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In Wisconsin, there's an individual, let's call him Dan, in a city who has basically created multiple "off-brand" companies with incredibly similar names to their competitors.

These are made up examples, but let's say the industry was computer repair (it isn't), locally there might be a few competitors:

TechChampions PC Repair
PC Fix It Fast
Advanced Computer Professional Services

Dan has domain names and paid keywords for:

TechChampionship PC Repair
PC Fix it Quick
Advanced Computer Pro Services

None of his businesses have a physical storefront or office but Dan has these off-brand businesses listed as being in the same town/neighborhood of the respective competitor. If you look for a PC repair place in his area the first 7 to 10 results on Google are his copycat domain/businesses.

I can't speak to Dan's ability to do PC repair or his business model should one actually attempt to do business with him.

Is this practice fraud or otherwise illegal?

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    This would probably be a trademark violation as Wisconsin does not require businesses to register trademarks. It isn't "fraud" so-to-speak. See if this page from the US Patent Office answers your question. Wisconsin does not participate in enforcement actions or complaints. – Ron Beyer Jul 26 '18 at 14:57
  • It might be trademark infringement and cybersquatting and a deceptive trade practice. Whether or not it is fraud depends upon proof that the customer was in fact deceived and was harmed by the deception. – ohwilleke Jul 26 '18 at 15:48
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I don't think it's criminal fraud unless something else is going on, like if he took money and didn't actually provide the goods or services.

However, this is almost certainly a federal trademark violation.

Wisconsin statute 100.18(10r) against fraudulent representations may also apply:

It is deceptive and misleading for a person who is conducting business in a community or region from a location outside that community or region to use the name of the community or region, or other description of the community or region, in the corporate or trade name of the business or in any other information that is published if the use of the name or description of the location creates the misrepresentation that the business is located in the community or region.

Under this statute, violators can be sued by individual plaintiffs and/or the state department of agriculture, trade and consumer protection.

However, you changed the industry, so also note that 100.18(12) provides that this law does not apply to insurance, and some of it does not apply to real estate brokers.

  • It's a similar enough industry, I just didn't want to make anyone identifiable. Thanks for this. – Matthew Sbar Jul 26 '18 at 18:04

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