing that, and another one is a state secretary registration list that when you do identify some of these, you can actually click that and go to that secretary of state and run that business entity.  Kind of a very useful tool.

Denise: It saves time.
David: It saves a lot of time.  Okay, Denise.  Now let’s get the conversation started.  So thank you for bearing with me there for ten minutes kind of why we’re on the call today.

So, Denise, now we dive into it.  For today, we’ve removed a lot of the information that isn’t relevant as far as the identities of some of the marketplaces, as well as some of the people that we’ve investigated.  But what we want to do today is say, the first thing you come across the marketplace and a seller, what’s the first thing you want to do, Denise?  What would be the first logical step?

Denise: The first thing that I do is look over their seller page.  I look for any identifying information, a logo, a phone number, their username.  I look at ‑‑ even their description on this one, it’s generic, but sometimes people will put some unique language in their description about their company.  I pay attention to that, as well as misspellings. With all of the information that we see here is what we’re going to take and use to search on the web in other places.
David: So that’s a good point.  I know over the investigations that I’ve conducted when you’re going through this, this page just kind of shows you their storefront, if you will.  Right?
Denise: Right.
David: But a lot of these marketplaces, they’ll have an About Us section, they’ll have shipping policies, they’ll have different FAQs if you will.  I’ve found a lot where you’re searching this, and they say, “We collect sales tax in X state.”  Right?
Denise: Right.  Yes.  They will list it, or sometimes you find where it’s shipped from; and that’s all very valuable information because it gives you another, basically, a pointer to them.
David: It’s the breadcrumbs that lead you to that, and that’s what’s important.  The first thing is, whatever marketplace you’re on, whatever auction site you’re on, really dive in and look at that store and see ‑‑ and here’s another example.

So here, you know, this is an auction site, a little bit different than the last one.  But here, you still see the logo.  You still see the username ‑‑, and this is where Denise has educated me even over the years.  You know, Denise, when we look at something like this, and we see this offering on this auction site, what’s relevant here?

Denise: On this page, you’ll see the location.  I think this one is Chesapeake, Virginia.  You’ll see the seller information, where this gives the seller’s name.  You can click on it, and it will go on this page.

And then you see the number that’s the seller?  You want to click on that as well.  Because when you click on that, you get to even more information about the seller.  And I like the View ID History.  That’s one of the first places I go to on the auction websites.

David: Let’s take a moment on this because it is important.  It’s not just for this auction site.  There’s a majority of the marketplaces out there that will have some level of an ID history.  They’ll let you know if someone changed names or there are ways to find that out.  A lot of times this is overlooked because when they first ‑‑ what I always say when a bad faith seller out there starts off selling a product, they do so not thinking whether they’re going to be big or someone’s going to come looking after them.  Right, Denise?
Denise: That’s correct.
David: And then all of a sudden, “Oh, I just received a cease and desist letter” or “Now people are looking at me, and I go and change my name.”  Right?
Denise: That’s correct.  Yes.
David: So, now when you have this piece of information, and you look ‑‑ well, now we see that this individual has changed his name three times.  And what does this tell you, Denise?
Denise: Which I like when they change their name a lot.  So, when I saw this one, it tells me a couple of things.  If you look at the middle user ID name, my first guess is their name is Rick, and they were either born in ‘45, or they’re 45 years old.  For me, it gives some identifying information that I can start searching and put different things together, and we also had the city and the state with this one as well.

I have seen ones where people have used their first, their last name and their age, and those are great.  But when it’s something like Goldberg45Rick, it’s not very common, so it’s also something that’s great to throw into a web search and see what comes back, because people tend to use their usernames in more than one place.  And, often, those usernames are used with their stuff, like, on their social media, which I know that we’ll get into that.  So, looking at the different usernames can give you a lot of information.

David: Let’s just recap, just in these three slides that we just talked about.  We were able to see where he said he’s selling, in Chesapeake.

We were able to see that he changed his name and where he’s at right here, and kind of how long he’s been selling and what his feedback rating is.  So, we can see he’s moving a lot of product.  He may be 45; his name may be Rick.  He’s in Chesapeake.  We’re starting to follow those breadcrumbs.  And these are some good breadcrumbs, too, right?

Denise: Right.  And sometimes they lead us right where we need to, and in all fairness, sometimes they don’t.  But it’s a great start.
David: It is.  Which leads us into one of your best assets for ‑‑ other than Vorys and Denise, of course, one of your best assets is Google.  And how to use Google.  What we’re going to talk about ‑‑ now when doing Google searches, there are a lot of tools you can go, and you can put a phone number in, and there are tools that I use.  But wouldn’t you say Google is probably your favorite way to just dump a phone number in?
Denise: Yes, I prefer Google out of all of the other ones.
David: You’ve educated me on this because I used to go to Google as maybe my third or fourth search because I would dump it in a few other different areas.  But what Denise has shown me over the years is that when I would put a phone number in, I would get a very generic result, and sometimes you’ve got a ten-digit phone number and it’s showing you pieces and parts of it.  So, Denise has shown me that if we go and put asterisks around it and search, we get exact matches.  Correct?
Denise: Right, if you put the quotes around it, and you search you get a more defined search in what you’re looking for and by throwing the number in Google before you choose specific databases, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re gonna pull up everywhere it is anyways and then you can move forward looking through all of those hits that you received.

So, that’s why I prefer Google.  But with that being said, there are times that I will also use Bing because Bing may give me some other information.

David: Yes.
Denise: So especially when I’m stuck or as pieces are not lining up, I may throw it in Bing or I may change how I search it.  With a phone number, there’s not a lot of changing up that you can do.
David: That’s true.
Denise: But when you use other things you can change it up and how you put it in there.  So, you just have to play with it.
David: And that’s important.  A lot of it is more playing and making a few changes and then adjusting one little thing here and there.  You brought up a good point with Bing.  In all the investigations I’ve done, a lot of times if I run a search, and, again, Google is by far probably the more accurate for a lot of the data, but if I don’t find something there, I’ve done tricks where I’ll look at maybe Safari on my smart device because that will give me a different search results.  Being in Yahoo can give you different search results.

Maybe it’s not better, but, again, you’re looking for a bread crumb and there have been times where getting frustrated, leaning back on my desk, I grab my phone, type that phone number into Safari and I get a different search result and it just leads me down a different path that may be something or may not.

Denise: Right and all these things just take a few minutes.  That’s the other thing about it.
David: Yes, and, again, that’s a good point when you talk about a few minutes here because a lot of times if you’re conducting an investigation, you usually will either find somebody, in let’s say 20 or 30 minutes, or it’s going to be a much longer investigation because you’ve done a good job.
Denise: Ryan, I see your question about using Spokeo for phone numbers.  I’m not a big fan of the site.  The reason being is I find that their information is not as accurate or up to date as some other places so that I may use it, or it may come up in my Google search, but I don’t specifically go there because I feel that their information is not as accurate.  There are different paid sites that you can use as well, but so much of, and everything we’re talking about today, is everything that you can freely find off the internet.
David: Yes, and, again, some of those sites, and even some of the ones that I’ve used, I’ve used White Pages before, and I do like White Pages, but you have to take a lot of that with kind of a grain of salt because it’s not as updated as you’d think.  You get almost a false sense of success when you see a phone number that may be there tied to an address and then find out its eight years old, where Google will give you something a little more accurate because their relevance rating is going to be higher.
Denise: Right, and I can add this piece to it.  I know that what I can do as an investigator is very different than what you can do is in a law firm, or other people have certain parameters they have to follow.  I’m a huge fan of calling a phone number. I will call every single phone number that I find, and that is how I learn if they’re good or bad numbers.  So, my advice when you’re allowed to do it or if you can’t get an investigator to do it, make the phone calls.  When you have a phone number, use it.  Getting somebody on the phone and catching them off guard is some of the best information that you can get.  I have solved many investigations that way.
David: That’s a really good point because I know that since joining the firm, one of my favorite things is making a phone call.  I’ve used Skype in this instance before.  Or something of that nature where it’s a little hidden because you don’t always want to talk to somebody.  You may want to get the recording.

Well, in the legal world, now that I work for a very large law firm, it’s called pretexting, and there are a few other things that go on there that I can’t do, but you, as the brand, you can do those.  You can place those phone calls.  I would probably recommend making the calls as anonymous as possible.

Denise: Right, and I will tell you this from experience, *67 doesn’t always work, and it does allow them to call you right back.  They may not know the number, but they can call you right back.  So, if you are going to use that, at least be quick on your feet.  I prefer an ‑‑ I call it a burn phone.  You paid for the number, so I just know I have a lot more leeway than you do but for people that do, use the phone, but don’t use your one.
David: Another really interesting tool, and there’s a little misconception here on searching images in Google because a lot of people are trying to go just in the regular search tool and search it and then go to the image button.
Denise: You have to go to Google Images and not only the main page of Google.   On Google, it says “Images” underneath.  You can search by image.  You have an option to either put a website in or drag an image. I drag images from all my marketplaces, so if they have a logo, I drag that image in there.  I drag pictures in there.  Anything that I can drag and put in there that I think may give me some information, I do it.

Sometimes you get nothing, but sometimes you get a lot of information that doesn’t mean anything.  Social media pictures, if you think that you have the right one, are almost some of the best to put in there because you find them other places.  But it’s another one of those quick tools.  Try it especially with logos to see what else pops up, but make sure you are in Google Images.

David: Yes and that’s important and for a lot of people on the phone here, when they’re looking at some of these marketplace storefronts, both the auction sites as well as these top marketplaces, they have logos next to their store name.  Whether they’re a basic logo, but that is something you can drag and drop, because even in my experience and in those first couple slides, that was an investigation that I conducted.  You were able to connect those two marketplaces if you will.  The seller names are slightly different, but the image and logo show they’re the same and then that also brought up some of the other things that we’ll talk about with the social media.
David: Another tool that is out there free and for everybody to use is Marketplace Pulse.  Now, when I first started doing investigations pretty heavily over the last couple years, Marketplace Pulse didn’t lead me to a lot of the directions because I was looking at it a little bit different.  And, again, consulting with Denise over the years, she’s helped me out.  Working with Whitney and the team here at Vorys, we started looking at the different aspects of Marketplace Pulse and what to look for.
Denise: The biggest things I look for here, and you can run auction sites in here and marketplace sites in here.  You can put the seller name in the search bar and it will pop up, and it will tell you sometimes where they’re located, how long they’ve been doing it, not that I care about that as much.  The other thing I look for is it will list their previous seller names.  There are some marketplaces that are not as easy to find the seller name as it is on the auction websites.  This is a pretty good one because if they know it, it’s in there.  It just gives you another thing to search, just like this one.  His username or his old username was westin4826.

So again, I look at that, and that’s pretty specific to that person.

Denise: Chances are they probably have done other things using that username.  So the biggest things I look for is their previous names and where they’re located.
David: That’s important because you can always reverse search.  Look at the previously known as, and see if you can associate that with maybe another type of marketplace or another type of seller.

There is good information and, again, knowing where they’re based out of or knowing where it’s shipping from will be especially helpful.  Again, take it with a grain of salt.  It’s not 100 percent accurate, but it’s a good piece of information that’s guiding you down that path.

Denise: The other thing it doesn’t show you, a lot of times, you’ll find out if they’re new sellers, which you can find marketplaces.  You will see a lot of them that pop up on and off, and it gives you an idea of what they’re doing and fishing and probably isn’t going to stay there very long when they have a habit of that.
David: Exactly, and sometimes the ones that pop on and off really quickly or the feedback says they’ve only been around ‑‑ they’ve only sold ten items, that takes a little diligence for us the investigators to say, “How far do we want to go down?  You’ve got four products for sale, is this something we want to monitor, or is somebody we want to go down the path and spend all the time and effort on?  Maybe we just move on.”
David: I’ve even consulted but sometimes if there are one or two products, just buy them.   Not only will you remove the two products, but you’ll capture a lot of information.  You’ll get rid of the inventory, and that could be a way to go.  Now again, I’m not encouraging that but sometimes when it’s only one or two, maybe it’s better to spend $100, buy the product, and you’re not spending $100 or a lot of hours investigating it.
Denise: Well, and sometimes they’re also fishing to see if they can get away with it.

So a simple email to them or a message to them will make them stop.  I don’t pay a lot of attention to those sellers.

David: One of the things that I find very interesting about social media is it’s kind of a human trait that the longer you’re getting away with something, maybe the more you’re going to brag about it.  Or you’re going to lead it somehow or tell somebody about it.

Now, in this case, that’s not exactly what happened.  There was an investigation that I conducted, where I ran that image search, and I was able to pull up their social media page, and once I pulled up the social media page, all the information started to come in.  So now, not only did I have two marketplaces, now I had a social media site, and all I was doing at this point now was validating data.

Denise: I love social media pages because, if you see even in the corner, often you get an address, a phone number, and email.  So, it provides a lot of information.
David: Exactly.  So now we go into one ‑‑, and you showed me this slide just a few days ago, and I think this is important because this goes to what you were saying earlier, a little bit about people ‑‑ kind of creature of habit.  Right?
Denise: Right.  So this is a good example where I used the username that I had found on another marketplace.  It was a previous seller name that was used, and I put it in Google and got some hits, and one was a dating site.  So this is one of them.  I found other ones, and it provided me with his first and last name.  And another one I found out that he was a Leo.  So, I’m going to guess that his birthday is 8/4 and not 4/8 or there’s some correlation there.
David: Everybody recalls about three slides ago the former username on that marketplace, under Marketplace Pulse, was his Snapchat name.  Right?
Denise: Yes, it’s a Snapchat name, and then he changed it to something wholesale.
David: Little something and ‑‑ so there you go.  You were able to search that and found this and then ‑‑
Denise: But it linked to his Facebook page.  I was able to find his Facebook page, his LinkedIn page.  He’s on a couple of dating sites.  He’s not very well hidden.  I can tell you where he spent Fourth of July as well.
David: So, now we touched a little bit about one of the tools that I’ve used quite a bit.  Again, you take it with a grain of salt, but it is a page search.  It’s not very expensive.  By all means, I’m not here reselling the service or anything, but White Pages has done a lot.  If someone’s been in a place for a long time and has that, White Pages has been a really good resource for me.

Again, more for validating the data, less than researching, right?  You need to have a good piece of data to put in here to search.  And in this instance, I was able to search a phone number that I was able to acquire from the social media web page, dumped it in here, and then I started seeing, different like his marketplace sites were shipping from Maryland.  Next thing you know, he had ‑‑ his initials on his logo fell in line with his name and a phone number.  Now, I’m building the case, if you will.

Denise: I’m going to add something.  I don’t think we have a slide about it, but I’d like to mention it.  On this thing, you found an address. I like to do property record searches with addresses.  Especially in a lot of ‑‑ you have to search, find out what county they are in, go in that county assessor’s office, and it will give you a good idea if they still live there because you can get their property records.
David: I think that’s a good point.

Now what was interesting, we can say, is when we looked at that ID history on the auction site, and we saw Rick and 45 and some of that?  That was that slide, right?

Denise: Yes.
David: It verified he was Rick and he was 45.  And wasn’t his last name a variation?
Denise: Well, I’ll just say his last name had the word “warn” in it.  This is why you should be careful of what your usernames are and gave that as an example of from his username; this is what I found.  And I had a phone number and a cell phone number.
David: It was a compelling sight, and it was a compelling search.

So, again, as we’re going down this list, this is usually what I would say is, kind of, my last check box is conducting a product buy.
There are two types of product buys.  There’s the product buy to ID somebody, part of an investigation but a lot of times there’s a product buy then to verify the product itself.  Serial numbers, lot numbers that then will help track distribution.

In this case, we’re talking about conducting a product buy because maybe some of those other search results that we were searching were not conclusive enough.

David: Now the one thing that I want to emphasize when you’re doing a product buy, you want to make sure that it’s not fulfilled by the marketplace you’re buying.  Because then what you’re really ‑‑ unless you know it’s going to have maybe a packaging slip, lot number or serial number you’re trying to verify, if it’s fulfilled by that specific marketplace, you’re going to run into a distribution point.  That’s not going to lead you anywhere.

However, when it’s not fulfilled, you gather a piece of information, and I would say the majority of the product buys I end up conducting, whether it be on the marketplace or the auction site, has led me to be able to send an enforcement.

Denise: I’ll add this part of it.  When you’re making a product buy to obtain their contact information, it doesn’t matter what you buy.
David: Yes, you can buy the cheapest product.   You don’t necessarily have to buy the product of your product or a product of your client’s.  You just want to get sometimes the lowest cost product.

There are times when you identify a third-party seller and the majority of it is fulfilled by that marketplace, or one of the primes that are out there, look through his whole store.  Take a minute and look at his inventory and odds are you’ll find a product or two that are in there that are not fulfilled by the marketplace.  Buy those products.

Denise: One step further and I know one thing I do, especially that’s working for a brand is, we have some of our customers that sell on the marketplaces that aren’t supposed to.  But they don’t sell under the customer name I have.  I can run the customer name through my database, and it doesn’t pop up.

When I have an address, and maybe I even found it elsewhere, I can run that through my customer database and find who they are.  The other thing is a brand ‑‑ put this information through your database of customers. I have found a lot of information that way.

David: Yes and I don’t know what the statistics are today.  I haven’t been running investigations as aggressively as I have in the past, but there was a time where I very comfortably could say half of the investigations came back, and it was an authorized seller selling under a different entity, or a different name, or some variation of it because they were trying to move that product out of their inventory.

Whether the sellers are doing it in bad faith, that’s for the brand to decide but that’s where the investigation comes into play, knowing where it’s being shipped from.  You only have one reseller in Chesapeake and all of a sudden you’re selling a direct seller, and you have one reseller there, and that’s where all the product’s moving from?  Start putting those pieces together.

David: Okay, so what do you do when you do a product buy?  Well, if you do a buy and you pay for it, a lot of times you can acquire the information there.  Back in the day, if we go back, maybe six, seven years ago, sites like PayPal probably used to provide a lot of information. Because they’re a financial institution, they would provide you with names, phone numbers, addresses, etc.

It’s pulled back a little bit.  However, that being said, in this instance, I was able to obtain a website address.  Now, the website address can lead me to do a reverse search on that website address and then gather information as well.  As you can see, I bought a very inexpensive product, had it shipped, gathered that e-mail, gathered that web URL, but I was able to do one other thing that a lot of people need to think about.

For that auction site we talked about, there’s a process called PIA, which is a personal information acquisition.  It’s a request.

If you’ve conducted a transaction with this seller, you can then go through there and request that seller’s information.  Is that correct?

Denise: Yes, but remember, when you request that seller’s information, they get your information.

So another reason why you don’t necessarily want to do this from your personal account that you use because they get your information.

David: Yes, and it comes in an e-mail, but this is a screenshot of an e-mail that has come in.  So now they have your information, you have their information. If you’re making a constant request like this, through an auction site, they’re receiving this information as well.

I acquired a phone number, which validated that again and then I also acquired Maryland that verified it again along with that seller name, which then verified it back to another marketplace.  It was then a very compelling investigation.

Now, with these examples that we’re showing today, in this case, we were building a case, so we gathered as much information across the board.  For a lot of brands that are on the phone today, you might not need to go this far.  You don’t have to go through the product buyer. If you held that information, just through the social media page, right, Denise?

Denise: Right.
David: As a brand protection director for a brand,   that would be more than enough for you, right?
Denise: Right.  It gives you the information to send a letter, at least a starting point.
David: See if they’ll fall in compliance or where you need to escalate. This goes to the point during that transaction I had on the auction site; I was able to run a reverse history.  I didn’t find much information on it because the domain name was inactive and it was an old one, but it still shows you, you can now run that, and a lot of times there’s what everybody’s probably familiar with a Who Is history.  It tells you who owns the domain name today.  Unfortunately, probably 60, 70 percent or, I don’t know what the exact number is, are privacy protected.
Denise: Some of the older ones or people that have been around for a while didn’t think to protect theirs, so it is good to go through the history to see what you find and also sometimes, in some of them you can see old screenshots of the website, which will also provide identifying information that they may have removed after, for whatever reason.
David: That’s actually a good point, so there’s a Who Is history which is what we’re looking at right here, but if you look over to the bottom left, I like to call that the Who was history.
David: A lot of times when someone registers a domain name, they’re just thinking that’s a great business idea, and they just register.  Then they go back later and change it.  What’s important to look here is if the creation date and the expiration date has not changed, odds are the domain name has never changed ownership.

That’s what you look for when you’re looking for the who was because those two pieces of information cannot be changed or altered.  If they are changed and altered, usually it’s an expired went to redemption, went out to the public, then was re-registered.  Now, does that mean it could not be sold and then transferred through escrow to somebody else?  No.  But, again, it’s giving you a piece of information that you can then crawl through.  So it’s important.

DomainTools is a great service to use to go through there.  It limits you to how much searches you can do, but there are other services.

Denise: You can use Whoisology.  There’s the free form of it that will give you some of the information you need.  It’s always a good start before you start paying for anything.  Use everything that’s free that’s out there.
David: There’s another service that is free, and a lot of people don’t know about. DomainTools will give you a little brief snapshot of what that website looked like, but there’s a neat tool out there that’s been archiving the website for quite some time.?
Denise: Are you talking about the Wayback Machine?
David: The Wayback Machine.  Yes.  I was doing an investigation for one of our cosmetic clients, and the URL was down everything.  I was able to go to the Wayback Machine, look at that domain name, couple years back and the contact information was right there, and the domain name was privacy.  So, the Wayback Machine does well.

Again, we’re going very quickly through here, and a lot of questions are popping up.

Okay, so, now, one of the things that I did, I think it was three or four months ago because of the amount of investigations that I was doing and we’re going through, we were looking at state registrations when we find a business name, and it’s amazing how you can do so many investigations in your career and you end up going to Google and typing in Florida Secretary of State and then clicking there, and then you go to the business search, then you gotta go to the LLC search.

What I did a few months back, I created a one-page document, all 50 states, all links to all of them.  I’ll share that with everybody after the call.  If you request that from me, I’ll give that to you.  But it’s important to search these types of things.

Denise: It is important because it will give you additional information or it can confirm what you already know.  If somebody is in Ohio, and I don’t find them in Ohio, I will tend to also search them in Florida, Nevada, I think Delaware, may be a popular one that people don’t live in but they tend to register their companies. You know, where they tend to register, and each Secretary of State will provide different information.  I believe in Texas; you may even have to pay a dollar to request the information. But they are not expensive.
Denise: No, but it’s another accession, now that you have all the links down.  Is another quick tool that is, for the most part, free, that will help you verify the information.
David: I think we have it on desktops just sitting there, because you just want to go quick, when you see a seller’s information or About Us page and he collects sales tax in Colorado.  Oh, let me search Colorado for a few variations of that. That’s why it’s important and knowing that they’re still active and they’re still conducting business.

Let’s summarize because we’re nearing the end of our webinar. The summary is let’s search all aspects of the marketplace.  The About Us page, the seller feedback, that’s your first step.  You’ve identified an unauthorized sale or offering out there.  Let’s dig into every aspect of that.  Feedback is a big one.  Sometimes people complain, right?

And they’ll complain like, “I called Denise at 213490, and she was a jerk.”  Well, that’s the feedback, and now you got a phone number on Denise, right?

Denise: Or sometimes I’ve gotten tracking numbers.  So then when I didn’t have a city or a state and I could then put the tracking number in.
David: That’s a great point.  A lot of times when you do a product buy, always take a look at that tracking number because United States Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, you find the zip code of origin.

Research seller information within the search engines.  Research the marketplace and review sites.  Social media’s a big one.  Reverse names, conduct the product buys, one of the last resorts unless there’s a reason you’re doing that.  A domain name search and the state business registration.

Denise: Let me add one thing that we didn’t touch when I do search engine searches.  I think there’s some people on the phone that probably know me because I reached out to them.  When I search a seller’s name, I sometimes will find pdfs or other do-not-call lists that other manufacturers have put out there, and I pick up the phone, and I call that manufacturer or that brand, and I explain to them who I am and ask them what information that they have, and have found that sometimes, especially the difficult ones, coming together and working on something, it helps both of us.

Sometimes you find their information, and it’s not making sense because it’s not what you found, so I call them and ask them, “Where did your information come from?”  But use your colleagues, especially when you find some of that out there.  It’s helped me several times.

David: That’s a really good point.  And, again, what we tried to do today, and I hope everybody found it to be beneficial, is to empower you to do as much work as you can on your own.  It’s not always about, just call David and he’s going to charge you money just to do every investigation.  No.  We want to be here, Denise, myself, you know, others that are on the call here.  They’re your colleagues.  They’re your industry experts that can help you do these types of things on your own.  When you get to that point, and you get to that roadblock, that’s where you want to call and say, “I’ve exhausted this.  Can you help out?”  And sometimes another set of eyes can find something fairly quickly.

Going back to the beginning, I think one of the most important things, and I can’t emphasize this enough, as what I’ve learned over the last year, is there is a way to truly enforce your brands, your products, on these marketplaces and it all starts with creating the legal grounds, in the beginning, to enforce it.

So, now when you identify these people, you identify these sellers, you now have legal ground under a material difference argument in many aspects to shut that site down, to get that seller off, to have a claim.  It starts with a cease and desist letter.  That’s a type of enforcement that everybody’s aware of.

And I’ve got a question here,  “Do we have a template for a cease and desist?” We do, and there are things like that that we can work with you on.  But there’s escalated levels of enforcement where we’ve seen even draft complaints.  Now, a lot of times that scares a lot of people when working with a law firm thinking, “Oh, a draft complaint that costs thousands of dollars.”  Well, a draft complaint is a cease and desist letter on steroids.  But it is a document that is X versus Y, and it scares unauthorized sellers.

There are other things we can also do to help you.  We could subpoena marketplaces for seller information if need be.  There are other levels of legal ramifications or remedies that you can then have that pushes that unauthorized seller to get them to move down.  So, there’s a lot of questions coming on and, unfortunately, we’ve only got about five minutes left here, so I think we’ll go through a few of these.

Betsy, you asked if there are any international tools.  I think, Denise, you’re probably better to answer this question because you work with a lot of international clients.  I have not expanded much in the international realm.

Denise: I think I saw another question there ask, there are some marketplaces that are international and somebody had mentioned this, it’s one of the questions or comments.  It’s good to point out that when you search that fellow name on some of the other international marketplaces, you will find more information because it’s more transparent.

As for international tools, especially if it is out of the country, I always start with a Google search, and that will lead me to other tools.  I have found Chinese business records that way, and I’ve found addresses.  One time I called an international one and found the seller because somehow I found the number on the internet and I hit it somehow, it was a list that must have been sold on the dark web somewhere, but I ended up finding the person’s name, address, phone number and their credit card information, it was expired, from this list because sometimes I’ll search and put /.pdf in it to see if I can pull pdfs.  So, I don’t use specific international tools, I always start with a Google search and see where that takes me.

David: But you can also Google because Google results are going to vary by country so that you can do Google.co.uk.
Denise: Correct. It’s a good starting place, and then you’ll find other tool s like shipping and customer information.
David: Amy asked a question here, and said, “Have you had any luck finding resellers on a specific marketplace who hide behind the fulfillment or the fulfilled buy?”  Well, I’m going to say that my answer is yes, because the majority of them are, right?
Denise: Right, but you’re not going to find, in all fairness all of those.

I will say back when I was doing a lot more of these seller investigations on a regular basis; we had a 76 percent success rate with ones that it was fulfilled by the warehouse.  Amazingly enough, sometimes a simple e-mail asking them questions, they will give you some additional contact information, even though they’re not supposed to.  I had a seller once provide their name, address and phone number.  Now, that doesn’t happen very often, but you can ask.

So, if you do, it’s usually having a conversation with them is where you’re more likely to, or you might want to keep watching their marketplace site because today you may check it and they may have nothing that isn’t fulfilled by them.

David: Let me add another point on the fulfillment side, and, again, this is when I first joined the firm.  I was doing an investigation.  I was so frustrated because I couldn’t find anything that helped and I was upset, so I hit return, and I was done and then all of a sudden I got an e-mail with their phone number and everything from the return.
Denise: Right.
David: It solved it because the fulfillment product that I received didn’t lead me anywhere and then I got that information from return
David: We only have three minutes here real quick.  Right here, Eva, we’re talking about calling neighboring business.  I think this is one of Denise’s favorite things to do.  Unfortunately, the firm, as they said, I can’t go due to pretexting and a few other things but go ahead, Denise.
Denise: Eva, I have done this as well, especially in strip malls.  I had one where the individual had been doing a lot of lying, but everything lined up to this person, and I just couldn’t get that smoking gun, but I knew in my gut it was this person.  So, I did the same thing.  I then found a business next door and told them that I was trying to send them something.  I just started asking questions.  And got that information, but it is a very good thing to do.  I’m telling you when you can use it and if you can’t, hire somebody that can.  The phone is your best friend.

Especially if you’re quick on your feet.  If you’re not quick on your feet and you have to think it all out, you should not be the one making the call.

David: Exactly.  So, Ali, can you employ us if you need to do an in-depth investigation?  Absolutely.  Feel free to reach out to me; we’re more than willing to walk you through that process and see if we can help you out there.

One person asks that, “Can I share Denise’s contact information?”  I think you’re okay with that, aren’t you Denise?

Denise: Yes.
David: I think we’ll share that, so if you reach out to me, I’ll be sure to get that out, and then one last question.

This is from Diane when making calls to phone numbers, what questions do you ask and in what order?  So, I’m going to answer quickly here.  On me, I like to hear a voicemail.  It leaves me information because I don’t want to talk to them, but I know Denise, you take a different approach a lot of times.

Denise: I like the voicemail as well, but I like to talk to them, and it depends.  It depends on if I made a buy from them and I want to return it, so it all depends.  Sometimes I have called and asked them if they were such and such marketplace seller.  If you catch them off-guard, they will answer you, and sometimes they ask me things like, “Where did you get my phone number?”  And I say, “It was on the page,” and they don’t have time to go back and look at their page or look somewhere else to see if I’m telling them the truth and I have them on the phone and I tend to answer their questions with my questions.
David: Well, great.  Well, again, Denise, I can’t thank you enough for not only participating and helping me over the years with investigations but also coming up and spending this time here in Columbus with us.  I hope everybody on the webinar was able to have some information, some good takeaways.  Again, my information’s on the screen there.  Please feel free to reach out to me.

I’ll send you the list of state registration.  I’ll send you the checklist of investigations, and I am here to help answer questions.  You’re sharing industry information.  It’s all about a big network to solve the overall problem, and that’s what we’re here for.  We’re here to help you succeed and then protect.  That’s what our goal is.  So, again, thank you for joining us today and have a great day.

About Whitney Gibson

Whitney Gibson

Whitney is a partner and leader of the firm’s group that focuses on internet brand and reputation issues, including both illegal online sales enforcement and internet defamation.
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