After filing a lawsuit against LinkedIn and an unknown party committing the fraud, Wayne Farms has received a settlement from LinkedIn, with hopes of also collecting from the person committing the fraud.
Case of identity theft
During the summer of 2020, Pat Gomez, a senior sales manager for Wayne Farms, discovered that somebody was pretending to be him on the social media platform, explained Jeremy Kilburn, vice president and general counsel for Wayne Farms.
Gomez had received a connection request from “the fake Pat Gomez,” Kilburn said, and after seeing that, Gomez reported the impostor to LinkedIn. The LinkedIn profile for the phony Gomez went away, Kilburn said, but it came back several days later, Kilburn said.
Soon afterwards, Gomez got a message on LinkedIn from a party in another company, who said he was ready to wire the money and inquired about when the shipment of Wayne Farms chicken products would arrive.
The company’s general email account also got inquiries about the situation, with those sending the messages saying they were trying to buy chicken from Gomez, but he was not responding.
“So we started investigating,” Kilburn said. “Apparently some of the buyers had responded and got into an email communication with him (the impostor) and even placed an order.”
The impostor apparently even sent price lists to potential scam targets for a variety of Wayne Farms products. Those lists were on letterhead containing the Wayne Farms logo. His emails also included bank account information to which deposits could be made.
To Kilburn’s knowledge, nobody actually sent the fake Gomez any money.
Some potential scam targets contacted Wayne Farms, saying they felt the impostor’s emails were suspicious. The scammer’s email address was not an official Wayne Farms address. Kilburn said the people targeted were asked to send the information that was sent to them, which they did. From there, Wayne Farms was “able to chase down what he was doing.”
Impostor account remains – for a while
While the false Pat Gomez account was initially taken down, when it resurfaced, more requests were made to LinkedIn to remove the false account.
Several Wayne Farms employees reported the fraudulent account to LinkedIn through the LinkedIn portal to report suspicious activity. However, after several more attempts were made, nothing was done.
“This guy more or less had stolen Pat Gomez’s identity – his name, likeness and image. We filed suit to protect Pat’s image, but also, the guy was using our trade address, our trademark and logo on his LinkedIn page. When he would send people documents, he was using our trademarks. When someone uses your trademark in a fraudulent fashion, to protect your trademark, you’ve got to act. You’ve got to do something. That’s why we filed suit,” Kilburn said.
When Wayne Farms did file a lawsuit, it sued both LinkedIn and the John Doe who was pretending to be Gomez. Since they had bank account information connected with the impostor, that gave Wayne Farms jurisdiction to list the John Doe in the lawsuit.
Once the lawsuit was filed, LinkedIn did the right thing, Kilburn said. They offered a settlement, one with which Kilburn said he was “very pleased.”
“We resolved it with LinkedIn and dismissed them from the case. I was very pleased with their actions once the suit was filed,” Kilburn said. “They took it very seriously, and once we filed suit, they removed the fake profile and they provided us with an additional avenue to report fraudulent accounts in the future if their regular reporting practices fail.”
“They understood why we were concerned and they were very professional in how they dealt with us,” he added.
Concerning the actual fraudster, Kilburn said Wayne Farms was awarded a judgment of $130,000. Whether Wayne Farms will be able to collect that amount is unknown, but Kilburn has hopes since bank account numbers associated with the impostor are known. Kilburn added that several years ago, the company was successful in collecting from an earlier fraudulent person, who essentially copied the Wayne Farms website and attempted to do the same type of fraudulent activity of trying to falsely sell products to international buyers while pretending to be a representative of Wayne Farms.
There is a possibility the phony Gomez could also face criminal charges, but Kilburn noted that international fraud cases are often difficult to solve and prosecute.
Lessons from the experience
Since the LinkedIn incident occurred, Wayne Farms has stepped up its fraud prevention efforts, and Kilburn recommends that other companies prepare themselves in case a similar attempt at fraud happens to them.
“Companies just have to be vigilant in protecting their online reputation, and detecting inappropriate use of fraudulent use of your company’s image,” he said.
Wayne Farms has since added to its website a page that is devoted to known fraud cases, alerting others to cases when someone is using or attempting to use Wayne Farms’ likeness. The company has also added a fraud alert notification portal, where cases of potential fraud can be reported. Those reports go directly to the company’s legal department and can be swiftly addressed, Kilburn said.