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July 15, 2007
Con artists are still 'assuming' the identity of Florida lawyers

Florida lawyers are still having their identities “assumed” by scam artists seeking to trade on the trust of lawyers in schemes to rip off consumers.

The latest twist, according to Bar Unlicensed Practice of Law Counsel Lori Holcomb, is that con artists have posed as real lawyers who have not given their phone number to the Bar, and consequently those numbers are not listed on the Bar’s Web site or in the annual directory issue of The Florida Bar Journal.

In two recent cases, Holcomb said the scammers apparently even encouraged their would-be victims to contact the Bar or to check the Bar’s Web site to verify their “assumed” identities were actual Bar members in good standing. Neither attorney had a phone number listed, which meant the client in each case had no way of knowing that the con artist had provided an erroneous phone number.

“They found a way to legitimize themselves by saying they’re an attorney,” said Holcomb.

Unfortunately, when the potential victims contact the Bar or check the Web site, they find or are told there is a lawyer by that name who is a Bar member. The Bar, Holcomb said, has no way to know the caller is a potential victim or that someone else is pretending to be a legitimate Bar member.

“The lawyers they seem to be picking on are lawyers where you can’t independently verify because they don’t have a phone number [listed in Bar records],” Holcomb said. That allows the con artists to list their own number on fake letterheads and the victim can’t call the real lawyer’s office because it isn’t listed anywhere in online or published Bar records.

The solution, she said, is for lawyers to make sure they have listed their business phone number with the Bar — as required by Bar rules.

The most secure way Bar members can do that is on the Bar’s Web site, www.floridabar.org, if they have obtained a password from the Bar.

“How you can protect yourself is putting your phone number out there so people can verify who you are,” Holcomb said.

[Revised: 12-12-2014]