It’s not SPAM — It’s a SCAM! So many fraudsters in the world. Don’t ever think that attorneys aren’t as vulnerable as anyone else. Maybe more so. Cons play on typical human emotions and behavior: Greed, Lust, Naivety, Compulsions, Gullibility, Faith, Compassion and the list goes on. I can usually spot them a mile away. If I have time, I’ll try to respond and play along. . . but just a little. Just long enough to have the Con (can’t really say “Man” on this one) exert some energy and finite resources. I figure if they chase enough false positives, the cost-benefit balance may go askew. Then they’ll quit. Wishful thinking since there always was, and always there shall be, “ a sucker born every minute.” It’s our nature.
As far as contemporary, e-mail generated attorney scams go, they are usually the classic 419 Advance-Fee scam (known as "4-1-9" fraud after the specific code section of Nigerian criminal law for fraud scams). Those are at least as old as the banking industry. Generally they go something like this: The attorney, let’s call him Mark, gets an unsolicited e-mail from what appears to be a potential client. The e-mail is pretty typical and comparable to many other e-mails the
attorney Mark has received. Real e-mails from people with real problems that blossomed into real cases. If you only look closely though, all the usual red flags are present: Poor grammar, rotten spelling, a cumbersome use of the English language, a hollow formalistic style. “Dear Counselor (or Solicitor— even in the US): “Does your firm handle purchase sale agreements?” “I receive a settlement agreement it need enforcing.” “My ex stopped paying his divorce payments.”
The trick to replying, is to ask them to call you. They never want to for a number of reasons. One is that awful time difference between here and ______.
But the bigger one is telephones seem like they are so traceable— much more so than computers with internet connections seem to be. Another reason is efficiency. It is much easier to hustle large volumes of Marks on-line with a computer capable of mass, simultaneous communications than it is with a telephone and a single voice.
If you reply to the scammer, you usually get a response that lists a local small business. A real-deal small business. With a legit address, true owner’s name, maybe a real logo that goes to a real looking website. After all, they are using Google to find you so they know Mark will Google the prospective client in turn. Scams need good cover stories.
The dead giveaway is they almost always say “your jurisdiction” or “your state” or “your location” because they are sending these in bulk. If they actually checked the IP records (which they could easily do) the e-mails could focus in on a target much more convincingly. But the scam is easy to spot if you keep a healthy dose of skepticism handy and don’t believe in things that sound “too good to be true.”
Some other clues include: Six figure sums of money, almost always in nicely rounded, for some reason or another things have to happen quickly—or just do happen quickly. They are well informed though. They’ll ask you to send your “standard” retainer agreement, but only after you have completed a conflicts check. I suppose to see if a cousin scammed you recently—Ethics, you know, always Ethics.
The case you’re offered is one that doesn’t involve much work and the “debtor” sends you a check promptly (that alone should tip anyone off). It’s always a very real looking corporate check and paid as a third-party as settlement (or as a retainer fee that is more than you requested or would ever quote (by now you are really in fairy tale land). Because you are an ethical, well-grounded attorney at law you run the check through your trust account, wait for it to clear and then send the portion that is not “yours” to your “client.”
Unfortunately, that is just enough time for your bank to temporarily honor the check and release the funds to you. You cut the check and send it on its merry way before your bank lets you know they have changed their mind. The bank has also helped itself to the funds you had on deposit to cover the little error that the check was actually a faker. But Mark is not in such a fortuitous position and cannot recoup the $150,000.00 that was just sent off to never be seen again. To ice it all off so it is extra sugary sweet, the bank has to send off a copy of the overdraft notice to your local ethics regulators—who are never too overly understanding when you tell them you were going to be paid a cool, round hundred grand for about an hour or two worth of work.Information is your best weapon—along with a highly skeptical view of the world.