How Scammers Target Your Employees to Steal Your Trade Secrets

Employee Training and Education Is Key To Avoiding Online Scams

Protect Trade Secrets From Online Scammers

What are Trade Secrets?

For confidential information to be classified as a trade secret, it must not be generally known (i.e. it is only known and used by you) or reasonably ascertainable (i.e. it cannot be reverse-engineered or easily ascertained). It also must be of economic value. Some examples of trade secrets are formulas, prototypes, manufacturing methods, or processes.

Trade secrets are not formally protected by the law in the same way as other forms of intellectual property, such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks. You cannot register or apply for trade secret protection, as it is up to the entity holding the trade secret to keep it secret.

How Can Employers Protect Trade Secrets?

Programs relating to physical, technological, and legal security should be established to maintain secrecy and confidentiality. As long as the owner of the trade secret can prove that reasonable efforts have been made to keep the information confidential, the information remains a trade secret and is legally protected. Conversely, trade secret owners who cannot show evidence of reasonable efforts at protecting confidential information risk losing the trade secret, even if the information is obtained illegally.

How Are Trade Secrets Accessed by Outside Parties and Scammers?

A company’s employees are one of its largest risks to the misappropriation of trade secrets. Employers will often require their employees to sign agreements with confidentiality and/or non-disclosure clauses at the time of hire, as well as conduct thorough exit interviews with departing employees in an effort to clearly spell out all obligations regarding the employer’s trade secrets. However, employees are prime targets for scammers trying to gain access to trade secrets. Such online fraudsters will use the information on an employee’s professional networking or social media sites to pose as a recruiter, professional contact, or even as a romantic prospect to gain trust and develop a relationship. It is essential that employees be educated and on the lookout for these types of scams, especially now when people are making more online contacts and relationships than ever before.

Professional or Recruiting Scams

According to the FBI, the following examples have been identified as signs of a professional or recruiting scam:

  • It’s too good to be true: Be suspicious of jobs offering remote or flexible work and a disproportionately high salary for the role advertised.
  • Flattery: Your contact may overly praise your skills and experience or refer to you as a “high-end” candidate.
  • Scarcity: There may be an emphasis on so-called limited, one-of-a-kind , or exclusive opportunities.
  • Lack of depth or detail: There may be a lack of any visible or verifiable company information available online, and/or the role itself lacks tangible details.
  • Urgency: Your contact might be overly responsive to messages and may attempt to rush you off the networking platform and onto another communication method.
  • Imbalance: There may be a disproportionate focus on the company from which you are being recruited rather than on the new company validating you as a possible candidate.

Romance Scams

Though we typically think of romance scams as targeting lonely people to eventually defraud them of money, romance scams can also be used to target key employees for trade secret information. The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship, endear himself to the individual, and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage, make plans to meet in person, and make other promises that will never happen. The FBI offers several tips for recognizing and avoiding romance scams:

  • Beware if the individual seems “too perfect” or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
  • Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but finds excuses to cancel plans. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, you have reason to be suspicious.
  • Never send money or company information to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

Tips For Helping Your Employees Avoid Scams

Training and awareness are key to helping your employees avoid falling prey to online scammers. Here are some things employees should keep in mind regarding digital profiles and social media accounts as well as online interactions.

  • Review your account settings on social and professional networks to control the information that is publicly available.
  • Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
  • Only form contacts online with people you know or after you have verified them as legitimate in another way.
  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
  • Go slowly and ask a lot of questions.
  • Notify your company security officer of any contact from companies or individuals of which you are suspicious.

Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Attorneys

These scams are insidious and can be slow-moving. Entities utilizing these scams are playing the long game to steal your trade secrets. If you are suspicious or believe your company or employees have been a victim, consult with an attorney at The Lynch Law Group to determine the appropriate course of action.

Kathleen Kuznicki assists business owners, entrepreneurs, and inventors with all things related to intellectual property and brand protection, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, and licensing. She can be reached via email at or by calling our office at 724-776-8000.

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