If it sounds too good to be true ... it is probably fraud!
The most recent batch of Internet scams involve the scammer sending an attorney a "real check" for deposit in the attorney's trust account or "inadvertently" sending a check greater than discussed and wanting an immediate return of the "excess" amount. Though the facts and circumstances vary from scam to scam, the attorney is burned if she releases a portion of the money from the trust account before the "real check" is discovered to be fraudulent. The lawyer is then on the hook to replace the funds with which the scammer has absconded because they belong to real clients. Think about it. No one is going to offer a large sum as a fee just to forward monies or sending a large sum by mistake. For more information on how you can protect yourself and your firm, read Fraud against Lawyers
and Scams against Lawyers
from the S.C. Small Firm Blog.
Most recent scam attempts
September 8, 2011
In recent days, we have received scam notices from Columbia lawyers who have been contacted by Gary Hossa asking for representation to collect a debt against a borrower (by the name of Eric Madison). Upon receiving related documents from "Mr. Hossa," a retainer is to be forwarded but likely will have insufficient funds. However, the trust account banking information may have been returned on the back of the negotiated retainer check, so that an effort could subsequently be made to try to raid the trust account. Here is the e-mail that was circulated:
I am inquiring about the possibility of your firm representing me in the litigation of a loan matter.
Debtor: Eric Madison
Balance $208,000.00 plus 7.75% annual interest.
If you or your firm can be of any assistance, please get back to me at your earliest convenience so I can send you related documents.
August 16, 2011
Another version of the attempt to steal monies from a law firm has surfaced. The prospective client (using a false name and identification document) forwards what purports to be a divorce decree and seeks to retain the firm to collect monies owed. A retainer is to be forwarded but likely will have insufficient funds. However, the trust account banking information may have been returned on the back of the negotiated retainer check, so that an effort could subsequently be made to try to raid the trust account.
July 11, 2011
In recent days two Ontario lawyers have informed us that they have been contacted by a James Gilliard of South Carolina looking to collect on a local commercial debt. The emails are similar to fraud attempts we have seen under the names Mark Lawson, Mark Ludic and Ma Li Ni. One of the lawyers also received cheques from an American bank to “repay” the debt even before any demand letter had been sent.
Here is an example of the message that gets sent if a lawyer resonds to the initial contact. Examples of the supporting documentation is provided as well.
From: James Gilliard email@example.com
Sent: Monday, July 04, 2011 7:04 PM
To: Lawyer Name
Subject: Re: Breach of Loan agreement
Good day to you and thanks for responding to my email. Please pardon my late email response as my condition does not allow me to stay long on the computer. The consultation fee shouldn’t be a problem, kindly send me your firm fee / retainer agreement for my review and upon receipt and if OK, I shall make immediate provision for the fee.
My full names are James Gilliard. I am a private lender who lends Investors, small companies and individuals funds on a fixed term to invest and in return pay back with interest. On January 5th, 2009, I lend Trimar Steel who is located in your jurisdiction the sum of $480.000.00 with interest on two years fixed term and to pay back January 5th, 2011.
There has not been any attorney working on this case. Different payment dates have been promised and I still have not received anything. I was advised to seek legal assistance in my borrower jurisdiction which is why I contacted you to act as my counsel in retrieving these funds. My last contact with my Borrower, I was told I would receive payment not later than Mid January 2011 and till now, nothing has been paid.
I will like to know what your fees would be in order for me to inform the company to expect contact from you as you have been authorized to act on my behalf and receive said funds or make contact with your firm. I would like to forward your details to them on your approval, so they know a law firm is representing me and I can sue for breach of agreement if they don’t keep their promise. I would like to give them this last chance to fulfill their obligations before we start legal proceeding.
Please do get back to me so I can furnish you with the required details to contact my borrower and receive my funds on my behalf as I know these companies respect law firms and do not want to be carried to court. Before we proceed I will like you to forward your fee/retainer agreement for me to review and if okay, sign and return for you to begin work. Upon receipt of the fee / agreement, I shall make immediate provision for the fee. Also, include your firm payment information should incase they want to make a full or partial payment they owe without further delays or possible litigation.
Thank you for your anticipated co-operation and understanding. Contact me should you require more information. I have attached here a copy of the Loan Agreement Promissory Note for your information. My borrower’s name is Trimar Steel.
June 22, 2011
An email was sent to a Bar member claiming to be the IRS with suspicous links included.
A second email was sent to the same Bar member and had a “misdirect” for the “click here” so it could send the user to another site to enter sensitive and confidential financial information.
June 15, 2011
The following message was sent from a Bar member's e-mail account to several contacts:
How are you doing ? Sorry I didn't inform you about my traveling to Barcelona,Spain for a program, I'm presently in Barcelona and am having some difficulties here because i misplaced my Wallet on my way to the hotel where my money and other valuable things like my credit were kept in . I have called my credit card company to Stop my cards immediately,But where my problem lies is that it will take another 72HOURS to get me a replacement. I will like you to assist me with a loan of $2,800 to sort-out my hotel bills and to get myself back home. I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist me with and I promise to reimburse you at my return,let me know if you can be of any help? ASAP.
Anticipating you reply at the earliest to my request.
Please be reminded never to send money by wire transfer without ensuring the recipient of the funds; and never give out your account information to someone you do not know.