The Florida Bar
www.floridabar.org
The Florida Bar News
click to print this page  click to e-mail the address for this page 
September 1, 2012
ID theft is the latest threat to attorneys

By Mark D. Killian
Managing Editor

A Florida lawyer living in Colorado has had her personal information compromised, potentially setting her up for identity theft or impersonation.

Laurie Morris unwittingly provided the miscreants her sensitive information when she submitted paperwork for a background check to what she thought was a California law firm.

It wasn’t. Now she is worried about what will happen next.

Morris recently moved from Tampa to Denver and since she is not licensed in Colorado, she has been working with a placement agency to secure various contract positions.

After completing an eight-month assignment she got through the agency, Morris was contacted again in July regarding a job with “Isaacson Goldberg Warner,” purportedly a California firm that had a medical malpractice case set for trial in Denver in October and needed some extra help.

“They supposedly reviewed my resume, approved me, and sent me some paperwork to fill out for a background check,” said Morris, adding she was “hired” along with another lawyer and a paralegal and told when and where to report to get started on the case.

When that day came, the “California lawyers” never showed and failed to respond to calls from the placement agency.

After contacting the State Bar of California and the property managers of the building supposedly housing the firm, it became clear “Isaacson Goldberg Warner” didn’t exist.

“All we can guess is this is some sort of scam to secure personal information, because they did not get anything else from us,” Morris said. “But they do have my Social Security number, my driver’s license number, my date of birth, my address, and they know I’m an attorney — all the identity theft information.”

As yet, there have been no known repercussions. Morris said she has taken all the steps she can think of to minimize any damage — such as contacting her banks, credit reporting agencies, and The Florida Bar to alert them about what happened.

Morris said the placement agency also had sensitive information stolen because the fake firm asked the agency to run payroll for the contract lawyers through its account, as opposed to the “firm” paying the lawyers directly.

“So they now have her banking information, so she is also compromised both professionally and personally,” Morris said.

Morris and the placement agency alerted local law enforcement and the FBI, which has turned the case over to its cybercrimes unit.

“It looks like it was all Internet based,” said Morris, adding the Isaacson Goldberg Warner website’s IP server address has been traced back to Bermuda.

Morris said the scammers were pretty sophisticated, and the ruse included Isaacson Goldberg Warner website and found much of the verbiage on the site was pirated from a Washington, D.C., based international law firm’s website.

What’s Next?
Morris now worries about what the fraudster may do with her personal information: sell it to others; open credit card accounts in her name; obtain loans; get a driver’s license or official ID card issued in her name but with someone else’s picture; or even hold themselves out as her and practice law. What terrifies her most is the prospect of the fraudsters perpetrating more scams using her identity, and having Bar complaints wrongfully filed against her.

Unfortunately, Morris said, she did not have a lot of information about the firm she was applying to work for before the scam got too far along, which is typically the way placement agencies work.

“At the beginning it is double blind; they don’t tell me who their client is and they redact my information when they submit my resume,” Morris said. “Until it is finalized, you don’t really know who you are working for.”

Going forward, Morris said if a potential employer wants to do a background check, she will demand to know why, since she is already a licensed professional. If the employer insists, she will ask to be provided with the name of the company that will run the background check “and I’ll communicate with them directly.”

Morris said her placement agency now plans to run its own background checks and not let potential employers perform them anymore.

“This is a fairly elaborate scam, which seems to be getting more common,” said Elizabeth Tarbert, the Bar’s ethics counsel. “Unfortunately, it is a lot easier with the Internet — and without real cost but time — to create credentials, such as a fake website, or in the case of another scam, the fake bank check.”

Tarbert said it is good advice to try to get as much information as possible about potential employers before giving them sensitive personal information.

The Federal trade Commission estimates that as many as nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. To learn more about ID theft or what to do if you think or know your identity has been stolen, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft.

[Revised: 07-01-2014]