Nicole Palmer is an attorney who graduated from Columbia University. Her profile states that she “specializes in the application and protection of industrial design” and has “successfully pursued a career for over 30 years.”
The only problem is that it doesn’t exist. And he helped me uncover an online scam operation involved in shady activities, including extracting backlinks from bloggers and website owners.
I’ve spent a good part of the last week investigating Arthur Davidson, the so-called “law firm” Nicole works for. What I found was disturbing, testament to how advances in technology have made it easier for scammers to set up legitimate-looking organizations to hunt down their victims.
Hopefully, my findings will help others to become more aware and protect themselves from similar scams.
DMCA Copyright Infringement
On April 13, Nicole emailed me a “DMCA Copyright Infringement Notice”, introducing herself as “Arthur Davidson Legal Services’s trademark attorney” and claiming that the image I used on TechTalk was his Had a client.
“Our customers are happy to use and share their image on the Internet. However, due image credit is due to past or ongoing use,” she wrote.
She said I had seven days to add image credits to the “offensive page” with a link to the homepage of her client’s website. “Otherwise, we need to take legal action.”
(I have intentionally blacked out the client’s name and website for the above reasons which I will explain shortly.)
The email ended in reference to Section 512(c) of the DMCA and a professional signature. It seemed legit. One thing that seemed a bit off was a link to Imgur, an image-sharing website where anyone could upload images without even setting up a profile. (So it was entirely possible that they downloaded the image from my website, uploaded it to Imgur, and then claimed that their image was in front of me.)
I generally keep track of the sources of the images I use on my website and try to ensure that I do not use anyone’s intellectual property without permission. But mistakes do happen, and I’m more than happy to double-check my source and provide attribution to the client if I had wronged them.
As I guessed, the image comes from Pexels, an online, license-free stock photo library. I emailed Nicole back with a link to the image and a Creative Commons license stating that no attribution is required. I asked for an explanation as to why he believed the image was of his client.
And then I waited.
A good website with little depth
Not hearing anything, I went round the next day and asked if she was dropping the case. At this point, I was beginning to suspect that this was a bullying tactic by forcing me to put a backlink to his client’s website.
One of the ways to improve your site’s position in search engine result pages is to have high-authority websites link back to your web pages. I have had previous encounters with companies or individuals who tried to hide links in my website. But doing this with the legal aspect was new to me.
I decided to take a closer look at the Arthur Davidson Legal Services website. Obviously, whoever set up the website did a good job. First, the domain name (arthurdavidson.com) was well chosen, suggesting that the website and firm have existed for a long time, probably since the early dot-com days.
According to the website, Arthur Davidson has been working since 2009, has been involved in 420 cases, and has achieved 380 wins (about a 90 percent success rate).
The website also lists a Boston phone number and an address at 177 Huntington Avenue, a building that houses several other law firms.
The website features a blog with several articles, including one that simply states that copyright infringement can result in a $10,000 fine.
About page 18 shows profiles of lawyers, graduates of Northeast, Brown, Princeton, Harvard and other well-known universities. But unlike other professional websites, no lawyer lists their LinkedIn profile on the website.
A closer investigation revealed many more red flags. First, I looked at the domain records on the ICANN website (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Apparently, Arthur Davidson had been in the works for 13 years, but decided to set up his own domain in February 2022.
And then I looked at the website’s record on the Wayback Machine (archive.org). Apparently, the domain was parked between 2005 and 2022.
(To be fair, there could be a logical explanation: the law firm may have used another domain name and recently purchased arthurdavidson.com from its previous owner.)
And then I googled the name of the firm and saw the news section. Logically, a firm that has several high-profile lawyers and claims to have won “multi-million dollar” lawsuits on behalf of its clients should have been mentioned in the news at least a few times.
Almost certainly it was a scam, I took a closer look at the “About Us” page. The photographs of the lawyers looked a bit out of place. I opened Nicole’s photo at full size on a separate tab.
What I saw was an image created by a Generative Adversarial Network, a deep learning model that can be trained to draw 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 images than their previous versions. There is a website called this person does not exist that generates GAN faces. Some of them are terrifyingly convincing.
But GANs still create unnatural artifacts that can be easily detected if you are familiar with the technology. You can easily spot irregularities on the fringes of the eardrum, the sides of the face, the sides of the hair and beard, wrinkles, the borders of the brows, and the sides of the glasses.
With clear evidence that this was indeed a scam operation, I decided to investigate Arthur Davidson and report my findings. I reached out to the client, on whose behalf Nicole contacted me on April 16, asking her to explain her relationship with Arthur Davidson. On 18 April, a support agent replied that he had no affiliation with the law firm.
Shortly after, the Arthur Davidson website was shut down. (You can still watch a version of it on the Wayback Machine.)
Although I doubt that the client was actually in contact with the so-called law firm, as I have no solid evidence, I decided not to mention them.
My suspicion is that Arthur Davidson was run by a Gray Hat SEO team. For now, they are down. But I am sure they will soon emerge under a different name. Looking back, what he did was not very difficult. They only require some web copy (easy to get from web and reword) for law firms, some template DCMA email (available for free), some GAN-generated faces (there’s a website for this), some web design knowledge , and some money to buy a phone number and a domain. And they were using a social engineering strategy to create a sense of urgency (seven day deadline, legal action, etc.) in their victims to act without thinking.
I hope these findings help other website owners to avoid falling prey to similar scams. All the tools I used to test Arthur Davidson are free and easy to use and you can do it for yourself. Don’t panic. Do your research, and you’ll be fine.
A note on anonymity: I have no problem with people who want to hide their identity online. There are dozens of valid reasons to do so—but deceiving other people isn’t one of them.
As far as companies considering using the services of such scammers, my advice is: no. The next person may not be as forgiving as I was. In my own experience, there is no shortcut to getting rights on the Internet. Create great content, grow your network, and find legitimate ways to distribute your content, and people will give you backlinks. Shady shortcuts can do more harm than good to your website and business.
This article was originally written by Ben Dixon and published by Ben Dixon on TechTalk, a publication that examines technology trends, how they affect the way we live and do business, and what they do. solve problems. But we also discuss the bad side of technology, the deeper effects of new technology, and what we need to pay attention to. You can read the original article here.