This story was shared by the American site The Next Web. Here is his story in French!
Nicole Palmer is a lawyer who graduated from Columbia University. Her profile states that she is “specialized in the enforcement and protection of industrial designs” and that she “has been building her successful career for 30 years. »
The only problem is that it does not exist. And she helped me uncover an online scam involved in shady activities, including extorting backlinks from bloggers and website owners.
I’ve spent much of the past week investigating Arthur Davidson, the so-called “law firm” Nicole works for. What I discovered is disturbing and speaks to the ease with which advances in technology have made it possible for scammers to create legitimate-looking structures to prey on their victims.
I hope my findings will help other people to be more aware and protect themselves against similar scams.
DMCA copyright infringement
On April 13, Nicole emailed me a “DMCA Copyright Infringement Notice”, identifying herself as “Arthur Davidson Legal Services Trademark Attorney” and claiming that an image that I had used in TechTalks belonged to one of its customers. See the article: The Nvidia RTX 3090 Ti has 4 weak points and 1 strong point..
“Our client is happy that his image is used and shared on the Internet. However, appropriate image credit is due for past or continued use,” she wrote.
I had seven days to add the image credit to the “offending page” with a link to the home page of her client’s site, she added. “If not, we are required to take legal action.”
(I intentionally blacked out the client’s name and website above for reasons I’ll explain soon).
The email ended with references to DMCA Section 512(c) and a professional signature. It seemed legit. The only thing that seemed a little weird was a link to Imgur, an image sharing website where anyone can upload images without even creating a profile. (So it was perfectly possible that they downloaded the image from my website, uploaded it to Imgur, and then claimed their image was there before mine).
I generally keep track of the sources of the images I use on my website and try to ensure that I am not using someone’s intellectual property without permission. But mistakes can happen, and I was more than happy to double-check my source and provide attribution to the client if I had wronged them.
As I guessed, the image came from Pexels, an unlicensed online photo library. I emailed Nicole back with a link to the image and the Creative Commons license which states no attribution required. I asked her to explain why she thought the image belonged to her client.
A decent but not very in-depth website
Having heard nothing, I called back the next day, asking if she was dropping the case. On the same subject : The James Webb Space Telescope has gone cold, but that’s a good thing. At this point, I was beginning to suspect that this was an intimidation tactic to coerce me into inserting a backlink to his client’s website.
One of the ways to improve your site’s position in search engine results pages is to get high authority websites to link to your web pages. I had already come across companies or individuals who had tried to sneak links into my website. But doing it with a legal facade was new to me.
I decided to take a closer look at the Arthur Davidson Legal Services website. Obviously, the person who created the site did a good job. First of all, the domain name (arthurdavidson.com) was well chosen, which suggests that the site and the firm have been around for a long time, perhaps since the days of the dot-coms.
According to the website, Arthur Davidson has been working since 2009, has participated in 420 cases and had 380 wins (a success rate of approximately 90%).
The website also lists a Boston phone number and an address at 177 Huntington Ave, a building that houses several other law firms.
The website has a blog with several articles, including one that aptly states that copyright infringement can result in a $10,000 fine.
The homepage features the profiles of 18 lawyers, graduates of Northeastern, Brown, Princeton, Harvard and other renowned universities. But unlike other professional sites, none of the lawyers list their LinkedIn profile on the site.
A parked estate
Further investigation revealed many other red flags. This may interest you: Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro: The latest series of the Redmi Note 11 smartphone is now available worldwide. First, I looked at the domain registration on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) site. Apparently, Arthur Davidson had been working for 13 years but only decided to start his domain in February 2022.
I then looked at the site’s record on the Wayback Machine (archive.org). Apparently, the domain had been parked between 2005 and 2022.
(To be fair, there might be a logical explanation for this: The law firm might have used a different domain name and recently purchased arthurdavidson.com from its previous owner).
Then I searched for the firm’s name on Google and looked up the news. Logically, a firm that houses so many high-profile lawyers and claims to have won “multi-million dollar” lawsuits on behalf of its clients should have at least been mentioned in the newspapers a few times.
Faces of GAN
Almost sure it was a scam, I took a closer look at the “About Us” page. The photos of the lawyers seemed a bit out of place. I opened the full size photo of Nicole on another tab.
What I saw was an image created by a generative adversarial network, a deep learning model that can be trained to create faces, art, or anything else.
GANs have come a long way since they were invented in 2014. Today, they produce higher resolution and more natural looking images than their earlier versions. There is a website called This Person Doesn’t Exist that generates GAN faces. Some of them are eerily convincing.
But GANs still create unnatural artifacts that can be easily detected if you’re familiar with the technology. You can easily spot irregularities in places such as earrings, shadows on the side of the face, the edge of hair and beard, wrinkles, the edges of the eyebrows and the sides of glasses.
Having clear evidence that it was indeed a scam, I decided to investigate Arthur Davidson and report my findings. I contacted the client on whose behalf Nicole had contacted me on April 16, asking him to clarify his relationship with Arthur Davidson. On April 18, a support agent told me that he had no relationship with the law firm.
Soon after, Arthur Davidson’s website was shut down. (You can still see a version of it on the Wayback Machine).
Although I suspect that the client was in fact in contact with the so-called law firm, since I have no concrete evidence, I have decided not to mention them.