Greenville entrepreneur helps police bring down $4.5M patent scam.

A scam run out of a Latvian apartment bilked American companies for millions of dollars, but less than $2,000 taken from a Greenville entrepreneur ended the scheme and landed the suspect in an American prison.

Julie Maddox, the Greenville founder of the diabetic-friendly Benji Bars, was one of 2,900 businesses that investigators say were swindled in a $4.5 million scheme by Latvian Viktors Suhorukovs. He was sentenced to more than four years in federal prison on Sept. 14 for tricking trademark holders into sending him trademark renewal fee payments that victims thought were going to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

For Maddox the scam threw her exclusive ownership of her product name and tagline, "Make it Better," into jeopardy, she told GSA Business Report. Since she could not afford to renew the trademark after mailing Suhorukovs, 37, a check that she thought was bound for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, her brand is up for grabs. If she sells any of her trademarked products after the trademark's expiration, she is committing an act of fraud, according to intellectual property attorney Santucci Priore.

"Every hard thing that I have come across in the business, I have overcome," Maddox said. "COVID didn't shut me down, but this person who perpetuated this scam did shut me down."

For Maddox, it started on a July day in 2019, when she pulled an invoice from the mailbox.

Maddox has invested seven years into her startup, which she launched after developing a recipe for low-sugar protein bars for her son Benjamin after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Even before the snacks hit local shelves, she made sure to obtain a federal trademark for the brand.

So when the renewal date for the Benji Bars trademarks rolled around, Maddox received exactly what she was prepared for: two invoices that appeared to be from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office requesting $1,850 with a trademark ID number matching her own.

She made sure to scan the QR code on the invoice, which linked her to the official U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site, before sending off the check.

A bitter aftertaste

Months down the road, she opened mail to find what appeared to be the same invoice from the real U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and she felt sick to her stomach.

She saw a notice on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website that warned trademark owners about a nationwide renewal scam that matched her experience.

"I realized after some digging that I...

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